China: A Most Favored Nation or a Most Feared Nation-The PRC's Latest Anti-Crime Campaign and a Possible U.S. Response

By Stern, Russell H | The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview
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China: A Most Favored Nation or a Most Feared Nation-The PRC's Latest Anti-Crime Campaign and a Possible U.S. Response

Stern, Russell H, The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics


On a cold damp night in Beijing, a police guard is stationed outside of the home of Li Peiyo, a vice chairman of the Chinese Parliament. Instead of dutifully standing his post, the guard breaks into the home, steals the valuables, and, almost as if it were an afterthought, viciously stabs and dismembers the vice chairman.1 In Shanghai, a peasant thief robs the home of simple laborers and strangles the owner's daughter with a strand of wire.2 While in Zhongshan, another crime-infested region of China, a man enters a taxi, shoots the driver, and then drives to a bank where he shoots three tellers in the head.3 There is certainly no question that crime is out of control in China. Crime rates have been rising steadily at a rate of ten percent a year since the early 1980s.4 In response to this crime epidemic, on April 28, 1996, the Communist Party launched its latest anti-crime campaign called Strike Hard ( Yanda in Chinese) .5

The steep increase in violent crime in China, especially the brutal slaying of Li Peiyo, prompted this latest campaign against crime.6 There is another side to this story, however; the government used the Strike Hard campaign to seek out and punish not only violent crimes, but almost any crime. Between August 13 and 14, 1996, eight people were executed in Fujian, in southern China, for stealing pigs worth 14,432 yuan (roughly US$1736) and for vandalizing village property.7 In Jingshan, a court found Ke Yanling, a police officer, and her husband, Mu Erti, guilty of embezzling public funds and sentenced them to death.8 From the inception of the program, courts repeatedly handed down death sentences for minor offenses such as counterfeiting money and stealing cows, cars, and railway equipment.9

Strike Hard also targeted more than petty thieves and violent murderers. Human Rights Watch believes that Strike Hard victimized the "national splittists" in China-the term used by the People's Republic of China (PRC or China) to describe dissenters to the Chinese Communist Party regime.10 In Tibet, authorities arrested ninety monks and ordered the shutdown of monasteries linked to the Dalai Lama.11 Similar campaigns were aimed at the Buddhists in Inner Mongolia and the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.12

According to unofficial estimates as of September 1996, the anticrime campaign had resulted in more than 160,000 arrests13 and 1600 executions.14 An arrest often presumes guilt, leaving a trial as a mere formality.15 Courts order the death penalty with regularity because, under the current status of Chinese law, courts may order execution not only for violent crimes, but for any offense, which, in the eyes of the judiciary, "seriously endanger[s] public security."16 Anti-crime campaigns such as the recent Yanda crackdown have occurred every year in China since 1983, but the 1996 campaign was by far the longest and most heavily publicized.17

Needless to say, human-rights groups across the world are outraged at the levels of mass executions that have become a daily routine in the PRC. Not only is the wide scope of the campaign and liberal use of the death penalty a concern to these groups and legal scholars, but Xiao Qiang of Human Rights in China also fears that local authorities are given quotas and other anti-crime objectives that they must fulfill.18 Robin Munro of Human Rights Watch Asia says that it is inevitable that there will be a high proportion of miscarriages of justice and wrongful executions given the intense pressure to produce results.19 Amnesty International officially expressed its concern over the summary trials and obvious miscarriages of justice that are occurring daily in the PRC.20 On July 3, 1996, Amnesty revealed its estimation of China's Strike Hard campaign, officially declaring that the " `number of executions is shocking and will only serve to fuel a climate of violence and vengeance.... This is state killing on a massive scale-the international community should pressure China to stop such widespread and arbitrary violation of the basic right to life.

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China: A Most Favored Nation or a Most Feared Nation-The PRC's Latest Anti-Crime Campaign and a Possible U.S. Response


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