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)
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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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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