Geopolitics

Blood, Justice And Corruption: Why The Chinese Love Their Death Penalty

Editorial: There's nothing that the Chinese people hate more than a corrupted official. But the government should do more to root out corruption than play to the public's basest instincts for revenge. Still, don't expect China&a

A video image of a multiple execution in China (Duke)
A video image of a multiple execution in China (Duke)
Teng Biao


经济观察报
/Worldcrunch

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo - Duke human rights

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?




If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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