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China: Scrap the death penalty?

Was it New Jersey's undoing of the 1976 reinstatement of capital punishment earlier this month, or the United Nations General Assembly's call for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty a few days later that launched prominent Chinese bloggers into their own debate on the subject?

NetEase has gotten nearly 3,000 comments to its piece on the latter move against state executions, and at blog provider Cat898, one unnamed editor wrote the following on a page recently set up to follow the topic:


废除死刑?

Scrap the death penalty?

废除死刑是世界的大趋势,也是人类走向文明的一种标志。目前世界上已经有100多个国家废除了死刑,即使未废除死刑的国家,执行死刑的数量也有了大幅度减少。在中国,虽然死刑被视为是一种实现正义的必要手段,但在中国传统中,执行死刑并不是一件好事,死刑数量的多寡也被视为国泰民安的象征,如中国历史上的 “贞观之治”时期,一年执行死刑的数量常不过几十例。目前,中国是世界上执行死刑人数最多的国家,每年中国执行死刑的数量超过了世界其它国家的总和,这不仅说明中国还很落后,也说明中国距“盛世”的距离还很远。为了切实减少死刑,中国近年来也进行了一些改革,如最高人民法院收回了死刑复核权,大幅度增加了死缓的适用量。死缓的大量适用减少了死刑实际执行的数量,但也出现了一些按当前刑法应当判处死刑却没有判处死刑的案例。在限制死刑的背景下,死刑案成了少数无良法官名利双收的渠道,进一步统一死刑审判、核准标准,加强监督,势在必然。值得注意的是,近些年来一直有人提出要废除经济类犯罪,特别是贪污贿赂犯罪的死刑,以其作为废除死刑的先声。这不仅招致民众的普遍反对,也使废除死刑成了一场闹剧。实际上,同杀人等暴力性犯罪相比,贪污贿赂犯罪的犯罪性质更为严重,其足以颠覆国家,危害民族。例如今年被处以极刑的前国家食品药品监督管理局局长郑筱萸,其在位期间广受贿赂,致使假药流行,受害者竟遍及全球,其行为危害了全人类,如果这种犯罪先赦免了死刑,显然是荒谬的。废除死刑应当循序渐进,在逐步减少死刑数量的同时,仍应当保持对性质严重犯罪、特别是贪污贿赂犯罪的死刑,唯有这样,减少死刑,直至废除死刑才有实现的可能。

Abolishing the death penalty is a global trend, and it's also an indicator of humankind's move toward civilization. Presently there are over 100 countries which have abolished the death penalty, and those that haven't abolished it have see vast drops in the numbers of people executed. In China, although the death penalty is seen as a kind of realistic, essential approach, in Chinese tradition, putting people to death has not been considered good, with the number of executions seen as a symbol of the country's stability and prosperity. Just like in Chinese history during “the reign of Zhenguan”, where the number of executions carried out in a year seldom went past several dozen. Now, China carries out the highest number of executions in the world each year, higher than that of all other countries in the world combined.

This doesn't just illustrate how backwards China still is, but it also shows how far China remains from “prosperous” times. China has made several reforms in recent years toward realistically reducing the number of executions, like the People's Supreme Court reclaiming right of review for all death sentences, and the large increase in stays of execution. The large numbers of stays of execution have reduced the number of death sentences actually carried out, but has also given rise to cases to which the death penalty ought to have been given out but wasn't. In the context of controls over the death penalty, executions have become a channel for both fame and profit for a minority number of bad judges, and consistency in the passing down of death sentences, higher standards for approval and stronger supervision are imperative.

What's worthy of note is that over recent years there have been people calling for an end to the death penalty for economic crimes, particularly corruption and acceptance of bribes, and these have been the voices at the forefront in calling for abolition of the death penalty. This hasn't only led to widespread opposition from the public, but has also turned abolition of the death penalty into a farce. In reality, in comparison to murder and other violent crimes, corruption, bribery and crimes of economic nature are much more serious, to the point of subverting the state and harming the people.

The former head of the State Food and Drug Administration Zheng Xiaoyu, for example, who was executed this year, and who during his tenure widely accepted bribes and led to pervasiveness of fake medicines, with victims from all around the world, behavior that was harmful to all of humanity; for a crime like this were to be given pardon of execution would obviously be foolish. Abolition of the death penalty ought to be done gradually and in steps, so that at the same time that numbers of executions go down, the death penalty remains for crimes of serious nature, especially corruption and bribery. Only as such can executions be lessened to the point at which abolishing the death penalty becomes possible.

Over on Sina.com, Voice of China blogger Wang Huiyao writes in a post from this weekend, since deleted:

联大昨天通过全球暂缓死刑议案,希望最终可以废除死刑。有104个国家支持暂缓死刑、54国反对、29国弃权。此前,联大第三次委员会以99票赞成、52 票反对、33票弃权的结果通过决议,呼唤暂停使用死刑,并希望将来彻底废除死刑。中国的投票情况不得而知,但此前已有声明,对联大第三委员表示“遗憾”。
 
这一新闻必定引发意料之中的争论。于是有人说,中国不具备废除死刑的国情,有人强烈抗议居然“要给坏人以人道?”言辞之激烈,大家上网一看就分晓了。

Yesterday the General Assembly passed a motion calling for a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with hopes of ultimately seeing it abolished. Supporting the moratorium were 104 countries, with 54 in opposition and 29 abstaining. Prior to this, the Third Committee of the General Assembly had adopted a motion to put a temporary stop to use of the death penalty with 99 votes in support, 52 in opposition and 33 abstaining, with the hope of seeing it abolished in the future. How China voted is unknown, but prior to this had already expressed “regret” toward the General Assembly's Third Committee.

This news surely enough gave rise to the expected debates. Some have said that China lacks the right social conditions for the death penalty to be abolished, and others went as far as to protest strongly, “should we treat villains with humanity?” The online discussion is so intense that netizens are divided on first glance.

[...]

“杀人偿命,欠债还钱,”“以命抵命”“以牙还牙”这是自古延续至今的说法,仿佛成了天经地义的逻辑。但是古老且普遍的说法并不代表真理性的道德制高点。纵观整个人类刑罚的发展史,各国的刑罚都是由苛酷到轻缓,由残酷到人道,这与人类文明的发展是相适应的。就死刑而言,仅它的执行方法就变得越来越文明。而且各国都是越来越少的适用死刑。从中国古老的惨无人道的车裂、凌迟、斩头示众到满清十大酷刑,从西方焚体于广场、绞刑到十字架刑罚,都极其野蛮和残忍。然而,随着人类文明的现代化进程,要么彻底废除死刑,要么即便是处以死刑这样极刑给犯人进行注射性安乐死等等方法也在不断推广。也就是说死刑的废除是世界的潮流。目前,目前世界上已经有三分之二以上的国家和地区在法律上或者在实质上废除了死刑,保留死刑的国家中又有很多国家只对极少的几种犯罪。 

我不太清楚,为什么在国内有些人在讨论什么问题的时候经常会把问题最终归于某某事情“不符合中国国情”?且不说科学发展、民主法制、自由平等这样的人类普适价值观,就是一个死刑的存废问题也能被人引伸到“不符合中国国情”?!所有落后的价值观在过去的时代都会被看作是不符合当时当地的情况。在全球化的今天,这种标志人类文明进步的价值观,随着时间的推移,终将会被人类承认为主流价值。

今天我们讨论这样的问题,从某种角度说,保留死刑就是对生命价值严重漠视的一种继续。

把一个活生生的人给处死,是对人的生命权的一种剥夺。而生命权是一个人与生俱来就拥有的权利。不管采用什么方式对人处死,都是一种不文明而野蛮的行径。提倡死刑,也许就是对原始和野蛮的一种认同,漠视了宝贵生命,不在乎野蛮的合法存在,这与时代的进步是相背的。

“A life for a life,” “an eye for an eye,” “a tooth for a tooth,” these ancient sayings has lasted until today, as though they've become a commonly-accepted logic. But ancient and widespread sayings don't represent a true moral high ground. The development of punishment through human history, in every country, has been a move from the ruthless and severe toward leniency, from cruelty to humanity, adapting to the progress of human civilization. As for the death penalty, only the manner in which it is carried out has become more civilized. Further, the number of countries practicing it continues to decrease. From the inhumane cruelty of ancient China's practice of tying a person's limbs and head to five horses and ripping them apart, to slow dismemberment and public beheadings, to the ten torture methods of the late Qing dynasty, from burning people in town squares in the West to hanging people from crosses, all such punishments were extremely barbaric and cruel. But then, as civilization carried on the path to modernization, ideas like abolishing the death penalty altogether, or if not, to execute criminals by means of lethal injection became increasing widespread. In other words, abolishing the death penalty became a world trend. At present, more than two-thirds of countries and territories around the world have either legally or practically abolished the death penalty, and among those who retain the practice, many apply it only to an extremely small number of crimes.

Where I'm not clear is why now in China, when some people enter discussions, will they so often end it with “incompatible with the conditions in China”? If you disregard scientific progress, democracy, the legal system, freedom and equality and other such universal values of humanity, can you really allot something like debate over keeping the death penalty to “conditions”?! All the backwards values of the past eras were all seen as fitting of the situation at the place and time. In our globalized today, this value, which both serves as an indicator of human civilization's progress and changes with time, stands to finally be seen my humanity as a mainstream value.

The problem we're discussing today, preserving the death penalty, from one aspect, is a kind of continuation of serious disregard for the value of human life.

To put a living person to death is to deprive a person of the right to live. The right to live is a right a person is born with. Regardless of what method is used to put execute a person, it's an uncivilized and barbaric act. Advocating for the death penalty is like a kind of confirmation of the primitive and barbaric, it completely disregards how precious life is, indifferent to barbarity's legal existence, and runs against the progress of the times[...]

Wang finishes off by adding that when the European Union abolished the death penalty, it saw no rise in crime rates, and concludes from this that the possibility of the death penalty serves as no deterrent for serious crime at all and to say so is but a superstition.

On December 23, MSN Live Spaces blogger Su Liming reposted prominent theocon thinker and preacher-blogger Wang Yi's 29-point list, ‘How to recognize an authoritarian system’ from earlier this year; point 12 mentions the death penalty:

12
专制国家用死刑来论证合法性,民主国家用赦免来体现合法性。越专制的国家,死刑越多。根据下面三个论衡标准,本条分值5-10分:

一、越专制的国家,越缺乏赦免制度。50年内没有赦免过一个刑事犯的,可称为极权国家。20年内没有赦免过一个犯人的,可称为后极权主义国家。

二、宣判死刑,和执行死刑之间的间隔,拖得越长的国家越民主。等得越短的越专制。1周至半年以内执行死刑的,属于转型国家。1周以内执行的,基本上还处在专制时代。反人类的萨达姆从判决到执行,耽误了4天。杀人犯邱兴华,上午9:41分读完判决书,10:10枪决完毕,误工不超过半小时,堪称专制主义的一次急性发作。

三、只有专制国家,倾向于用杀人保护财产。财产犯罪上适用死刑越多的国家,就越专制。如根据中国的刑法,你敢杀大熊猫,政府就敢杀你。

12
Authoritarian countries use the death penalty to demonstrate their own legitimacy, and democratic countries use pardons to reflect theirs. The more authoritarian a country is, the more death sentences it will carry out. Based on standards set out in Critical Essays, this point is worth 5-10 points:

1. The more authoritarian a nation is, the more it will lack a pardoning system. If within a fifty year time-frame not one criminal is given pardon, the term post-totalitarian state may be used.

2. The longer the duration between the passing of a death sentence and its execution, the more democratic a country is. The less amount of time that passes, the more authoritarian. A state which carries out the execution within a week to one year is a transitioning nation. A state which carries out the execution within one week remains essentially within the authoritarian era. For the anti-humanity Saddam Hussein, from sentencing to execution there was a delay of four days. For murderer Qiu Xinghua, the verdict was read out at 9:41 am, and by 10:10 his execution was complete, a loss of less than 30 minutes of working time, an acute example of authoritarianism.

3. Only in an authoritarian country is there a trend of resorting to murder in the protection of property. The more that the death penalty is applied to property crimes, the more authoritarian a country is. If, based on China's criminal law, you were to kill a panda bear, the government would then kill you.

Most read out of all these has got to be veteran sports writer Li Chengpeng‘s post from Dec. 20, ‘More important than canceling “the death penalty” is canceling arbitrary sentencing of “the death penalty”‘ which wonders why some livestock in China get treated better in death than its criminals; as of evening Dec. 25, the post had received over 650 comments and nearly 75000 reads:

中国已在联合国表态坚决反对取消死刑,在参与到“中国到底该不该废除死刑”的讨论前,我恰恰在虚心学习河南实行“文明屠宰”的细则,这就让我很混乱:我们一方面人道主义地对待猪,另一方面又不那么人道主义地对待人。到底是猪金贵,还是人金贵?

At the United Nations, China has already expressed its resolution to oppose canceling the death penalty, so prior to taking part in a discussion on whether or not China ought to abolish the death penalty, I've taken a very open-minded lesson from the procedure by which Henan has carried out its “humane slaughter”, which leaves me quite confused: on one hand we treat pigs with humanity, but on the other hand we don't really treat humans with it. So which is it: precious pigs or precious humans?

同样的混乱还出现在东莞和河南的对比上,东莞的政府连猪都不准养了,因为它们太污染环境太浪费资源,但在民间口碑中有点被妖魔化的河南,却又要给临死的猪营造良好的运输、装卸、圈养的条件,比如卸猪台坡度小于等于20度是为了不让猪往下跳时有受伤的可能,双通道是以让猪能够看到同伴所以减少孤独和恐惧,甚至必须在电昏15秒内放血免得猪苏醒后再杀就很残忍……在对待“猪”和“人”的问题上,中国的省份太不统一,就像麻将打法风格不统一,这是不是南北差异?

Leaving me just as confused is when I compare what Dongguan is doing in comparison to Henan, by now not even allowing pigs to be raised, as they put too much pollution into the environment and waste too many resources. Yet Henan, slightly demonized a reputation as it has among some people, even wants to give those pigs faced with death better transit, handling and holding pens. Like keeping offloading ramps at angles of less than 20 degrees so as to prevent the possibility of pigs jumping off the edge and getting hurt, and two-way channels so pigs can at least see each other, reducing loneliness and fear. It's even mandatory to bleed them within 15 seconds of electrocution to prevent them from regaining consciousness and having to kill them again—how cruel would that be….[]

应该向河南的猪们表示祝贺,它们提前抵达了一些宗教的境界:死亡过程是一个壮丽的艺术。但我在社会纪实片里看到的那些犯人并没有河南猪的待遇,至少,没有给他们提供宽敞的双通道及温柔的塑料拍,也没有15秒钟就得弄死的痛快死法,我小时候经常看到临刑犯人执行前都得插着纸标反剪着手游街,就是为了增加他们的恐惧感,而现在不准对临死前的猪增加恐惧感了,不仅这很不文明,而且受惊的猪会分泌出一种液体让肌肉变白,肉就软绵绵的不好吃了。

哦,发现善待猪的某一理由其实还是为了人的口感更好。虚伪其实也挺可爱。

无论如何这是进步,去年中国各大城市争吵是不是要实行“狗道主义”,今年又实行了“猪道主义”,现在,终于轮到人了,极其热烈的鼓掌。

I should be congratulating the pigs of Henan, they'll be arriving at their religious realms sooner, and death for them has become a majestic art. But for me, in the live footage that is society and the criminals I've seen in it, they don't get it as good as Henan pigs. At least they aren't given spacious walkways or snappy 15 second deaths. When I was young I used to go watch those about to be executed as they were paraded around the street, bent over and a paper sign hung on them, which was done to add to their terror; now, we see pigs that are about to die which aren't allowed to be given any added terror. Not only would that be really uncivilized, but frightened pigs secrete a kind of liquid which whitens their muscles, making the meat soft and mushy and not tasty at all.

Yup, turns out the reason for treating pigs better is actually so people enjoy their food more. The hypocrisy sure is pretty cute.

其实,关于“死刑到底符不符合人道主义”我想得并不是很清楚,我很矛盾,一方面我反对废除死刑,因为“借债还钱,杀人偿命”是天经地义的事,如果一个人杀了另外的人却可以不接受死刑,那么马加爵同学就会很高兴,或者一个贪官贪了两个亿却只是被判了死缓,那么他的子女他的二奶就很高兴,他不一会儿死缓就变成无期,再不一会儿无期就变成20年,然后15年,然后仅过了5年我们就可以在太平洋一个叫“塔西堤”的美丽小岛上看到他正在钓热带鱼玩。

Anyway, as for whether “can the death penalty accord with humanism”, I'm not totally clear myself. I'm pretty conflicted, actually. On one hand I'm opposed to abolition of the death penalty, because things like “you pay for what you take, an eye for an eye” are pretty standard, and if someone can kill another person and not get a death sentence, then people like Ma Jiajue are going to be pretty happy about that, and if a corrupt official takes off with two hundred million yuan and only gets a stay of execution, then his kids and mistress are going to be pretty happy, and then before you know it a stay of execution becomes a life sentence, and then a life sentence becomes 20 years, and then 15, and then 5 years later we see him on a pretty little island in the Pacific called “Tahiti” fishing happily away for tropical fish.

这就很让没杀人也没贪污的良民很烦闷,这就会让马同学和贪官几何倍数增加。

而且这次废除死刑的倡议是欧洲人提出的,欧洲人特别是那些富得流油的北欧人很多想法挺不靠谱,终身监禁对他们确实比死亡更恐怖,因为他们再也看不到外边那些花花草草了也享受不到高福利更晒不到太阳了,这就叫“生不如死”;可以我们的国情,要是不杀那些罪犯而只是把他们终身监禁起来,肯定乐坏了,“哥们杀人本来只是为了混口饭吃,现在国家给我长期饭票了,值,能不能借把刀来我出去再干一票,把下辈子吃饭的问题一并解决了”,刑法就成了《福利法》,监狱就成了福利院,而且中国人口本来过多,这样一来就会难免给地球增加更多负担。

This will just make good citizens who don't kill or take bribes frustrated, and give us several times more Ma Jiajues and corrupt officials than there are now.

And this round of calling for the abolition of the death penalty was put out by Europeans. Europeans, especially those northern Europeans who ooze wealth like it were oil, a lot of their ideas really just don't fly. Life in prison has got to be a lot more frightening a thought for them than death, because they'd never see their flowers or their grass again, nor would they be able to enjoy their welfare, or ever go sit in the sun again. This is called ‘death is better than life'. But with the way things are here in China, if you don't kill those criminals but only lock them away for life, they'd still be really happy with that, like “I only killed the guy cuz I needed something to eat, and now the state's giving me meal tickets for life, sweet, give me the knife back and I'll go kill another guy, get meal tickets for the next life too.” Then criminal law becomes “welfare law”, and the jails become “the welfare house”. China's population is high enough as it is; if things were to go on like this, it would just put further burden on the world.

但我说过我在这个事情上很矛盾,我又赞成废除死刑,一方面是因为河南的猪们都可以享受到人道主义而中国的人却不能,这太不公平;另一方面是因为我实在怀疑那些贪官和马同学会因为死刑的存在而止步,也就是说想杀人的终归要杀人,不敢杀人的浑身背刀也下不了手,真正动了杀机的人在行动前不会去研究刑法中的条款,死刑并不可以阻止犯罪,就像取消死刑也不能取消犯罪一样。

我真的很矛盾,我正好听说了一个故事,一个人在河南因盗窃案被抓住后,交待出他在十年前还在河北强奸并杀死了一个女人,河南警方就打电话给河北警方,河北警方说“不会啊,那个强奸并杀死女人的姓蒋的罪犯早几年已被我们枪决了”,其实十年前那个蒋姓青年只是骑自行车偶尔经过事发现场,但因为有群众举报他曾经过那儿,所以在警方严厉审问下他终于招了“犯罪”事实,宣判死刑那天他年老的妈妈一下子就倒在法庭晕死过去,这是一个冤案。还有一个故事是:一个中年人的家附近挖出一具女尸,而他的妻子正好失踪了,他被怀疑杀妻而且判了死缓,正当要执行时,他那“死去”的妻子回来了,原来他妻子失忆了,嫁到山东并生儿育女了,有一天,妻子突然恢复记忆,决定回家看看。

But like I said, I'm conflicted, because I approve of abolishing the death penalty too. On one hand it's because Henan pigs all enjoy humanism and the Chinese people don't, this is just too unfair. On the other hand it's because in honesty, I doubt that those corrupt officials and Ma Jiajues will stop just because the death penalty exists. In other words, a killer will always be a killer, and even someone stacked head to toe with knives but can't bring themselves to kill, won't plunge the knife. Someone with true motive to kill already on the move won't stop to look up the pertinent clause in the criminal code, and capital punishment won't stop crimes, just like abolishing the death penalty won't abolish crime.

美国还有死刑,但听说他们一年才有四十多人被判死刑,印度也是人口大国,死刑人数也只有三十多个。

重复一遍,最重要的不是取消死刑,而是取消随意判处死刑,我们连对待猪的死刑时都那么文明,对待人类的死刑时是不是也可以文明一些,即使不能给嫌疑人提供小于或不大于20度的坡板,也不能颠倒黑白,把不该死的人弄死,却让该死的人跑到塔西堤钓热带鱼去了。

America still has the death penalty, though I hear they only give death sentences to forty-something people a year. India is another country with a huge population, and their execution numbers are only just over thirty.

Again, the most important isn't to see capital punishment canceled, but to cancel seeing the death penalty passed down at will. We're so civilized about giving pigs the death penalty, so why not be a little more civilized when giving it to human beings. Even if we can't give suspects 20 degree ramps, neither can we flip right and wrong and be putting people who shouldn't die to death, or letting those who should run off to Tahiti just to go fishing.

  • Inst

    Where are the pro-execution voices? Further, the India statistic is off. There was a great number of “encounter” extra-judicial killings, where the cops got fed up, and staged “encounters” with armed and dangerous gangsters, who, conveniently, never manage to shoot a cop.

  • http://www.feng37.com/ John Kennedy

    There are arguments made in support of the death penalty above, Inst. If those aren’t good enough for you, try looking into your soul.

    As for India, please give everyone a link or some sort of reference for what you mention; Wikipedia writes that “[b]etween 1975 and 1991, about 40 people were executed, though there was a period between 1995 and 2004 when there were no executions. Therefore India has the lowest execution rate amongst retentionist countries.”

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  • Instr

    If I didn’t know you wouldn’t do such a thing, I’d swear they weren’t there when I posted my comment. But it’s my mistake.

    Unfortunately for me, the source was Suketu Mehta’s Bombay Maximal, so I can’t exactly link to it. I’m sure there are web-based sources on encounter-killings in India, but it’s more of a matter of degree than a refutation.

  • http://www.underthebridge.yculblog.com/ John Kennedy

    Hey Instr,
    I followed the Suketu Mehta entry at Wikipedia and found what you’re talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai_Encounter_Squad

    It could use a lot of work, but I see what you mean now, it sounds quite horrifying how it’s described, “tit-for-tat.”

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