The death penalty, especially for economic crimes, is a hotly debated issue in China, especially now billionaire Wu Ying is waiting in death row for illegal raising capital. Author Zhang Lijia joins in The Guardian the rising choir of opponents.
But even if Wu did “bring huge losses to the nation and people” as accused, does such a nonviolent crime deserve a death sentence? As someone who was brought up in China, I used to believe in the Chinese equivalent of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. As children at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, one of our rare outings was to watch public executions organised by the authorities. We always went along joyfully, thinking that justice was being done. It was George’s Orwell’s essay, A Hanging, about the execution of a criminal in Burma, that triggered me to begin questioning our traditional wisdom. As Orwell describes how the prisoner steps aside to avoid a puddle of rainwater, he asks himself what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man, and readers are obliged to ask themselves the same question.
I call for the total abolition of the death penalty in China because it is too easy to make a mistake in a country that lacks transparency and independence within the judiciary. The death penalty has always been used by the Chinese communists as a harsh tool to maintain social security and political order. Responding to outside pressure and pressure from academics and lawyers from within, China has progressively reduced the number of crimes punishable by death to 55, ranging from murder to drug trafficking to panda poaching. China’s legislators considered striking financial crime from the list, but it has remained in place.
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