As social historians, when we turn our attention to a particular new locality in search of answers to queries about what "everyday life" may have been like there, say, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, where should we look first of all? Clearly there are more than just one or two answers to this question, and assuming the staff in the local government archive is cooperative, we may even chose to pursue more than a single line of inquiry at the same time. One of the better sources of information that we should attempt to gain access to is the monthly status report submitted to the government by the local People’s Court. Usually but a few pages long, such reports provide excellent points of departure for more focused in-depth studies of whatever turns out to be our main issue(s) of concern. Famine? Rumours? Rampant corruption? Urban decay? Banditry and prostitution? Unemployment? These and other interesting themes crop up again and again in the status reports, typically in the form of comprehensive updates saying that there was more of X this month than there was last month, and that Y may be declining as a result of A or B or C.
Needless to say, if what we are looking for does is not in any way relate to law and order, then there may be no record of it here. But almost everything in a People’s Democratic Dictatorship in the end does, and the monthly status reports produced by the courts certainly covered far, far more than merely legal cases. How many letters of complaints did the authorities receive this month and what were the complaints about? How many man-hours did the judges spend out of the office on famine relief or propaganda missions? How many couples applied for divorce? Who was caught attempting to run off to Hong Kong? How many gang members terrorized the residents of so-and-so street and how? If “stuff” like this is what piques our curiosity or stimulates our interest, then poring over monthly People’s Court status reports will reward us as historians.
The links below are to sample reports, all of them for the month August 1963, from counties and municipalities in Jiangsu province. In the more well-off counties, where the court had a typewriter at its disposal, the reports were typed and mimeographed; in poorer counties, they were made from stencils written/cut by hand.