The north-eastern province of Liaoning has become the first Chinese province to make lethal injections the standard way of executing criminals, rather than firing squads. The Higher People’s Court of the province stated on its website that “lethal injection can reduce the fear and suffering experienced by criminals. (…) It is a symbol of progress and civilization, and also serves to punish criminals”. This seems to be part of a general trend. It was reported in June that lethal injections will eventually become the only method of execution of criminals in China, completely replacing firing squads. The director of the Supreme People's Court was quoted as saying that this method for terminating a person's life is "cleaner, safer and more convenient", and also more humane. Even in this area China is obviously falling more in line with international standards, or at least with American ones.
Public executions of criminals have also pretty much ceased in the last few years, and the death penalty in general is being handed out less and less freely. Even so, it is clear that we are still a long way away from abolition. Serious crimes like murder are still most often punished by death. What's more, even very serious cases of corruption and other crimes not involving direct murder can be dealt with through the death penalty, including even drug dealing. This year, two executives from the Sanlu group were sentenced to death for their part in the melamine-tainted milk scandal which caused the death of at least six children. Just a few days ago, an official was executed for pocketing staggering amounts of Yuan illegally. To be fair, only the most severe cases of corruption are dealt with this way, the ones which in the United States might attract sentences of decades in prison. And after all, by now the Chinese application of the death penalty is in some ways more "civilized" than it is in the US. At least there aren't any public executions any longer, while in the US every execution is still public in some sense, since the relatives of the victim are invited to watch.
Personally I am dead against the death penalty (no pun intended). However, I realize that if I were Chinese I would probably be in favour. Most of the Chinese people I have asked about the issue seem to consider the death penalty a natural way of dealing with serious crime (having said that, I have encountered one or two exceptions). Many people are also clearly not aware that this penalty no longer exists in many other countries. A Chinese girl who I had a language exchange with a few years ago in my university in Britain was quite surprised when I told her that the death penalty no longer exists in the UK, even though she had lived there for a few years. A very intelligent Chinese student (now studying in Canada) who I discussed the issue with last year told me that since China has so many people, "extreme laws" are necessary to keep order. Invoking the huge population as a justification for pretty much any aspect of how China is organized seems to be common in Chinese thinking. Others claim that in traditional Chinese thinking, someone who takes a life should pay with their own life. At the same time, I would not make too much of cultural differences in explaining the persistence of the death penalty in China. After all, in England in the nineteenth century you could be hanged for far more petty crimes than the ones for which you can be executed in China today.
In any case, even though there is much that I like about China, this readiness to dispense with the lives of criminals is one aspect of the country I find quite unappealing, and I can only hope that it will go on becoming less and less common as international attitudes on such matters become more influential.