PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR THE DEATH PENALTY IN CHINA: LESS FROM THE POPULACE BUT MORE FROM ELITES
January 25, 2021:
An article published online by Cambridge University Press is the first to report the nationwide public support rate for the death penalty in China. Using a national representative sample with 31,664 respondents, it shows that 68 per cent of China's citizens are for the death penalty, while 31 per cent are opposed to it. (Source: Cambridge University Press, 19/06/2020)
These numbers suggest that support for capital punishment in China, although strong, is much weaker than in some other East Asian jurisdictions and less than first assumed by commentators. However, contrary to previous notions that public support for the death penalty derives from uninformed popular prejudice, it is the elites in China – i.e. those who receive higher education – who are more in favour of the death penalty.
Further empirical analyses suggest that this is not because of political ideology or fear of crime. Rather, the reason is likely that the elites know fewer, and sympathize less with, criminal offenders, who generally come from underprivileged groups.
These findings challenge a range of prevailing perceptions of public attitudes to the death penalty in China, especially the culture explanation for the Chinese public's punitiveness, and have important policy implications.