All entries for Monday 21 August 2006

August 21, 2006

The punishment that deserves the crime

I was reading a forum article in a Chinese weekly magazine (Beijing Review) on abolishment of capital crime for corruption. Death penalty is what I call a safe conversation topic, where you can't go too far in a discussion, because every possible argument, be it pro or con, has already been uttered in one form or another. What struck me in this article though, was a reader's suggestion to use the typically Chinese approach to punishment: shame, to tackle corruption. It's a safe practice that I've experienced on myself back in primary school. If you do wrong, you are told off, but not in person – in front of all of your classmates, or, if possible, if fronts of the entire school: pupils, teachers, maintenance staff – they will all gladly give you that gaze of disdain while your capital crimes are being announced over the school radio. It used to do good to my personality – it'd made me a flawless person. But will it really work with corrupted officials?

The reader suggested that for someone who has accumulated much wealth thru corruption the worst punishment may actually be losing face, losing reputation and losing all that fortune that used to open doors for him/her. The capital punishment gives the runaway–abroad criminals a precious excuse to seek refuge in any country that does not practice or support death penalty and consequently does not repatriate criminals who may face a death sentence at home. However, for the people at home, who may have suffered the dire consequences of corruption (at any level), death penalty sometimes just seem too humane, too quick and too painless. After some careful consideration, it may seem inescapably clear that the good old shaming may actually work for the good of both the criminals and the victims. It would spare the lives of the convicted ones; it would provide some sort of an answer and consolation for the victims; and it would also make the Chinese government look better in the eyes of its western counterparts and may provide a chance for the government to track down the stolen funds and inject it back into the country's economy.

This has led me to think about punishments in general. If punishments were personalised, wouldn't they be much more efficient? After all, what's one person's candy may be another person's stick. But then again, not all criminals commit crimes out of a liking. By comparison, imprisonment is perhaps one of the most humane ways to treat offenders.

August 2006

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