After living for 20 years in Zhangzhou, in East China's Fujian province, Taiwan businessman Harrison Yang has found his schedule become even tight since he became a mediator who helps resolve legal disputes.
Yang, founder and general manager of Long Grace Industry, a sportswear maker in Zhangzhou's Xiangcheng district, was hired three years ago by the district court as a special mediator. Besides managing his company, he mediates disputes involving any Taiwan businesses who, like him, has investments in the local community.
Zhangzhou now has more than 2,600 enterprises with investment from the island. Despite his high caseload, almost a case a week, Yang said he is only too happy to serve as a mediator.
"It's a pleasure to give legal advice to fellow Taiwan businessmen about local laws and regulations, and to figure out ways to solve conflicts, in a peaceful settlement, instead of going to the court."
In 2009, Yang was one of the first Taiwan businessmen employed by the local courts to mediate in civil and commercial cases in Zhangzhou. It was a pioneering initiative at that time.
"We took this approach to better protect the legal rights of Taiwan businessmen who might not be familiar with the legal system on the mainland," said Huang Jinghui, vice-president of the Zhangzhou Intermediate People's Court.
"We also try to win their confidence in our legal system and add more transparency in our judicial procedures by mediators from Taiwan."
Huang said that to be eligible for the job, a candidate should have lived in Zhangzhou for more than five years, have a good reputation, adequate social experience and some knowledge of law on the mainland.
"Most are elderly people who are highly regarded and influential among the Taiwan people in the community, such as the head of Taiwan businessmen associations," he said.
Fujian province, the closest place on the mainland to Taiwan, has hired 139 Taiwan compatriots so far to be the local courts' special mediators.
Other provinces and regions where many Taiwan people have set up businesses have followed Fujian's initiative. Twenty-six such mediators have been hired in East China's Jiangsu province, and nine in North China's Tianjin municipality, according to the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.
Huang said the policy works effectively to help reduce the number of court cases and alleviate conflicts between Taiwan businessmen and local residents. Seventy percent of lawsuits were withdrawn through mediation.
In 2010, a Taiwan merchant rented land from the local government in a village in Zhangpu county to grow vegetables. The villagers, who collectively own the land, later wanted its use restored to them before the contact expired because the price of vegetables had gone up.
It was through the persuasion of a local mediator, a businessman from Taiwan, that the merchant from Taiwan conceded and dropped a lawsuit against the local government.
The village committee then agreed to compensate him 100,000 yuan ($15,800), and the merchant later donated more than half of the money to a local charity for the elderly.
"That was a win-win result," Huang said, adding that the confrontation might have intensified if the case had gone to court.
Harrison Yang said there is no secret to his job other than to invite people involved in disputes to sit down, make them a cup of good tea, and encourage them to engage in open talks.
"In the past, Taiwan businessmen felt insecure about the mainland's legal system, so they tended to remain silent and were ready to pay the fine when they ran into legal disputes."
"Now, they will first come to us for legal advice and argue for their rights. As someone well-connected with the court, I will bring their voices to the judges."
Hu Kai, a judge in Zhangzhou Intermediate People's Court, said mediators like Harrison Yang can often help the court reach the right verdict.
Last year, a school sued an oil paint dealer for selling unsuitable paint.
The dealer, however, insisted that the oil paint producer, a local company owned by a Taiwan businessman, should be held responsible.
When Yang talked with the owner of the oil paint producer, he learned that the dealer only ordered the paint but failed to inform the company what it would be used for.
"The quality of the paint was all right, but it was used for the wrong purpose," Hu said. So it was the dealer's fault for not telling customers how to correctly use the product.
Without that information, the court would have also punished the paint producer, Hu said.
Still in its early days, however, the policy of engaging Taiwan businessmen as mediators has some practical problems to work out.
Most special mediators have limited time for the job because of their businesses, and there is a shortage of funds to subsidize their work as mediators, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said in the statement.
Huang, however, thinks the mediators are more likely to do the job as volunteers, out of a sense of social responsibility, than for economic reward, which is negligible alongside their business incomes.
"As Taiwan and Fujian share the same dialect and cultural roots, many of them feel proud to bridge the understanding of judicial practice and the spirit of justice across the Straits," he said.
Hu Meidong contributed to this story.