Red Mafia, Black Mafia in China
: The Rise of Extra-legal Protection in a Guanxi-based Society

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Chinese businesses are turning away from the legal protection offered by state-sponsored institutions and legitimate private agencies and choosing instead the extra-legal protection services supplied by organized crime groups and corrupt government officials. This thesis develops an empirical analysis of the rise of extra-legal protection in post-Mao China. It emphasizes two major types of extra-legal protectors in contemporary China: corrupt police officers (‘Red Mafia’) and locally-based criminal groups (‘Black Mafia’). It explores why mafia groups re-emerged after China adopted its reform and opening-up policies in the late 1970s. In particular, it focuses on essential conditions directly related to the rebirth and subsequent growth of the Chinese mafia.
The aim of this thesis is to test the economic theory of the mafia, to demonstrate the strengths and limitations of this theory when it is applied to China, and to establish an updated theory through a combination of economic theory and social capital theory. Using published materials as well as fieldwork data comprising of 33 individual interviews and nine focus group discussions with a total of 28 participants from two Chinese cities (Qufu and Chongqing), this thesis incorporates the concept of guanxi—a Chinese variant of social capital—into the discussion of state weakness and the rise of mafias. It demonstrates the corruption-facilitating roles of guanxi, i.e. how guanxi distorts China’s legal system by facilitating the buying and selling of public offices and promoting the formation of corrupt networks between locally-based criminals and government officials. The result, the Red Mafia, is a clear indicator of state weakness. The clash between guanxi and the formal legal system prevents law enforcement agencies from being able to provide sufficient protection for citizens, contributing to the rise of the Black Mafia. The analysis of the negative aspects of guanxi provides a new perspective for understanding corruption and organized crime in contemporary China.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBenjamin Bowling (Supervisor), Mary Vogel (Supervisor) & Penelope Green (Supervisor)

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