Long Jinpin, 39, a judge in Nanjian county, Yunnan province, chats with a Yi ethnic woman on his way to resolve legal disputes in the mountains on Feb 25.[Xinhua]
Beijing - It was overcast and nearly 10 degrees colder than the day before. But at least it was not raining.
For Judge Long Jinpin, now was the day to make that trip into the depths of the mountains, to a village populated mostly by Yi ethnic people in Yunnan province.
From the moment he received the case, the judge of the Gonglong court in Nanjian county had intended to make the trip so he could mediate a violent dispute between two brothers - yet two weeks of rain had kept the only accessible road too muddy to navigate.
Upon his arrival in the village, the brawl that had started when the younger brother wanted to build a new doorway - a move that would disturb the feng shui of the elder brother's neighboring house - had spilled over into a quarrel and shoving match between their families.
But Long, who has been offering his legal support for a rural population of more than 56,000 people from 14 ethnic groups across a mountainous area of 5.4 million square kilometers, was not fazed.
"It's very normal to see this happen. It usually takes a few visits to settle one simple case like this," said the 39-year-old.
"For a case like this family dispute, I usually persuade the two parties to seek a solution through conciliation, out of court."
That takes time and patience, for which Long has been well known over the years.
His integrity and perseverance have earned him a reputation among the local communities for his ability to dole out justice, putting his finger on the right point just like wise King Solomon.
He was named the country's outstanding judge this February by the Supreme People's Court.
Born into a poor rural family, Long was the first to enter university in his hometown.
After obtaining his Bachelor of Law in 1993, Long returned to his hometown instead of searching for a well-paid job in the city like most of his classmates.
He has served as a judge for the grassroots in Nanjian county ever since.
"People overcome great difficulties to come here looking for justice, and it would be a shame if their problems and grievances went unheard," Long said.
The cases he hears include marital and family issues, land leases and monetary disputes. Most cases are simple in legal terms, but are complicated in terms of the intricate human relations involved.
However, his "let's calm down and talk things over" approach resolves many disputes through coolheaded talk and cheerful reconciliation.
"I preside over a court that deals with complex ethnic issues. The job requires diligence and respect for different ethnicities, which goes for both the plaintiff and the defendant," said the judge.
Nanjian court records show Long has heard complaints in more than 1,200 cases, 70 percent of which were withdrawn after his mediation.
For Long, serving the grassroots means more than responsibility.
As the eldest son of his family, Long was the only one able to complete his university education. His father toiled to support his education, but his younger sister and two brothers had to drop out.
"Many neighbors and local residents pitched in for the tuition of my early schooling and they all cheered for me being admitted to university. I can't let them down," Long said.
When he is on field trips, Long sometimes spends days navigating mountainous roads.
Being a Muslim, he usually can't share food with local residents, so he brings prepared food, and drinks water from streams along the road.
When he is not out in the field, he is in the courtroom, where he has kept the highest attendance rate among county officials.
"If the villagers can resolve disputes and keep on good terms after my mediation, that is my greatest reward."
Long has been asked advice from local villagers not only on legal issues, but also on various other trivial disputes.
But he has never turned away anyone who has come to ask for assistance.
"I'm more like the chairperson of a large workers' union," Long said, smiling.