BEIJING — Huang Baoxiang of Hong Kong was convicted of stealing 18 vans and cars in southern China and selling them for $497,000, a sum that is 2,000 times an urban worker's annual wage. He was executed.
Liang Qingxiang of Shanghai was convicted of buying and showing pornographic videotapes and acts that "seduced and encouraged men and women in indecent behavior." He, too, was executed.
Deng Qilin, a 24-year-old worker in a fireworks factory, set off a bomb for unexplained reasons in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, one of Communist China's most revered places, in July. It caused little damage, but he was also executed.
The three men were among the thousands--more than 10,000 by Western estimates--who have been executed since China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, launched an anti-crime drive in August, 1983.
A bullet in the back of the head has long been the method of execution in China. The condemned person is blindfolded and forced to kneel with the executioner standing behind with a pistol. But the method of execution is seldom spelled out in the reports of executions, and it is widely believed that families of the condemned person must pay 27 cents for the bullet.
Most of those sentenced to death are convicted murderers, rapists or habitual thieves. But capital punishment is also administered in more flagrant cases of corruption, pornography and social disorder that are deemed disruptive to Deng's attempts to initiate market-oriented reforms and open China to the outside world.
Economic Crimes Included
In 1982, China's criminal laws were revised to make serious economic crimes such as smuggling, theft of cultural relics and large-scale bribery punishable by death.
But as late as January, 1986, Deng apparently beleived that the courts were still too lenient.
He told the Standing Committee of the Politburo then that "generally speaking, the problem now is that we are too soft on criminals."
"As a matter of fact, execution is one of the indispensable means of education," Deng added. His remarks were recently published in a book of his speeches.
He said that those who traffic in women and children, make a living by playing on people's superstitions or organize reactionary secret societies must be dealt with harshly.
Western analysts who follow China's criminal system say that both the number of executions and the publicity surrounding them appear to increase as an important Communist Party meeting approaches.
That could explain a spate of of executions in recent months in conformance with the oft-repeated saying: "By killing one we educate 100."
One day in September eight people were reported executed: six in Beijing for robbing taxis and two in Canton for running prostitution rings.
Also in September, those executed included two men in southern China who made poisoned liquor that killed 33, two men who robbed and killed a Chinese-American aboard a train, the Tiananmen Square bomber and the Hong Kong car thief.
There were probably more, but the government releases no figures and generally announces only cases it wants to make examples of.
One example was the execution last year of a man who slightly injured two Australian women in a robbery attempt. Attacks on foreign tourists, the government has made clear, will not be tolerated.
Low Crime Rate Claimed
China claims that its crime rate is still well below most Western nations and Japan and that the number of criminal cases has dropped by more than a third since the anti-crime campaign began in 1983.
But the president of the Supreme People's Court, Zheng Tianxiang, said in the spring that although violent crimes are down, economic offenses--including smuggling, embezzlement, bribery, swindling and profiteering--were up 55% in 1986 to 78,000. He blamed "decadent bourgeois ideas and slack political and ideological work."
Among those who paid with their lives for economic crimes was Wang Jilong of northeastern Liaoning province, executed in August for cheating construction companies out of nearly $3 million--a huge sum in China--through fake contracts.
Another was Li Chaolin, a local official in central Hubei province, who headed a group that accepted bribes worth $27,000 in television sets, refrigerators, bicycles, gold rings and watches.
Chinese officials strongly deny claims by the London-based Amnesty International and other human rights groups that the Chinese court system is marred by forced confessions, presuppositions of guilt, heavy sentences and summary executions.
China responds that every convicted person has the right to appeal, that torture is condemned and that leniency is shown to those who confess their wrongdoing.
The courts in some less-serious cases give condemned prisoners a two-year reprieve and commute the sentences if the prisoners show good behavior. Such a reprieve was used in the case of Jiang Qing, Mao Tse-tung's widow, who has been in prison since the death sentence imposed on her in 1980 for trying to take over the government.
Some Mass Trials
China still occasionally holds mass trials, such as one in Beijing this past July where 18,000 people gathered at a stadium to watch 10 men be convicted of murder or repeated theft and sentenced to die. They were taken away and shot immediately after the trial.