Confessions of a Chinese executioner

It's easy. Just pull the trigger.

“The work is not as difficult as it seems from the outside. We point, squeeze the trigger and that is that,” reportedly said one of China’s executioners in reference to his deathly work. He added, “We all use rifles and stand about 15 feet away from the condemned prisoner from whom we are separated by 3 foot tall barrier.”  Chinese media recorded an interview with an executioner named Hu Xiao, who has participated in the official killings for some two decades.  In the Beijing Evening News it was also recorded that prisoners, kneeling before their executioners, frequently collapse in fright before sentence is carried out. 

Executioner Hu recalled that in one case, a soldier who had been convicted of murder rose up and ran towards the firing squad and afforded them the opportunity to kill a moving target. China is one of 23 countries, including the United States, where capital punishment is still observed. Ninety-six countries have officially abolished the death penalty. China executes more people than any other country in the world.

The veteran executioner justified his actions, saying “All of the condemned get what they deserve for their crimes,” and added that the executions have become a routine for him. He recalled, however, that the second time that he carried out a death sentence he was a little nervous, but not because he was afraid. Said Hu, “I was afraid that I would not hit the mark and so be ridiculed by my comrades.”  To prepare him for the bloody task, veteran executioners had Hu witness two executions and then also inspect the victims for any signs of life.

Amnesty International has recorded 527 official executions in 2010 in 23 countries, representing an increase of 4 countries over the previous year. However, the butcher’s bill in 2009 was higher: 714 sentences carried out.

But these figures do not include the People’s Republic of China. In 2004, Comrade Deputy Chen Zonglin admitted that some 10,000 people met their fate at the hands of executioners in the worker’s paradise. Even so, it is alleged that China has decreased the number of capital sentences.  In some cases, the Supreme Tribunal of China has thrown out convictions that used evidence secured by torture and threats.  With a move to further humanize the project, China may soon start carrying out the death penalty by lethal injection, much as is the case in the U.S.

The majority of the cases of capital punishment come from convictions for murder or robbery, but the sentence is also carried out in cases of drug trafficking and corruption. For instance, Zhang Yujun, a former dairyman, and Geng Jinping were executed in November 2009 for their role in adulterating milk used for infant formulas that killed children in China. Chinese judges can impose the death penalty for 68 distinct crimes, 44 of which are non-violent.

In February 2011, Chinese officialdom made the announcement that it would abolish the death penalty for 13 so-called 'economic crimes.'  It also dropped the penalty for offenders aged 75 and old, ostensibly to rein in abuses in the Communist legal system. Among the 'economic crimes' are the forging and selling invoices to avoid taxes and smuggling cultural relics and precious metals such as gold out of the country.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.


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