The Global Times highlights the work of Liu Yuexin, – giving the contemporary take on the middle path a wider domestic audience.
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People’s Mediator here to help
By Chen Tian
Source – Global Times, published June 28, 2013
“People’s mediator” Liu Yuexin gives a lecture on basic legal rights at a local community in Beijing on June 14. Photo: Chen Tian, Global Times
Inside Beijing’s Shehui Road community office in Xicheng district, “grass-roots leader” Liu Yuexin, perhaps best known publicaly for his appearances on Beijing reality show “The Third Mediation Room” as a civil mediator, the 55-year-old is being showered with token gifts by seniors.
After seeing his PowerPoint presentation “Rationally Dealing with the Distribution of Inheritances,” they eagerly want his advice on how to best divide their property among family without causing internal fighting.
A native of the very sub-district in Beijing that he serves, Liu, who wears many hats, from deputy president of Xicheng District People’s Mediators Association to court juror, lecturer and TV guest mediator, is hailed as one of China’s millions of prized “People’s mediators,” a title enshrined in the country’s 1982 Constitution. Title holders are grass-roots civil servants who work to quash conflict through mediation to maintain social stability from the bottom-up.
While it’s his job to inform local residents about civil mediation services offered by the sub-district, including those for marital and property disputes, he isn’t obliged to set aside time for one-on-one appointments with the seniors, who are too embarrassed to publicly ask for help at the community lectures.
“Whenever people think of law, they think of lawyers and judges from the Ministry of Justice, who are difficult for ordinary people to reach,” he told the Global Times. “The public always neglects the role that grass-roots legal service providers, such as mediators, play.”
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Liu additionally trains hundreds of government staff employed by sub-district offices around the city each year as “People’s mediators,” in an effort to see that more ordinary people benefit from such services in their community.
The chosen path
Liu said that he “missed” the chance to work as a lawyer 23 years ago, when his vocational college law degree failed to qualify him for the bar in 1990. Instead of returning to school to obtain the required bachelor’s degree he insisted on pursuing his own career in grass-roots mediation and started off as a judicial assistant at a sub-district office in west Beijing. His job was to support the mediators working complicated civil suits.
“That’s when I learned how difficult and unflattering of a job mediation was; you had to try and satisfy everybody, which was impossible,” he said, recalling that he was often yelled at, and once, shoved out the door by an angry middle-aged woman. “But still, I argued for the law.”
Looking back, Liu said that he couldn’t be happier with the path he’s taken to get to where he is today.
When he’s not busy giving lectures, training staff, managing his office, his expertise is needed at Beijing Xicheng District People’s Court, where he puts in a few hours weekly as a juror on the collegial panel for civil, commercial and criminal cases, where he mediates conflicts outside the courtroom and offers suggestions to the judge making the court ruling.
Liu’s office, which employs at least one full-time mediator per residential block, which contains up to 2,000 households, frequently deals with disputes from renters and tenants and inheritance distribution among family members.
“The key is first finding out the core conflict from the often lengthy and irrational statements you hear, then coming up with a resolution that caters to the parties involved, which takes into account their concerns and emotions,” he said. “After all, it’s important to bring everyone together, calm them down, and talk them through the case.”
His work over the years has earned him an honorable reputation in the circle of mediation in Xicheng, where he was most recently named as deputy head of the sub-district’s mediator’s association earlier this year.
Liu’s coworkers said that he’s always trying to think outside the box to look for ways to improve the system through mediation. In April, he even held a two-hour class for chengguan, or urban management officers, a group of government employees frequently condemned by the public for their unnecessary use of violence in law enforcement.
“I taught chengguan how to use mediation techniques to resolve problems, rather than turning to force,” said Liu.
Free hotline legacy
Though hundreds of people rely on the city’s free legal consultation hotline every day, few know that Liu is the man who paved the way for the complimentary service they are able to take advantage of today.
It only took a few years after he started working in mediation for the city for Liu to realize that something was lacking from the system – an outlet for local residents to turn to for help.
“I noticed a missing link between ordinary people and the complicated laws,” he said. “I knew that mediators served to bridge the two to a certain extent, but I was also aware that more was needed.”
Set up in the basement of a Chang’an Avenue building in 1993, Liu formed a legal consultation hotline for the public, with the aim of providing reliable and affordable services.
“When individuals who were never properly educated get into trouble and needs to consult a legal professional, they often turn to a lawyer,” he said. “But if they don’t know any better, they don’t even know what kind of lawyer to find. My intention was to provide these people with the basics needed to help them make informed decisions.”
He hired a few law school graduates to help him take calls from residents, and eventually, Liu and his team had trouble keeping up with all the incoming requests.
But the success was short-lived as seven years later, the Ministry of Justice caught up – realizing the need for such a service – and established a free-of-charge legal consultation hotline. Liu couldn’t compete and was forced to shut down his operation.
“I was sad as that company was like a son to me,” he said. “But now I’m happy because it was my original business model that helped deliver a solution to that missing link – and since then ordinary people have had access to a completely affordable and authoritative means of legal consultation.”