Execution of SFDA Director Prompts Death Penalty Debate

The July 10 execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, the former director of China’s State Food and Drug Administration, has catalyzed a debate in China regarding its use of the death penalty. While there is a general public consensus that Zheng deserved to be executed for accepting nearly 6.5 million yuan in bribes ($850,000) and for his dereliction of duty, some legal experts have begun to argue that China should reconsider its frequent use of the death penalty in the criminal justice system. Professor Cui Min of the Chinese People’s University of Public Security, in particular, has called for China to reform its practice of the death penalty (Xinhua, July 12). While the death penalty was legally justified, Cui noted, because bribery is punishable by death under Chinese law, “The international trend is to limit death sentences. China should apply the death penalty less extensively.” Under current Chinese law, 68 crimes can result in a death sentence, whereas in other countries that still utilize the death penalty, only a handful of crimes elicit such a sentence.

China’s widespread use of the death penalty, Cui argues, has also resulted in challenges for the Chinese justice system when pursuing criminals who have fled to other countries. A number of countries refuse to extradite convicted individuals to China, because they fear that doing so will result in the individual’s execution. Calls for the reform of the death penalty, however, have remained restricted to China’s legal community. The Chinese public continues to support its use, as reflected by the comments of one Chinese netizen regarding the Zheng’s execution. “There’s no need to waste bullets on him,” he wrote, “Just feed him the fake medicines he approved. That’ll kill him” (Xinhua, July 12). Yet, Cui, an outspoken critic of the use of torture by China’s police to obtain confessions, remains hopeful that such sentiments will be diminished eventually “…as the country moves forward and becomes more open.”