Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 December 2018
This article seeks to understand how reported mediation rates in Chinese courts are produced and what they actually signify. It analyzes data obtained through prolonged fieldwork at a court in central China. The article finds that the court has directly responded to central level mediation incentives by enhancing its overall mediation rate. It has done so strategically by seeking the highest increase using the fullest discretion in the mediation incentive structure and seeking to optimize the highest rate at the lowest cost and risk to the court. This has undermined the objectives of the central level incentives toward mediation, while also drawing the courts' scarce resources away toward unnecessary mediation practices, in part far removed from the courtroom. The article concludes by drawing out broader theoretical conclusions about how information asymmetries, discretion, and goal displacement play out in hierarchical control structures of authoritarian courts.