Legislation has been proposed in China that would reduce the number of crimes for which capital punishment may now be imposed. See the story on this in Xinhua. A statement by the Chairmen's Council of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee says the measure 'is meant to further implement the policy of tempering justice with mercy'.
The measure is a positive development, in that it indicates a desire to reform China's terrible practice of capital punishment. It is an effort to respond to international concerns about human rights in China.
The crimes being excluded from capital punishment include: smuggling antiquities, precious metals and rare animals; writing and selling false VAT receipts; and theft of fossils. We have no idea to what extent any of these crimes were actually subject to the death penalty in recent years in China. It may be that these provisions have become essentially obsolete in any event.
Some 55 offences remain subject to capital punishment in China. Until the Chinese authorities release statistics indicating how many people are executed and for what crimes, it is impossible to say with any certainty whether the reform represents real progress or is merely a public relations exercise.
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest there has been a significant decline in the number of executions in China in the last few years. But the only way to know for sure is for the Chinese authorities to make the numbers public. When they do so, then we'll really know that reform is underway.