Why Doesn’t Public Opinion on the Death Penalty Matter in China?


Michelle Miao

Paper removed September 2023 – view published version (Australian Journal of Asian Law, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2023)

Abstract: Capital punishment has been a topic that has long attracted international legal, media, and public policy discourses. As a global champion in administering the ultimate penalty in the past decades, China has yet to conduct any national public opinion surveys on the death penalty. Existing academic studies on the status of public opinion in China have not gained much traction in shaping public policy in China. Why doesn’t public opinion matter in China? This article explains that the scientific measurement of public opinion does not matter for at least three reasons: the two-tier opacity of the death penalty policies in China, the populist political need for constructing (rather than empirically measuring) public opinion, and the fluid and ill-informed nature of public sentiments that sometimes but not always affect judicial decisions. The implication of the research is not limited to China only but will also facilitate our understanding of the death penalty policies and practices in many retentionist countries with similar political and cultural configurations to China.

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