Norms of death in China. Borge Bakken



only 80 countries use te death penalty. more have it on the statute book

non official estimates

1997-2001 – 60 000 executed

5 000 per year

reductionist paradigm.

china reducing number of death penalty offences

we learn to react punitively as we learn a language


strong markers of culture. stick to us.

not so culturally rooted as a language.

deep cultural roots in death penalty attitude

wen jiabo said china would not do so because it was part of teir culture

chinese retributive culture

argument that china has a 5 000 year tradition of the death penalty

does any country not look back at such a tradition

retributive penal populism

people believe in the effectiveness of harsh punishments. cultural links to violence. peasants sought vengeance

certain policies of state under mao zedong strengthened violence

15 june 1922 communists sad death penalty should be abandoned


mao said it was a political tool . he said it should be used with caution

30 000 executed in 1983

it must be effectively utilised against evil gentry to strengthen class consciousness. he said that peasant had not gone to far. he wanted to create terror to fight the landlords in 1920

he saw it as justified as retribution – peoples anger

appeasing people’s anger. legal principle. legitimises state violence. in a good survey in 2007 the principle of vengeance said 90% was part of death penalty. survey of legal elites

harmonious society.

square effect – justice there. escalating revenge. some warn against excesses

escalating spiral of violence. warnings are well founded. scholarly literature on revenge says it tends to excess and escalation

where we are likely to lose control

appetite for blood is hard to stop once set in motion

fear of chaos is real among the elite. is there a tradition of revenge by execution. some doubt it

there is a chinese multi culture – alternatives

chinese popular culture did not go by paying back a life for a life

principle of life debt through monetary compensation

many countries practised this

ethnographic evidence show primitive societies do not have repressive laws. it is governmental action that is so

governmental practise of dynastic bureaucratic regime culture of popular violence is the pre text for the state to explain use of the death penalty

chinese empire – it was not punitive compared to other lands

china has had a legal elite which was brutal. tempered by confucian which emphasised virtue , benevolence and mercy

chinese history has not been more brutal than china

punitivie practices – euro and USA are v different. different traditions in legal institutions and thinking

states need for control explains capital punishment

that tradition was as strong in china as europe

james whitman – crime historian.  eurpe became less punitive than USA/ comes from up or down

one needs a distinction between high and low to grant mercy to subordinates

only power can grant clemency

more lenient punishments for upper classes were granted to common man

american egalitarianism came in another form a violent one

what was given was that a lord was treated as badly as a poor man


Mao said mercy to the enemy is cruelty to the masses

why did china develop revenge and harshness, status hierarchies

did china not develop institutions of mercy? China had all this. this did not promote a milder system of justice

soft punishment for the elite. legal mercy. china showed more mercy than europe. general amnesties

brian macknight translated acts of grace.

extensive form of mercy – great acts of grace

applied to whole empire. conducted with pomp

these forgave offenders entirely. existence of v strong chinese culture of mercy. favouring lighter punishment

Tang dynasty fell in 907 AD

executions were reduced.


Ching dynasty was brutal but still had acts of mercy. no historical exceptionalism’ China was abolished in feudal times. 747-759 AD no death penalty

70 years with no executions despite it being a law at one time

penal history – executions in late imperial china were nothing compared to 18th century europe

punishments were reversible – state violence was graduated

age old unchangeble revenge culture does not fit

massive change in capital punishment in world recently.

change is v rapid and unlikely. innocence frame. people were innocently executed. DNA and forensics

diverted attention away from philosophy. you have not seen it/

23% of aussies support death penalty. it was 53% 20 years ago

changes in public opinion shifts. sociology. explain how norms change suddenly

threshold models of collective behaviour. ciritcal number of opinion holders can challenge mainstream opinion. tipping point

boiling point. rapid normative change

these processes are self reinforcing. policies that have been stable for decades can change suddenly

anti smoking norm.

social cascade of norm change . info disseminates through web

rapid opinion change in China. blogosphere

point to emphasis. sociology contradicts the idea of slow cultural change

death penalty is not a core cultural norm

it has changed dramatically in a decade in other lands

innocence movement developed in USA in the 1980s

former deterrence frame – 90% of americans sociologists say deterrence by death penalty does not work. some say it brutalises and leads to more violence

In china the opposite. most chinese criminologists say it has a deterrent effect

1 executions can save 8 victims – someone in the USA said. then they said it would save 20 victims. this overturned death penalty moratorium

mainstream scholars reject deterrence


this is in chinese blogosphere.

innocence frame affects USA sentencing. Attitudes tied to core value – new info does not change opinion much

slow change in USA is historic. most americans views on death penalty is linked to religion

hardcore christians like it

in china punishment opinions base don cultural core values. anecdotal evidence

. kill 1 to scare 100. kill the chicken to scare the monkey

never substantiated

like any society that comes from a rural and authoritarian past

does not lead us to understand opinions. all but core values

max planck institute

25% of respondents were concerned by death penalty

many respondents do not know – so they say

public do not pay attention. this militates against change

low salience opens chance of change

no strong cultural roots of chinese people  – punitive

they have opinions about death penalty

recently degree of support for death penalty in china has lately been tested

survey conducted in 3 provinces in 2007

data from big survey 1995.

other surveys

criticism that there was a lack of methodological stringency

30% of people who supported death penalty are peasants but they are 35% of the population in fact they are less death penalty supporting than the generality

people get shot or injected in china

surveys can be altered by way questions or phrased or sequences

do they favour death penalty in murder. easy to support it in the abstract

errors in some cases makes it harder

innocence argument is closely related to considering a concrete decision about a particular individual

moral debate is different

look at survey of max planck – particular question usually survey have a lower % supporting death penalty for murder than support it general

in spain 15% support death penalty. In Germany 11%

In USA 69% support death penalty

In china 78% supported death penalty for murder but general question for death penalty 58.7%

what is the difference. 1995 . 99% chinese supported death penalty

dramatic change

abolitionist 1% wanted to abolish it and now 14% wanted to abolish in china

most people want it reduced

change in opinion. reducing number

public security. 60% thought punishments were too soft

many people want to restrict the death penalty

reduce or abolish capital punishment

students sway from one side or the next and follow trends

chinese students in USA are v punitive

overseas groups are more conservative than groups in their own country






About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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