Death Penalty in China

Categories: ChinaDeath penalty


The increasing use of capital punishment in China is unfairly used as a tool of fear to deter crime in China’s society. “While countries around the world are gradually abolishing the death penalty or restricting its use to only the most heinous crimes such as treason and war crimes, China demonstrates no such inclination” (Scobell 519). The death penalty in China is so deeply-rooted that many see no end to its impositions. The death penalty as a form of punishment is so embedded in society that authorities cannot find a reason to abolish it.

It will take time to even change this ingrained philosophy that has been formed for thousands of years” (Mihailova).

Thesis Statement: China’s death penalty, that has been ingrained in society before the establishment of the people’s republic in 1949, should be abolished due to its unjust Yanda policy that steers China’s people to be subjected to laws that only focuses on the concrete and stability of the concept of crimes instead of an individual’s right to life.

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Background Information Topic Sentence:

China’s use of harsh punishment can be seen all the way back in 390 BCE by political philosopher Shang Yang. He was one of the founders of Chinese legalism that advocated for a judicial system that is stronger. “Yang considered loyalty to the state to be above loyalty to one’s own family. Thus, the most serious measures were applied to the “enemies of the State” accused of high treason” (Mihailova). Its use was not only used for harsh crimes but also the minimal crimes (Mihailova).

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Ironically, Shang Yang died in an excessive barbaric way. 2. Shang Yang’s philosophy is still sen in Chinese legalism, where serious and sometimes small crimes are sadly subjected to the death penalty.

Topic Sentence:

Many dynasties also result in the embedded nature of the death penalty in China’s society today. The Shang Dynasty (16th c.-11th c. BCE) was one of the dynasties that included capital punishments among its other five punishments. Face tattooing Nose amputation Feet amputation Castration And lastly the death penalty The Zhou Dynasty (11th c.-771 BC) also included the death penalty. The Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) was among them. Then the Sui Dynasty (518-618 AD) was included. Later, the Tang (618-907) adopted the death penalty into its laws. Then, the Ming (1368-1644) continued the death penalty. The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) was the last to incorporate the death penalty as one of the New Five Punishments as a dynasty. Beating with a light stick Beating with a heavy stick Penal servitude Lifetime exile Lastly, the death penalty 7. All of these dynasties add a strong sentiment towards the death penalty in China today.

Mao and his Gang of Four’s leadership played a huge role in how China today is governed by the death penalty. During Mao’s cultural revolution he put many people to death in order to alleviate his paranoia of his enemies rising up against him. “Given that the aim was to arouse collective hatred in the masses, it is not surprising that during the campaign to repress counter-revolutionaries launched by Mao on 10 October 1950, many death sentences pronounced during mass trials concerned local tyrants, ordinary thieves, and rapists rather than political enemies” (Ning and Black 92).

The number of death sentences was determined only by Mao (Ning and Black 92). “This excludes the chaotic decade of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in which as many as 50,000 are estimated to have died annually as a direct result of rampant violence and persecution” (Scobell 514). The Gang of Four resulted in being sentenced to death just as their victims. Included Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, Vice-premier Zhang Chunqiao and eight others They “were convicted of plotting to ‘subvert the government and overthrow the people’s democratic dictatorship,’ and were held directly accountable for the murders of more than 30 persons identified by name, and implicated in the deaths of thousands of others.68 Jiang and Zhang received death sentences ‘with a two-year reprieve’ and permanently deprived of their ‘;political rights.’ Two years later both had their sentences commuted” (Scobell 513). Mao’s strict rule along with the gang of four furthered the philosophy of harsh punishment specifically during the Cultural Revolution when many were sentenced to death for going against Mao and his ideology.

Main Idea

The death penalty’s laws and policies found in China are structured in a way to further harsh punishment. Many of China’s laws are based on the philosophy of Yanda. Yan in Yanda means “harsh or severe” and da is “to strike”—in this context, through the law. “Yanda” is shorthand for yanli daji yanzhong xingshi fanzui (strike hard at serious crime)” (Trevaskes 397). It refers to an anti-crime campaign. Two types of anti-campaign crimes: One is on a large-scale and focuses on a different variety of crimes. A second only focuses on one specific category of crimes called zhuanxiang douzheng (specialized struggle). It also refers to a continuous criminal justice policy. It targets the most serious crimes and is used as a scope for who will get the death penalty. It takes the approach of being both swift and severe way.

“Yanda policy has become a workaday part of the fight against serious crime, and it is this ongoing and consistent application of the harshest punishment against targeted categories of crime that is the main cause for concern” (Trevaskes 398). The Yanda policy is the swift and harsh punishment that is the death penalty in China. B. Topic Sentence: Balancing leniency and severity opposes the Yang policy supported by many people living in China. It is supposed to be used to combat the overuse of the death penalty in China. It is a part of a new “harmonious society” discourse. “A central issue for all players was how criminal justice authorities interpret the application of the policy of “balancing leniency and severity” in order to develop a harmonious society” (Trevaskes 394)

It goes against the “eye for an eye” ideology that most people in China believe in. “As Du and Zhang explain, “[C]ombining punishment with leniency,” enshrined in Article 1 of the 1979 Criminal Law, is a policy of trying to “win over and reform the great majority of criminals while isolating and punishing the minority” through a variety of means” (Trevaskes 399). This includes punishing the main offender harshly while letting the accessory get off lightly. Punish first-time offenders lightly, while repeat offenders get punished more harshly. Also, China’s government punishes those who fail to confess to crimes harshly, while those who do confess do not get treated as harshly. Balancing leniency and severity will diminish the number of people who get charged for petty crimes like theft. Balancing leniency and severity goes against the policy of punishing harshly and swiftly, which a majority of Chinese people support.

Due to the previously mentioned laws and policies, the public’s view in China has been greatly skewed. The majority of China’s public supports the death penalty. This includes Chinese youth, too. Chinese students living in China support it. Chinese youth studying in the United States have reportedly supported the decision of upholding the death penalty, even when asked about alternatives to it (Liang, Lu Miethe, and Zhang 128). Alternative: life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. There are cases where families of the accused oppose the death penalty in China. Zhu Jingru lost her son to the death penalty in China for a crime he did not commit. She devotes her life to clearing Yu Haidong’s name, by disputing the “evidence” they have against him. He was not present when the murder took place. They supposedly framed him by putting a knife in his car. The real murder weapon was a much larger knife (like a machete).

His blood was not on the knife nor on him. “Experts say a confession, not evidence, is still the primary way to secure a conviction, and often that’s coerced or extracted under torture. Once in court, there’s little chance of a fair trial, and 99 percent of cases are convicted” (Carney). The courts refused to retrial his case. Zhu Jingru believes that her son’s case was a cover-up for the real killer her probably paid of the judge. Her son’s organs were unjustly harvested without permission. “In 2006, China admitted to sourcing most of its organs from prisoners on death row, after their execution.

In 2014, former Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu announced that the government would stop using organs from executed prisoners by 1 January 2015.10 As of 2017, it appears that China is still sourcing organs from prisoners on death row” (Amnesty International 12). “ At an international summit on organ trafficking at the Vatican, Huang Jiefu was unable to refute allegations that China had ended the practice although he claimed that China was “mending its ways and constantly improving its national organ donation and transplantation systems”.

Although China agreed in 2007 with standards laid out by the World Medical Association, which clearly stipulate that “in jurisdictions where the death penalty is practiced, executed prisoners must not be considered as organ and/or tissue donors”, critics noted that without transparency, it was impossible to assess whether and to what extent the reforms had been successful, if at all” (Amnesty International 12). She only received a slip of paper to collect his ashes, meaning that stole his organs. Many Chinese people, including its youth, support the death penalty because of the underlying concept that those who commit wrongdoings shall be punished. However, some believe that the death penalty is unfair due to their lack of evidence, and the theft of their loved-ones organs.

China’s lack of transparency is a real problem. China does not publish: the number of persons sentenced to death the number of persons on death row the number of executions carried out the number of death sentences reversed or commuted on appeal, and information on any scheduled execution Death penalty executions and sentences are treated as state secrets. Without transparency, no one can completely analyze China’s death penalty as well as its flaws. “The lack of transparency thwarts measures to protect human rights and stop unlawful executions, efforts to conduct rigorous empirical analysis and inhibits the understanding of China’s use of the death penalty by scholars, lawyers, the public, and perhaps even among government officials and policy-makers” (Amnesty International 40). Transparency is important in protecting human rights that are not upheld by China’s death penalty.

Solutions People should advocate and campaign to end the death penalty. China should be transparent with their sentences and executions. The death penalty should gradually come to an end since it would be hard to just completely abolish something that has been around for years. Petty crimes, like theft, should not be subjected to the death penalty. Ultimately, this will reduce this will reduce the crimes that are not classified as “the most serious.” There should be a way to classify what crimes are “the most serious,” since there is so much ambiguity in that statement. There should be procedures put into place to make sure the laws are impartial. There should not be any stealing of organs from those killed under the death penalty. Hopefully, these steps will help to gradually end the death penalty in China.


China should steer its society to the policy of leniency as opposed to severity and yanda. Many in China, however, greatly support the death penalty and oppose its alternative which is life imprisonment without parole. This is due to the embedded philosophy of “an eye for an,” also Shang Yang, various dynasties, and Mao and his gang of four. China should combat this policy so that it is more in favor of human rights, while also being transparent with their sentences and executions. Overall, China should gradually work to abolish the years worth of embedded unjust Yanda policy.

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Death Penalty in China. (2021, Sep 09). Retrieved from

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