(Not) Talking about Capital Punishment in the Xi Jinping Era
In this paper, we investigate the death penalty in the People’s Republic of China in the Xi Jinping era (2012–). Unlike previous administrations, Xi does not appear to have articulated a signature death penalty policy. Where policy in China is unclear, assessing both the quality and frequency of discourse on the topic can provide evidence regarding an administration’s priorities. Therefore, we analyse death penalty discourse during Xi’s tenure and compare it with discourse under his predecessors. We base our analysis on three large datasets assembled for this project—the collected works of China’s leaders, a complete corpus of The People’s Daily and a database of academic publications in China. We find no references to the death penalty in Xi Jinping’s speeches. We also find a decline in The People’s Daily coverage of the death penalty beginning in 2015 and a sharp decrease in academic publications on capital punishment beginning in 2011. Our findings indicate that discourse on the death penalty has declined in the Xi era. We argue that the death penalty has been demobilised under Xi as a discursive site of political signalling. Finally, we conclude with some observations about discursive silence.
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