Local mediators take heat out of disputes

The Shanghai Justice Bureau has honored 200 individuals and 100 organizations for their contributions to mediating conflicts between local residents.

The Shanghai Justice Bureau has honored 200 individuals and 100 organizations for their contributions to mediating conflicts between local residents.

Mediation has become an effective channel in solving family and neighbor disputes that might otherwise end up in court, according to Lu Weidong, director of the Shanghai Justice Bureau.

The city now has 27,000 mediators, including more than 8,700 working full time. They have resolved more than 1.5 million disputes.

Among the honorees is 33-year-old Shi Liangyan from Huangjing Town in the Xuhui District, who has resolved 398 disputes in the past four years.

Shi had first worked as an assistant in a law firm after graduating from the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

Her father was a neighborhood committee director and a mediator who tried to be innovative in solving what were often mundane quarrels.

In one of her father’s still talked-about cases, an older couple blamed the mildew on the ceiling of their apartment on a young couple living upstairs, who denied any responsibility.

After reading up on the subject and consulting architectural professionals, Shi’s father found that it was caused by what is known as the “heat bridge effect.” The old couple was too frugal to use air condition, while the young people used it frequently. That created drips of water on the ceiling, where the hot and cold air met. In the end, the young couple fixed the older couple’s ceiling and improved the floor of their own apartment.

After her father’s death in 2014, Shi found a mediation diary among his belongings.

“I thumbed through it and found how happy he was when he could successfully resolve a dispute,” she said. 

Touched by the father’s love for mediation, she quit the law firm where she was working and applied for a mediator’s job. It was rare for such a young woman to want a job traditionally done by older people. Even now, the average age of mediators in Shanghai is 49.

Her education and former work experience helps a lot in mediation, but she also has to draw on her people-to-people communication skills.

“People will become resistant if they think the law is against them, and it’s often hard to persuade them to accept reality,” she said. “I always ask myself: What would my father do?”

She has resolved many complicated cases. Last year, she dealt with six brothers and sisters in a family who were at loggerheads over an apartment left to them by their father. 

The siblings were quarreling over who inherited the house and what monetary compensation was due. The dispute stretched back almost 10 years.

Shi and her colleagues spent two weeks on mediation efforts, including three sessions held at her home. In the end, they reached an agreement whereby three of the siblings gave up their rights to the house in exchange for compensation of 1.3 million yuan (US$190,000) paid by the other three.

“Our secret of success in mediation is to be patient and analyze the issue rationally and objectively,” Shi said.

Shi said she is grateful to her own family for supporting her job, which means she is frequently away from home.

“I’m especially grateful to my mother,” she said. “She supported my father in his career, and now she is supporting me in mine by helping looking after my children.”

In January this year, when Shi was about to take her 3-year-old daughter to hospital because of a high fever, she received a call from the office that a retired officer of the neighborhood committee had died in his office and his family was seeking 2 million yuan in compensation.

She asked her mother to take her daughter to the hospital and rushed to the office immediately.

She consoled the family for the loss of their loved one and explained to them the law on occupational death. She persuaded them to accept compensation of 600,000 yuan.

Shi lives not far from the office, and sometimes neighbors come directly to her home when conflicts arise. 

“Though I have to work overtime and even on weekends frequently, I am always happy to see neighbors shake hands and families return to harmony,” she said. “I believe this is the real value of my job.”

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