Which crimes are the most common cause for the death penalty in China?

I recently came across a video showing a mass execution in China. Most of the "criminals" seemed to be young ladies. This makes me wonder what their crime could possibly be, since in most countries which still perform capital punishment, it's quite rare for women.

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    There is no way I will watch a video about that topic. But my guess would be that they are falun gong. Jun 21, 2021 at 16:37
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    @JoeW, Of caurse they can, but it's somewhat rare and it usually doesn't involve a dozen of women. Very hard to imagine that the context here is that a dozen of 20-30 year old ladies killed someone.
    – Jacob3
    Jun 21, 2021 at 19:36
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    Dozens of women in a country with around 1/6 th of the world population is a lot?
    – Joe W
    Jun 21, 2021 at 21:21
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    Just for reference the video clip linked in question is most surely a staged play, it’s off from reality in too many ways. However there are many possible ways that may results in young ladies getting capital punishment, for example, drug trafficking is heavily punished in China, processions or involved in transporting or selling of illegal drugs can easily land one into death penalty, something around 2lbs of cocaine in your trunk can easily make it.
    – tweray
    Jun 21, 2021 at 23:16
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    @JoeW Dozens of people being killed is a lot.
    – James K
    Jun 22, 2021 at 20:02

3 Answers 3


China's ‘grotesque’ level of capital punishment remains shrouded in state secrecy. Investigation by human rights organisation, Amnesty International found "public news reports of at least 931 individuals executed between 2014 and 2016 (only a fraction of the total executions), but only 85 of them are in the state database." There are numerous cases of executions related to “terrorism” and drug-related offences which are not in official statistics.

And so the statistics of state executions is fundamentally unknown. The official statistics are clearly a fraction of the true scale of killing. The crimes carrying the death penalty include drug offences, murder and "terrorism" (the scare quotes since the actual nature of the terrorist acts is not revealed).

  • it is interesting to see what searching for Falun Gong executions China - inspired by the first comment on the question - finds. Organ harvesting is claimed, putting the lie to Algis Budris' mockery of Larry Niven Jun 22, 2021 at 22:39

See Wikipedia on capital punishment in China and capital offences in China.

  • There are 46 "capital crimes" which can lead to the death penalty. The full list is in the second source.
  • However, "the exact numbers of executions, and death sentences, are considered a state secret by China, and are not publicly available."

So your question is not answerable with publicly available information.

Addendum: looking at the now-deleted video, the execution is by firing squad. This is not standard in China, according to the first Wikipedia article, since lethal injection is more common now and in some provinces is also the only legal form of execution. Coupled with the fact that capital punishment is highly secret in China, I suspect the video is staged.

Addendum #2: the people executed in that video appear to be wearing boards that say what crimes they were convicted of. The quality of the video is poor, but one sign appears to be legible - the one at 4:17. The crime appears to be extortion (you can compare the Google Translate characters vs. the text on the board). By the second link above, this is not a capital offence, further casting doubt on the legitimacy of the video.


To address a point not covered by the other answers, the only cases where I've heard of mass executions being plausible have been murder-piracy, and drug-related. E.g. in 2013

Four foreign men have been executed in China for the murder of 13 Chinese fishermen on the Mekong river in 2011, after being paraded on state TV. [...]

It is believed to be the first time in China's recent history that live footage of condemned criminals being taken to their execution has been broadcast.

Or in 2017

Lufeng, a city in southern Guangdong province, is increasingly publicising criminal verdicts, in what appears to be a bid to stamp out its reputation as a hotbed for synthetic drug production.

This week, a court in the city invited members of the public to watch 12 convicts be sentenced at a local sports stadium. It was attended by thousands.

Popular news website The Paper says that following their verdicts and with the approval of the court, the 10 who were given death sentences for drug offences "were escorted immediately to the place of execution and terminated".

But no footage of mass executions proper has transpired, as far as I know. (The YT video linked in the original question has been taken down, so I don't know what it was purporting to show.) On the other hand, Radio Free Asia has some footage on its YT channel purportedly showing one man being executed.

Likewise 4 Japanese (suspected yakuza) were executed in China in April 2010, again for drug trafficking. Such stories regarding mass death sentencing for drug trafficking (and probably serial executions) are not uncommon though; they go as far back as 2000, at least. Apparently, such executions are sometimes even coordinated across regions, in order to have more impact on public awareness.

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