China's criminal justice system consists of police, procurates, courts and correctional institutions. At the central level, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice administer China's police and correctional institutions, respectively.
The public security station generally had considerably broader responsibilities than a police station in the West, involving itself in every aspect of the district people's lives. In a rural area it had a chief, a deputy chief, a small administrative staff, and a small police force. In an urban area it had a greater number of administrative staff members and seven to eighteen patrolmen. Its criminal law activities included investigation, apprehension, interrogation, and temporary detention. The station's household section maintained a registry of all persons living in the area. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces were recorded and confirmed through random household checks. The station regulated all hotels and required visitors who remained beyond a certain number of days to register. All theaters, cinemas, radio equipment, and printing presses also were registered with the local public security station, permitting it to regulate gatherings and censor information effectively. It also regulated the possession, transportation, and use of all explosives, guns, ammunition, and poisons.
Another important police function was controlling change of residence. Without such controls, large numbers of rural residents undoubtedly would move to the overcrowded cities in search of better living standards, work, or education.
In the 1980s secret police operations employed agents, informers, and "roving spies." Police surveillance apparently was restricted to probation and parole. Plainclothes agents were posted at bus and railroad stations and other public places. Police informers denounced "bad elements" and assisted in surveillance of suspected political criminals. Roving spies were a special category of informant in the factories and work units and were ever watchful for dissidence or sabotage. Youths aspiring to be Communist Youth League members, or league members aspiring to be party members, sometimes cooperated as informants and agents for the police.
The relationship between the police officers assigned to neighborhood patrols and the people was close. Police officers lived in a neighborhood on a long-term assignment and were expected to know all the residents personally. Their task was not only to prevent and punish crime but to promote desirable behavior by counseling and acting as role models. This positive side of the police officer's duties was a constant responsibility, but the bond between the public security units and the people was strengthened annually by means of "cherish-the-people" months, during which the police officer made a special effort to be of help, especially to the aged and the infirm.
Foreign visitors are subject to Chinese laws and regulations and their frequently arbitrary application. Plainclothes police officers with cellular phones openly and covertly tail foreigners.Public security has deteriorated in several provinces, including Sechuan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shanxi and Anhui, which were listed as somewhat unstable in a 1991 top secret State Council report. The Ministry of Public Security reported that in 1992 there were 540 illegal demonstrations, 480 strikes and 75 incidents in which government and Party offices were attacked. Between 1986 and 1992, the Ministry of Public Security dismantled 1,370 illegal organizations, including 62 considered to be "hostile forces opposed to the socialist régime".
The Chinese government censors all forms of expression, including speech, media reports, and the publication, distribution, dissemination and possession of printed matter. The aim is to ensure that no materials considered "counterrevolutionary" are available to the general public. Actions that have been considered "counterrevolutionary" include: communications with foreign journalists, analyzing policy decisions, unauthorized use of a fax machine, distribution of printed T-shirts, documenting human rights abuses, supporting minority cultures, religious proselytizing, and petitioning for a tax cut.In 1989 the Ministry began monitoring fax machines and fax communications. A person can be jailed for having a fax machine in his home or if a pro-democracy message is sent or received on his fax.