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The Speedy Execution of Zheng Xiaoyu


China "proves" to the world that they're serious about product safety.


The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court carried out the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of China's State Food and Drug Administration, yesterday.

He was sentenced to death for taking $832,000 in bribes to approve drugs that led to at least ten deaths.

China Daily said: "Zheng's death sentence was unusually heavy, even for China, and likely indicates the leadership's determination to confront the country's dire product safety record. The unusually harsh sentence and its prompt enforcement reflect the resolve of Beijing to fight against corruption and ensure consumer (sic)."

With the recent spate of recalled Chinese goods further tarnishing the export market upon which the country's growing economy largely depends (China's exports in June rose 27.1% year-on-year to $103.27 bln), the government set out to "prove" that they're serious about product safety.

The state-run Xinhua news agency estimates that more than 330 tons of fruit and vegetables, 131 tons of meat, 82 tons of seafood, 21 tons of cheese and 3 million bottles of beverages will be consumed during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and officials are desperate to stave off a quality-related disaster.

Though Zheng's sentence was described as "unusually heavy," China carries out more court-ordered executions than the rest of the world combined.

The Globe and Mail of Canada quoted Chinese legal expert Liu Renwen as saying that China is executing about 8,000 people each year.

By comparison, Iran executed 177, Pakistan executed 82, Sudan executed 65, Cuba executed 50, and Libya, 8.

But, China is eager for the world to know that they're not only serious about product safety; they're serious humanitarians, too.

A Xinhua report in March 2005, said that Chinese courts have meted out death sentences with a gentle hand by allowing the execution of a condemned person to be delayed for one day, affording him the chance to see his family one last time and bid them farewell.

And, the reforms don't end there: China has devised a "more humane" way of carrying out the death sentences themselves:

Mobile execution buses.

Manufactured by the Jinguan Group, the 500,000 yuan ($66,000) rolling execution chambers allow convicts to be executed by lethal injection (rather than the traditional death by firing squad) "immediately after sentence is passed."

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A Jinguan mobile execution bus

The switch from bullets to syringes is a sign that China "promotes human rights now," USA Today quoted Kang Zhongwen, the Jinguan employee who designed the bus, as saying.

"I think it is definitely a progress for China and it shows more consideration both for the people sentenced to death and for others," Li Guifang, vice-chairman of the Criminal Affairs Committee of the All-China Lawyers Association, told the IPS news service. "There is less pain and quicker death for the convicted."

And, convicted they continue to be.

41,038 criminal defendants were found not guilty in 6.2 million cases between January 1998 and September 2006, representing an acquittal rate of 0.66%.

The acquittal rate in the United States is 17%.

Paradoxically, while cash can get you executed in China, it can also help you avoid one.

Earlier this year, a number of convicted murderers in Guangdong province were given amnesty in exchange for cash paid to the victims' families.

Judicial officials defended the program, saying the commuting of the death penalty is done only with the consent of the victim's family.

There is much debate as to whether capital punishment actually affects the crime rate. Mr. Kang, the execution van's designer (who, admittedly, has a vested interest in maintaining his vehicle's production numbers) seems to think it does.

"If we abolish the death penalty, then crime will grow," he said.

Perhaps China would better control the crime rate if they better controlled the use of lead paint, most recently found on Chinese-made Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

Lead is a neurotoxin that causes impulsivity and aggression. A study by economist Rick Nevin shows a relationship between early childhood lead exposure and criminal behavior later in life.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin told the Washington Post. "65 to 90% or more of the substantial variation in violent crime was explained by lead."

In 2001, sociologist Paul B. Stretesky and criminologist Michael Lynch showed that U.S. counties with high lead levels had four times the murder rate of counties with low lead levels, after controlling for environmental and socioeconomic factors.

In 2002, Herbert Needleman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, compared lead levels of 194 adolescents arrested in Pittsburgh with lead levels of 146 high school adolescents. He found that the arrested youths had lead levels that were four times higher.

"Impulsivity means you ignore the consequences of what you do,' he said. "Lead decreases the ability to tell yourself, if I do this, I will go to jail."

Which, if you happen to be Chinese, you have a 99.34% chance of doing.

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