The Death Penalty and Institutional Reform in China

Friday February 17

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East Asia Seminar Series

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Fri Feb 17 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM 108N, North House


Stephen Noakes
SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellow, Asian Institute

William Hurst
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto

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Aga Baranowska


This paper considers the implications of recent changes in China’s death penalty legislation for understanding the nature and trajectory of political reform in that country. Extant scholarship, informed largely by the modernization paradigm, depicts changes in the administration of criminal justice as both a cause and a consequence of China’s liberalization in the post-Mao era. For those of this view, the policy of the Hu-Wen government to “kill fewer, kill carefully” represents the latest in a gradual move toward the eventual abolition of the death penalty, the further improvement of human rights, and a precursor to broader institutional change. By contrast, this paper argues that the policy amounts to the deeper institutionalization of capital punishment in Chinese jurisprudence, and that its retention, connected to key aspects of state performance and legitimacy, is in fact a greater portent of the CCP’s longevity than its demise.

Stephen Noakes is a SSHRC post-doctoral fellow at the Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. A specialist in Chinese politics, he taught previously at Queen’s University, Kingston, and in 2009 was a Visiting Scholar at Fudan University’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs. His current book project examines patterns of transnational advocacy on a range of policy issues in the PRC.

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