09 April 2008

China executes less

Is China suddenly completing less of what it once intended to do?

The article attempts to answer this claim and also offers such headscratching gems as this:

"Xiao said the SPC has in the past year improved the procedure for second instance trials of death sentence cases and the procedure for the final review of death penalty with unified criteria applied."

Who knew that Chinglish was so easily translated into legalese!

As best as I can tell, "second instance trials" mean appeals trials. "Unified criteria applied' sounds like Chinese lawyerspeak for legal precedent. But I'm no lawyer and if I were, I wouldn't answer any legal questions without first demanding a retainer in order to make certain that any potential client could afford my high hourly fees in order to access public knowledge and subsidize my parasitic lifestyle.

In spite of my legal snarkiness, let us all try to follow what this article purports to explain. It is well known in the human rights community that China treats its true number of executions as a state secret. The CPC issues official numbers of executed citizens while also winking and nodding that the number is obviously 'low'. How low is anybody's doctoral dissertation. But more than one group has suggested that China executes more convicts than the rest of the world. But it's a country with more than 20% of the world's population so we ought to remind ourselves that just about anything that China does is potentially as much as the rest of the world. It is further worthy of note that I have heard from many thoughtful Chinese citizens themselves that, to wit, "China has too much people." Therefore, as the men with the expensive ties and more expensive cars like to say: the defense rests.

This article backs up the point of wishful number crunching without nary a bit of hesitation:

"Legal experts claim that death penalty is imposed on more than 70 offenses in the Chinese criminal law. But the courts do not release the exact annual number of death penalty."

I am certain that a mathematical formula can be created to show how an unknown quantity can be reduced by a specific amount. But then the outcome is also an unknown, too. That still remains a state secret. The (old) inputs and the (new) output are both still state secrets yet we are being told in a well crafted translation from the original Chinese.

Somebody please tell me though how to do the math from this quote:

"Figures from the Beijing No 1 and No 2 intermediate people's courts suggest that, in the first five months of 2007, the number of death sentences dropped 10 percent from last year."

As it is made clear, the 10% reduction is a suggestion. This same formulaic qualification is often used, by the way, in many Chinese work contracts, e.g. "It is suggested that the employer pay the employee the full amount and on time." If the output is a state secret and the input is also, then how does anybody arrive at the figure of 10%? The percentage, too, is simply another official number.

So what can one do with this wonderful piece of high quality journalism? And by that snide comment, I am suggesting that finally Xinhua is rising to the level of Fox News! I thought to offer some helpful, unsolicited advice as a foreign language expert after I first found this headline to be lacking. To quote my own email to the website:


'China executes less following judicial reform'
With its incorrect grammar, this headline implies the exact opposite of progress. Less what? Less often? If the headline wants to explain that fewer people are being executed, then fewer, and not less is required; otherwise, less functions as an adverb modifying 'executes', which also means to accomplish, to perform, etc. On the other hand, how can one know whether are fewer executions when the real numbers are a state secret?
to execute:
1. to carry out; accomplish: to execute a plan or order.
2. to perform or do: to execute a maneuver; to execute a gymnastic feat.
3. to inflict capital punishment on; put to death according to law.
4. to murder; assassinate.
5. to produce in accordance with a plan or design: a painting executed by an unknown artist."

To date the article's title on the CCTV website has not been updated in spite of my free editorial polishing! But why would anybody bother correcting the ungrammatical title when the article is fluff propaganda? Right, that's what I thought first, too. But then there's an inherent belief in the article that having fewer executions is something that China ought to be doing. That awareness iss a good thing. It just happens that sometimes it's necessary to propose something as factual before an institution like a free press develops the wherewithal to verify and the political environment in which such a notion is safe. I can hear the imaginary laughter at the staff meeting when a junior reporter even suggested the need to verify the 10% claim. But that is exactly how some things start.