Luo Yaping, a 51 year old Chinese citizen and the former head of a land sub-bureau in the city of Fushun, was executed in China this week after amassing a twenty-three million dollar fortune through bribes, kickbacks, and embezzlement of public funds. Dubbed the “Land Granny,” Yaping’s crimes were described by China’s Anti-Corruption agency as being committed by “the lowest ranked official, the biggest amount, and the most evil means.”
In December 2010, the Intermediate People’s Court of Shenyang, found Yaping guilty on corruption charges and sentenced her to death. The court held that Yaping had failed to provide any evidence proving that she had legally acquired the money. The Supreme People’s Court affirmed the conviction and punishment this past June.
Arguably, the execution served two primary objectives for the Chinese government. First, it punished a citizen who didn’t follow the letter of China’s heavy handed law. Second, and more importantly, it sent a stern message to Chinese citizens who are increasingly voicing dissent over State sponsored land acquisitions. According to a recent Reuters article, Chinese leaders are “struggling to tame both feverish property price rises and discontent over land grabs. A recent survey found disputes over land acquisitions had reached a new peak driven by hectic development across China and was a leading cause of rural clashes.”
The severe punishment for a non-violent crime has raised eyebrows amongst many in the international community. Andrew Shea, a writer for Business Insider, noted that “[t]he execution is surprising in a society where bribery runs rampant and ‘kickbacks’ are written into company budgets, and this lady is of relatively low rank.” Amnesty International, an international human rights group, has heavily criticized the Chinese government for their “Strike Hard” campaigns whereby cases are investigated, tried, and punishments carried out in a rapid manner despite the possibility of a less than fair trial.
The vast majority of executions in China are the result of convictions for murder and drug trafficking. However, corruption convictions are increasingly viewed by the Chinese government as crimes warranting a death sentence. Do harsh penalties for traditionally non-capital crimes signal apprehension amongst Chinese leaders of possible uprisings? Will the execution of the “Land Granny” serve as an effective deterrent for other Chinese citizens? Will the threat of execution do anything to curb bribes and kick backs in China? Does the threat of capital punishment help or hurt the Chinese government over both the short and long term?