Chinese Death Vans

Mobile execution chambers are now on the road in China. As a replacement for the firing squad, this is nomadic power, bringing the state – and lethal injections – to your doorstep.

“Makers of death vans,” USA Today reports, “say they save money for poor localities that would otherwise have to pay to construct execution facilities in prisons or court buildings. The vans ensure that prisoners sentenced to death can be executed locally, closer to communities where they broke the law.” It’s the infrastructure of punishment detached from the limitations of geography.
On the other hand, “China’s critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners’ organs. Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can ‘be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot,’ says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. ‘We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade.'”
To guarantee that each execution is “carried out legally,” they are all “recorded on video and audio that is played live to local law enforcement authorities” – state-induced death as a form of avant-garde cinema.
As USA Today continues, punishment by death is not uncommon: “Sixty-eight different crimes – more than half non-violent offenses such as tax evasion and drug smuggling – are punishable by death in China. That means the death vans are likely to keep rolling.”
Perhaps leading to someone’s future Ph.D.: Urban Design and the Death Sentence. Or a TV show: Pimp My Death Van.

32 thoughts on “Chinese Death Vans”

  1. Well of course China executes the most people. It is the most populous country. Did Amnesty International adjust that to reflect percentages of a country’s population?

  2. Based on reported population data and the Amnesty figures on # of executions, the per capita rate in China is about 7 times more than in the US, which also loves killing prisoners. And of course the China #’s are if anything likely under-reporting. That took me about 60 seconds. Get yer head out of yer a**, JDSII.

  3. I’m reading too many environmentalist websites.

    My first thought was…

    “I wonder if it runs on hydrogen”

  4. My first thought was :

    Sounds a bit like the ‘Mobile Chemical Weapons Factories’ they found in Iraq after the invasion.

    Remeber? The ones that turned out to be for inflating weather baloons?!?

  5. I think the comment about executions per capita was interesting, tho. A.I.’s website listed the top 4 countries as: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, U.S.

    If you do executions per million population, it’s: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, China (U.S. drops to 7). Granted, it makes sense for A.I. to be concerned with the absolute numbers. BTW, the “unofficial” number of 8000 Chinese executions would still put them well in front.

  6. A creepy detail from the article:

    “The lethal cocktail used in the injections is mixed only in Beijing, something that has prompted complaints from local courts. ‘Some places can’t afford the cost of sending a person to Beijing — perhaps $250 — plus $125 more for the drug,’ says Qiu Xingsheng, a former judge working as a lawyer in Chongqing. Death-by-gunshot requires ‘very little expense,’ he says. Qiu has attended executions by firing squad where the kneeling prisoner is shot in the back of the head. The guards ‘ask the prisoner to open his mouth, so the bullet can pass out of the mouth and leave the face intact,’ he says.”

    Open wide.

  7. There’s a certain desire for clean action here. I’m reminded of Kristin Ross’ Fast cars, Clean Bodies : Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture, on the way the French killed Algerian prisoners through electrocution because it’s fast, clean and efficient in the 1950s. The fact that organs are to be used in this example that you posted about, adds another dimension to the whole act of extermination in a ‘hygienic’ way.

  8. Some older news on this: The Times; The Age; and Amnesty International

    And fadzilah, indeed; I would also add that Saudi Arabia’s proclivity for surgical punishment – or “punitive surgery” – follows in the same vein: clean, efficient, stitched-up, anesthetized. Sterile. When medicine is used by the state as a form of corporal punishment, you get into very frightening territory indeed.

    It’s somewhat absurd to mention this in the present context, but in China Miéville’s sci-fi novel Perdido Street Station, lawbreakers are punished by having their bodies “remade” – organs rearranged, skin grafts attached, hybrid genes implanted.

    Through regulated state surgery, criminals are literally turned into monsters.

  9. I’m not taking sides here, but the issues of the sate deciding how to use your body is a matter of degree rather than kind. We are shaped by our respective states through compulsory education, employment, and so forth. The reorganisation of bodies is extreme form of this, and so is killing, but all of these activities are present by degrees in every nation.

    We might also ask about the distinction between self-mutilation and that practiced by institutions/governments. It raises an interesting question about the balance between autonomy and social priorities. I think it’s safe to say that Michael Jackson and any number of female celebrities have disfigured themselves horribly, so what’s the appropriate distinction to make between their self-mutilation and that of state-mutilation, with regard to extreme forms of autonomy vs. subjecthood? Which is worse, the state creating Jordan/Katie Price out of some social ‘necessity’, or her doing it out of whatever desire creates the motivation?

  10. “Which is worse, the state creating Jordan/Katie Price out of some social ‘necessity’, or her doing it out of whatever desire creates the motivation?”

    If you are really having trouble with this distinction you may be overthinking it.

  11. Future punishment: You’ve robbed a bank, or murdered someone. You think you’ve escaped, uncaptured, free to go; but, one night, you’re in your house alone when someone grabs you from behind – and you’re then knocked unconscious.

    Some untold length of time later, you wake-up, drowsy, sore, and confused – and there’s a mirror placed in front of you, only you don’t realize it’s a mirror at first because the face staring back at you… is this thing.

    Then a policeman walks in and you realize what’s happened: the state has performed punitive surgery on you.

    Which I think would be worse than electing to do that to yourself. Personally.

  12. Tim, I generally start from a position of deliberately overthinking things. Because the consequences are often too funny for words. As with Geoff’s idea above. On the other hand, what I hope to avoid is taking things too seriously. I reserve such sobriety for paid work…

  13. Oh, one more thing: when the military offers cosmetic and corrective surgery to entice enlistment, how soon will we arrive at a day when such treatments are offered in lieu of medals, or as packages where the recipient develops a standardised appearance?

  14. Wonderfully obscene. I’m sure Zizek would have an amusing quip about it.
    I recently worked on some microfiche research and came across an 18th century book on the sadistic torture and penal system of China. Seems there’s a discourse tradition about Chinese cruelty holding a special place in the “Western” imaginary/fantasy.

  15. In the US, there is an ongoing (and widening) legal debate over what factors are most important regarding lethal injections…do we care more about the suffering of the doomed, or the squirmy discomfort of the observers? It’s interesting to fit those questions into the Chinese dilemma, which is.. .well, where does one start?

  16. I remember reading a scifi short story about 20 years ago (in Analog, I believe) where the need for organs to transplant had reduced law to the point where the condemned was anesthetized, and his/her organs removed, by the state for running a red light. The state also made money from the practice, in the story. There are two ways of procuring organs at the moment: growing them, or “harvesting” them.

    I just finished a book, Body Parts, which is non-fiction. Although it is against the law to sell your, or someone else’s, organs or tissue after death in the U.S. (even if you agree) the body can be “leased” to an educational institution (such as to train doctors in laparoscopy), and returned for cremation. Of course, sometimes body parts are stolen in the crematoria (for profit), or we or our relatives (good-hearted as we are) will our bodies to medical schools where they are then “leased” to brokers for “educational purposes” (removing knees, elbows, heads, etc. for training doctors at a few hundred or thousand each), and returned for cremation (sometimes mixed with ordinary ashes).

  17. oh yes china is great!
    i imagine – smoke some weed and get instant executed beside your bong. write a critical blog comment or email about the government and get instant executed by this murderers.

  18. well, the Chinese government uses stadiums as temporary prisons for rabble rousing petitioners from the countryside and sometimes also as a stage for public executions. they also have mobile fertility clinics (wonder where I can find a picture of one – with cup holders) that go around Tibet sterilising women. The award for most creative use of space to crack down on dissidents goes to…

    I know Mark Allison by the way and he definitely knows what he is talking about.

  19. “The guards ‘ask the prisoner to open his mouth, so the bullet can pass out of the mouth and leave the face intact,’…”

    What are they going to do to you if you don’t? Kill you? Um…

  20. If a previous blogger’s quote of A.I.’s website list of top (worst) four countries in executions per capita is correct, over what period? How did they count the people in the few mass graves in Iraq? Do you count terrorist deaths? Is this just counting a government killing its own citizens? Is this just prisoners being executed? What if they were never a prisoner? …like just executed on the street? How do you factor in the dictator killing vs. elected officials? How about with and without a trial by peers? How do you count where a country doesn’t report? Do you think some countries might not report how many people they execute? How do you count political vs. criminal? Which countries have more criminals per capita? And what constitutes a crime in one country may not in another (as in political)? and then catch more non-political criminals per capita? Oh, heck, let’s just ignore the factors because it’s too hard and I’m getting confused…and let’s condemn the killers…in fact, let’s hang them…it’ll teach them a lesson. Eddie B

  21. Best idea I’ve seen yet,,,, can we have them for ordinary people who just want to go before their quality of life deteriorates. Please

  22. Here are execution rates for 1998 curtesy of

    For comparison it seems China has an execution rate of about 3 times that of Texas which killed ~23 people last year. There really are a lot of people in China, it is a safe a friendly place to live and maybe they should just be left alone to make their own laws.

    Rank Countries Amount (top to bottom)
    #1 Bahamas, The: 6.62712 executions per 1 million
    #2 Singapore: 6.32625 executions per 1 million
    #3 Sierra Leone: 4.09068 executions per 1 million
    #4 Belarus: 3.20388 executions per 1 million
    #5 Rwanda: 2.84327 executions per 1 million
    #6 Kuwait: 2.56849 executions per 1 million
    #7 Oman: 1.99867 executions per 1 million
    #8 Congo, Democratic Republic of the: 1.64571 executions per 1 million
    #9 Jordan: 1.5625 executions per 1 million
    #10 Taiwan: 1.39775 executions per 1 million
    #11 Saudi Arabia: 1.09774 executions per 1 million
    #12 Iran: 0.970331 executions per 1 million
    #13 Yemen: 0.820186 executions per 1 million
    #14 China: 0.816802 executions per 1 million
    #15 Kyrgyzstan: 0.777303 executions per 1 million
    #16 Egypt: 0.619307 executions per 1 million
    #17 Lebanon: 0.522739 executions per 1 million
    #18 Cuba: 0.440645 executions per 1 million
    #19 Afghanistan: 0.334124 executions per 1 million
    #20 United States: 0.229936 executions per 1 million

  23. I call bulls***t on Amnesty saying that lethal injections make it easier to perform organ removal for transplants. If you should someone in the head you have a perfectly good body for transplants. If you inject them with a cocktail of lethal chemicals you can’t use their body for anything because it is full of chemicals which will kill the person who gets the organ.

    Seems like this and making sure the execution is on video is a good way to stop the illegal trade in prisoners organs.

  24. you cross the line, and your balls are mine 😀

    why cant we have this sort of system in britain! it will at least curb our social problems!

    say good ridance to gangs, drug dealers and any other scum that drags down society!

  25. I'm not taking sides on this but have they done an environmental study on the lead hazards of spent bullet casings. As long as the organs aren't used as a food source maybe we shouldn't judge? Rib steak anyone.

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