June 9th, 2011
10:27 PM ET

Why the Chinese love their death penalty

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in Economic Observer. English versions of their articles, and others from top global media, are produced by Worldcrunch.com.

By Teng Biao

Of all the criminal cases in China, those involving corrupt officials sentenced to death arouse the greatest interest.

The morbid examples abound: from the public cheering for the recent death sentences for the two deputy mayors of Suzhou and Hangzhou to the executions of the head of the State Food and Drug Administration, of the Secretary of Justice of Chongqing City, and of the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

China is the global leader for the number of corrupt officials who are sentenced to death, and actually executed each year. But, judging by the seemingly endless "public demand" for this kind of punishment and the surging popular anger, it would seem that there is actually not enough of it. While so many people are "beheaded," executives at all levels are still determined to brave death by trying to make the most of corruption.

So one cannot help but wonder, are there too many or too few executions in China? What else should be taken into account when considering the fate of corrupt officials — apart from the law, international human rights standards, and the public opinion?

Strictly speaking, China has no "justice," relying only on "political law" when it comes down to dealing with corrupt officials. The so-called "double regulation" (the Communist Party's special investigative procedure in which officials are asked to respond to allegations of corruption or other violations) means that sentences are delivered under the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party's discipline inspection departments, and that the code of criminal procedure is only a reference, just as the prosecution and the trial are just a semblance of justice.

Read: Fareed Zakaria asks whether China will stay on course.

It is almost unheard of for Chinese judges dealing with corruption cases to make independent judgments by relying solely on the judicial procedure, evidence submitted, and the law. Deciding whether to indict a corrupt official, and how to deal with him, is to a great extent not the result of an enactment of the law, but rather the outcome of a political power struggle.

When corrupt officials confess their crimes in court, they most often say that they had lowered their personal standards, and strayed away from their thinking and principles learned during their education. Sometimes they may add that they had a poor understanding of the law. A country that regards materialism as a model is in fact floating on idealism. The most important factors lying at the root of corruption have never actually been discussed, neither in the media, nor elsewhere.

Read: Dark journey to Daraa originally in Le Monde.

If political education is the answer to rampant corruption, then all the propaganda courses we are constantly exposed to would have solved the problem by now. It is thus obvious that the reason for corruption lies elsewhere, in the fact that there isn't enough control and supervision over public power, and in the lack of democratic elections and freedom of the press.

The current level of corruption in China is systematic and widespread. It is so entrenched that honest officials are now part of a minority that risks being left behind. It is a system where corruption is the rule rather than the exception, and it is thus not an exaggeration to say that transparent officials are victims in a country that lacks democracy, supervision, and has a weak judicial system. This means that, no matter how great the anger of the public, it will not be sufficient to put a stop to corruption.

If the anger of the public is understandable, it doesn't mean that the death penalty is the right remedy for the problem. On the contrary, the reasons for abolishing the death penalty are numerous. One of them would be that, like most crimes, corruption has a strong social dimension. Criminals are never born evil, and, in the case of corruption, it is quite clear that social factors play an important role. Corrupt people are of course despicable, but society has to accept a certain amount of responsibility too.

It is also clear that corruption brings huge benefits to many government officials, which makes them the loyal guardians of this highly flawed system. They know that only by defending such practices can they bring wealth to their families and offspring. The appeal of the public service (and its implied advantages) is such that most Chinese university students aspire to become government officials. The mechanism is known as "Stupid taxpayers, money arrives quickly."

Read: Silvio Berlusconi – Is the Magic Gone? originally in La Stampa

The death penalty can also be a political tool — people who do not have a protector, or who irritate their superiors, or who get caught on the wrong side, are often chosen as a scapegoat. Everyone can be a victim: once you lose your footing in the political power struggle, the accusations of corruption and decadence are very likely to fall on you.

According to the Chinese professor Hu Xing Do, 99% of the corrupt officials will never be caught. The few who do get caught are simply considered unlucky, and even if their punishment is typically heavy, the dissuasive effect remains minimal. In addition, the calculation is that even if you are jailed for ten years on corruption charges, the total amount you that have obtained through bribes is largely superior to what you could have honestly earned during the same period.

Read: The Hidden Fallout of Germany's Sudden Nuclear Shutdown originally in Die Welt.

Under a healthy system, it would be impossible for so many government officials to get their hands on the astronomical sums of money they have access to today. If every person who tried to have his palm greased was brought to trial, corruption could not have developed to such an extent. If officials knew that bribes as small as 1000 yuans could ruin their career, they would hesitate a lot more before stepping over the line.

China is the world leader in executions, carrying out 90% of them worldwide. There are 24 types of violent crime in China and 31 non-violent types subject to the death penalty. If most countries have abolished the death penalty, those that still use it generally only apply to violent criminals such as murderers. People in China viscerally hate corruption and are reluctant to see the death penalty dropped. They do not see why corrupt officials should benefit from foreign standards on human rights. But the truth is that those who would benefit most from the abolition of the death penalty would not be corrupt officials nor gangsters, but the weak and the poor. It is they who suffer disproportionately from corruption and crime.

Read: In France, A Muslim Offensive Against Evolution originally in Le Monde

Taking into account Chinese customs and public opinion, it would obviously not be a wise decision to raise the idea of the abolition of the death penalty for corrupt officials. Those who want to see the death penalty abolished should look to various non-violent cases that have aroused huge public sympathy. The Internet, for example, has played a huge role in mobilizing the public opinion. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to ignore the weight of public opinion expressed online.

Progressively this phenomenon will change China. But for the time being, my humble opinion is that the Chinese people are too bloodthirsty to give up the death penalty as the state's favorite method for sweet revenge.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Teng Biao. All rights reserved ©Worldcrunch – in partnership with Economic Observer.

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soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. Mickey25

    Well, aren't most Americans in favor of the death penalty? Murderers, child murderers, terrorists, their death would hardly raise an eyebrow among most US citizens. As for corrupt politicians, killing them off would raise a few questions. It would mean politicians who accuse each other of corruption (and many times the ones doing the accusing are the corrupt ones) would be able to eliminate the competition. Also, as politicians become corrupt accepting the bribes of lobbyists of corporations (John McCain being one of the most notorious examples), so would you also kill off the lobbyists and corporate heads as well? Saying these things may be emotionally satisfying on line, but this kind of slippery slope is associated with brutal dictatorships. We can hardly do what Red China does without becoming the kind of mass murdering dictatorship they've been since 1949. Sometimes the solution is worse than the problem.

    June 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  2. oldboldgold

    Well, if the ONE WORLD advocates get their way, China rules. Although you suggested they give up their death penalty for corruption (all comunist states love death penalty for corruption), you line out a plan for something that works better. Surely not what is going on in the United States (my own den of corruption). We have a soft system and our corrupt officials cry like babies if they have to step down. Can you imagine if they got beheaded? Anyone got a better system? Not Mexico, I lived there a while. Who does any oversight? The oversighters get corrupted. For the U.S. I suggest antitrust laws and busting megacorporations up into managable parts. China is a huge country! What if it broke up into manageable parts? If you notice, the larger an entity is, the more difficult to control corruption.

    June 12, 2011 at 1:27 am | Reply
  3. trover

    I say let's not let china get ahead of us here too!!

    June 12, 2011 at 3:33 am | Reply
    • Maersk

      You are worrying too much. America si still way ahead of China in killing people around the world. You must have forgotten that the despicable Uncle Sam gave each Vietnamese a 500 lbs. bomb. He even gave the Vietnamese fruit called Agent Orange to eat. And for the Native Americans, they already went extinct.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:15 am | Reply
  4. Taiwanese

    To Teng Biao or kung pao chicken, whatever your name is.
    China loves death penalty because they do not want to end up like mexico, which abolished their death penalty.
    Why do Western countries love to save the lives of rapist and murderers so much that they are willing to give their tax dollars to sustain their lives?
    Human rights? more like criminals' right to me.
    if you Americans love criminals so much, why don't you receive them? im sure the chinese govt is willing to deport them to you..haha

    Oh wait, china will never become an innovative country coz they dont have freedom of speech. Oh well, South America has freedom of speech, I don't see them inventing anything...they probably don't even have the ability to copy a stealth fighter.

    June 12, 2011 at 5:54 am | Reply
  5. san

    I hope that in my country..Death penalty was there..soo that all those shit politicians can be hanged till death..........They are useless shitt politicains and all are corrupted, lazy. Democracy has become a dirty game in my country..

    June 12, 2011 at 6:46 am | Reply
  6. whateverdude


    June 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  7. justice

    Everyone should agree to execute a serial killer who not only killed one but many and would never changed so no need to keep this BS alive, I am very angry and hot blooded to see inoccent people being murdered with no reason and this BS went to be a parasite in the prison for a few years and here again he killed more people THE LAW SHOULD SHOT THIS KIND OF MURDERERS I read in many news papers e.g. who so and so killed a woman or man and chopped up or freezed the body in a fridge for years .etc.... Alarming!! the world does not need this less human being, do we? So death penalty is necessary in some case, I hope China does not execute people too lightly whereas the west seems to be too soft to the criminals who, some will need to lock up and some need to be shot and some need to be educated and so on.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  8. drednox

    We need death penalties in USA for our corrupt government officials and corporate CEOs who engage them. Our laws have been bought out by bribes under the name of "campaign contributions" to the extent that most heads of the white collar crime rings such as BofA, Goldman's, etc. are untouchable while their lower level cronies get slapped on wrists instead of all of them facing real penalties such as death. In addition there needs to be some sort of assessment of actual damage they caused and their families, friends businesses who profited from it need to be held accountable, return what was stolen or face likewise penalties.

    China is at least on the right track with this one, though they have an immense task in trying to reign it all in.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  9. Wolve

    An eye for an eye! I am not Chinese but there is nothing wrong with death penalty whatsoever. Stop calling death penalty supporters "bloodthirsty"!!!

    June 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  10. RABBIT

    The United States is the worlds most notorious exponent of extra judicial killing.

    June 13, 2011 at 2:32 am | Reply
    • Maire

      Is this your way of asking for a free one-way ticket to China? Or perhaps you'd be more comfortable in one of the other countries that make up 80% of the entire world where "extra judicial killings" in the form of drug cartels, mafias, tribal law, militias and other paramilitary outfits rule (most of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and ex-Soviet states)

      June 24, 2011 at 1:54 am | Reply
  11. RABBIT

    The United States love their executions more than any other nation in the world. The United States's extra judicial killing machine (CIA etc) is setting the standard for extra judicial "death sentence" in the world.

    June 13, 2011 at 2:36 am | Reply
    • Maire

      Is this your way of asking for a free one-way ticket to China? Or perhaps you'd be more comfortable in one of the other countries that make up 80% of the entire world where "extra judicial killings" in the form of drug cartels, mafias, tribal law, militias and other paramilitary outfits rule (most of Latin America, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and ex-Soviet states)

      June 24, 2011 at 1:55 am | Reply
      • MaotseDog

        Right on, Maire.

        June 25, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  12. Blueflame

    No person is perfect if we killed all bad people the human race would be extinct

    June 13, 2011 at 8:44 am | Reply
    • Maersk

      According to your pathetic reasoning, murderers and rapists should be free to carry on their business of murdering innocent victims. Why don't you offer yourself to be murdered so that he can become a serial killer?

      June 13, 2011 at 9:22 am | Reply
  13. Some of our banking officials

    Should have joined this group for almost destroying the world economy. But instead our justice department has now said that the firms are too big to prosecute. More corruption.

    June 13, 2011 at 9:53 am | Reply
  14. Wangchuk

    China executes more people than the rest of the world combined. Many Uighurs & Tibetans have been executed by China since 1949. Prior to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the death penalty was actually banned. Executions in China are often public & usually involve 2 people holding the arms of the condemned by while a third fires a rifle bullet into the back of their head.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
  15. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Who needs the death penalty when the GOP wants to kill (with legislation) all the Old, Sick, Poor, Unemployed, and Gay people. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military. A self sustaining system.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:35 am | Reply
  16. Ray

    This is the county where all are jobs are going, and a money hunger ceo's are using cheap labor. Then sending there junk back here.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • Roberth

      this is primarily about Mexican-Americans and Mexicans and their sesuis you are being disingenuous when you add embrace the different races, ethniticies and genders .) If it's all about Mexicans and their sesuis, nobody else is going to be interested at all. Why should they be? If you TRULY want something that embraces everyone leave out the ethnicity in your description. Make it about civil rights for every one . Otherwise, it just sounds racist to me.

      March 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  17. criminal

    Because one less criminal

    June 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Reply
    • Tia

      Ghost Posted on How about Kitty Pryde ? and even though she is a DC etarachcr maybe Pantha ?By the way Shazam is a reintroduction by DC of a Hero called Captain Marvel (from the '30s '40s). You could be really tacky and use Marvels Black Cat Some Mythological ones I found on the web •Branwen Welsh goddess of love•Calliope Greek muse•Epona Celtic goddess of horses•Frutesca Roman goddess of abundant fruit•Griselda The name of a patient wife used in stories by Chaucer•Laka Hawaiian goddessNorse god•Murigen Irish goddess of lakes•Pandora Greek mythological woman•Rhiannon Celtic goddess•Sashet Egyptian goddess of writing•Verbeia Celtic goddess

      March 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  18. SarahPalin

    Wasn't the band "Wang Chung" from China? I liked Wang Chung. When I get elected president, I'm going to get "Wang Chung" to play at the white house. I can see China from my back yard.

    June 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  19. FairGarden

    It's the West that has weird humanism on full functioning. Fair and just trials are absolutely necessary, but some Western nations do look like wanting to live with vicious criminals and increase the number of victims. Feminized nations. Adopt more biblical principles, please. Get real Bible scholars and learn to differenciate personal offenses and crimes.

    June 14, 2011 at 2:06 am | Reply
  20. FairGarden

    Chinese are better than secular Westerners who aim reduction of the human population by massacre. Population is never a problem; it's the lifestyle. If rich nations and greedy nations give up all the unnecessary toxic toys, 100 billion humans will have no problem living on earth. Why are we adavancing everything like mad people on a deteriorating planet when even stars are not meant for traveling to?

    June 14, 2011 at 2:13 am | Reply
  21. chinese

    "But for the time being, my humble opinion is that the Chinese people are too bloodthirsty to give up the death penalty as the state's favorite method for sweet revenge."
    I love to see these type of things in CNN. May I said American's are too bloodthirsty to give up bombing other country to give them "freedom" and "democracy". What nice generalization!
    As for the real issue, our country and ppl are 2000 years old, some of the old ways stay after soo many years is because is the right way(ofc not all,but some). Your own hippi view isn't that high and might. Nor your view is the right way. When you self can't stop killing ppl,it just ridiculous to "analysis" Chinese's "bad habit".

    June 20, 2011 at 8:13 am | Reply
  22. waiting for guffman

    While I respect Teng Biao's premise...the so called free world experiences the same systemic corruption in the form of free market capitalists who press the envelope of deregulated power/markets (same grey area of corruption IMO). We don't execute them, hell we don't even perp walk them anymore. In some ways the Chinese system is more accountable.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  23. JasonK

    1 in 5 people on the ENTIRE Earth are "citizens" of the People's Republic of China. You want them to stop killing their criminals...why? When we default on our loans to them, its that many less foot soldiers we'll have to worry about fighting when they invade us. If anything I think we should examine the system that way here. If politicians feared for their lives maybe they wouldn't be such corrupt greedy @$$holes!

    June 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • MaotseDog

      There is nothing Chinese that any country on Earth should emulate, especially their penal system. Everybody everywhere
      should boycott China.

      June 25, 2011 at 3:09 am | Reply
  24. MaotseDog

    Most of the people commenting here are Chinese (hardly any of the posts are intelligible English). Most of the people
    commenting here are also pro-death penalty. That says all there is to say about who is, or is not, "bloodthirsty". And as far as the Chinese bragging about their SO "superior" 2000 year "cultural" history: look where that has brought them. It has brought them to an overpopulated, stinking, ecologically ruined piece of the planet's surface that cannot long endure before it implodes catastrophically (and I hope it does soon!).

    As far as China's love of the death penalty is concerned: it suits them perfectly. They deserve it...about half a billion
    of them deserve it.

    June 25, 2011 at 2:44 am | Reply
    • That'snotTrue:(

      Racist pig, you really know nothing outside of America do you?!

      July 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  25. Harvey Wallbanger

    China has to get the organs its sells for transplants from somewhere. If the need a heart, the will shoot the condemned prisoner in the head. If they need a liver, they will shoot him in the heart

    June 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  26. Dave

    I thought they executed so many people so they could sell the organs on the black market. Not the case?

    July 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  27. He Zhisi

    China is not what your American image, I'm a students in Lanzhou jiaotong university in China, I wish you can go to China, you will have a better understanding of new China after 1978.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:46 am | Reply
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