My interest was reawakened after I decided to live in China; in fact what really rekindled my interest was a guy who came to work for me during my time at NAC MG. Hu Jin is a young (mid-20’s) product of modern China, born into relatively wealthy family with close political connections. They could afford to send him to Singapore, Malaysia and Finally England to finish his education and improve his English. Hoping to give their only son the chances they never had - they held high hopes for his return to China.
Hu Jin taught me a lot about Chinese culture, but one thing stuck in my mind and is still referred to in many conversations I have with fellow westerners – the Chinese approach to the death penalty.
You see Hu Jins father had been the British equivalent of a High Court Judge. Based in Nanjing he would preside over the more serious of crimes in the city and the Jiangsu province. Jin told me of the times he would go to the court to watch his dad in action, and how is dad was relatively famous in the city, a well respected upstanding man of the community.
He also told me how his dad would take him to the weekly executions at the local jails, he recollects that he first witnessed an execution at around the age of 6 – a birthday present from his dad to show him how bad people were dealt with. The executions weren’t public, but those with the right connections could find a way to view the dozens that were put to death each month. Death was administered by the condemned kneeling with hands tied behind their back, and a single bullet fired directly into the brain, exiting through the face, it was quick, relatively clean and probably just as important - cheap!
He would go on to tell me that more people were executed in Nanjing in one month, than in the rest of the world added together over any particular year – his summation didn’t include the other cities in China – which had equal levels of capital punishment.
I came across data that wipes that holier than thou smugness from our western faces, those who think the Chinese are barbaric and uncivilized, need to look at their own record books on capital punishment before passing judgment.
Capital Punishment was only legally abolished in the UK in 1999, although this was theoretical, as you were unlikely to have seen the wrong side of a hangman’s noose for Treason, or Piracy, the last felonies with the ultimate of punishments. In fact the last person to die from legally enforced punishment was in 1964 (the simultaneous hanging of Peter Anthony Allen and John Robson Walby).
Before that the UK had a long record for hanging men, women, children and horses (or was that a Gene Wilder film?).
Public hangings were common, as were multiple hangings the most on record being 23 in 1649. The punishment itself was almost always a rope around the neck, although the method changed over the years from strangulation (The short drop method) which would take up to 5 minutes, to (hopefully) a neck break after 1872 when the long rope and short drop was brought in as a more humane way of disposing of criminals.
Capital punishment fell out of favour with the British judicial system and the public at large during the early part of the last century, probably due to the fact that most of the young men being subject to government sponsored genocide, or the first and Second World War as it was more commonly known.
There are still many countries where capital punishment is still the favoured discipline for the worse crimes, although it seems that the US prefers to keep people facing a lingering punishment before finally putting the ‘Quarter’ in the electric meter. It takes on average 11 years on death row before the switch is finally flicked.
So is capital punishment good or bad? Well on one hand it does seem barbaric and against the message of forgiveness to end a person’s life to the hand of man, and not the hand of nature. But then denying a person freedom, and a reason for living, is surely more barbaric. If a wild animal is captured we see it as ‘inhumane’ to cage them, and endure them to a meaningless life, favouring a quick and painless death seems to be more acceptable to us when it comes to animals. I know we aren’t animals, but when people resort to ‘animal’ behaviour should they not be expected to be treated like said animals?
And what of our man in China committed to death for selling ant breeding kits to greedy investors – well I say commute his death sentence, and put him in charge of “How to Sell Snow to the Eskimos” seminars for Fortune 500 companies until he has repaid his debts.