China is a culture that has never gone easy on convicted criminals. When I was researching 19th Century China for Robert Hart’s Concubine Saga, there was an incident in Canton that Hart wrote about where the Chinese Imperial government had fifty Chinese randomly selected from a street near a gate where rebels had broken into the city.
Those fifty were beheaded without a trial to show others what would happen if a similar incident took place. The heads were put in cages where the people could see them as a reminder.
More than a century later, the BBC and Wondering China reported that China’s highest law-making body would debate a draft amendment to criminal law soon to reduce the number of crimes that carry the death penalty.
A brief history of China’s legal system shows that when Mao died, there was no legal system in place at the time. In the 1980s, during the infancy of China’s legal system, the lower courts could apply the death penalty, but the numbers executed caused Westerners to protest the inhumanity of such acts.
As a result, in 2007, the law changed and death sentences had to be reviewed by a higher court before gaining approval. Without giving the exact numbers, the Chinese report that the number of executions is down.
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