Defining Death-Eligible Murder in China

79 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2017 Last revised: 19 Oct 2022

See all articles by Michelle Miao

Michelle Miao

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2017


The central purpose of this article is to illuminate the process and politics of China’s sentencing process for capital murder. Since 2007, China’s death penalty reform has resulted in a recalibration of the convicted murderers’ eligibility for execution. The reform heralded a substantial decline in the number of capital sentences, as well as a rise of the alternative to executions – the suspended death sentence. In the reform era, how do Chinese courts determine who should be spared from execution and who deserves the ultimate punishment of death? This article uses quantitative analysis of 369 capital murder cases, as well as elite interviews with 40 judges − from China’s provincial-level Higher People’s Courts and the Supreme People’s Court − to analyze the political logic behind Chinese courts’ approach to defining the execution-worthiness of convicted murderers. While there is rich literature on capital sentencing in the U.S., there is a dearth of comparative analysis of the challenges Chinese courts face in drawing the distinction between life and death sentences in the country’s unique social and political context. This article seeks to make a contribution to this crucial topic.

Keywords: The Death Penalty, Murder, Capital Sentencing, China

JEL Classification: K10, K14

Suggested Citation

Miao, Michelle, Defining Death-Eligible Murder in China (2017). American Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 67, Issue 2, June 2019, Pages 327–382,, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2017-19, Available at SSRN:

Michelle Miao (Contact Author)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law ( email )

Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong
Hong Kong


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