Death with reprieve (Chinese: 死刑缓期执行; pinyin: sǐxíng huǎnqī zhíxíng, abbr: 死缓; 死緩; Sǐhuǎn) is a criminal punishment found in chapter 5 (death penalty), sections 48, 50 and 51 of the criminal law of the People's Republic of China. It is a two-year suspended sentence where the execution is only carried out if the convicted commit further crimes during the suspension period. After the period the sentence is automatically reduced to life imprisonment, or to a fixed-term based on meritorious behavior.[1] The reprieve is integrated into the sentence, unlike a pardon which occurs after the sentence.

Chinese courts hand down this form of sentencing as frequently as, or more often than,[2] actual death sentences. The sentence emphasizes the severity of the crime and the mercy of the court, and comes from traditional Chinese jurisprudence.[3] According to researchers, the post-2007 death penalty reforms resulted in a larger proportion of death sentences becoming suspended.[4] Based on the 2024 sentencing of Yang Hengjun to death with reprieve for espionage charges, Ryan Mitchell, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, stated that death with reprieve was used in recent years to reduce the rate of executions without abolishing capital punishment. He also stated that such sentences were typically reserved for serious crimes with potentially serious social consequences, and that they were rarely commuted to fixed-term imprisonment.[5]

The 2015 criminal law amendment allowed sentences to restrict commutation to only life imprisonment for convictions of bribery or "plundering the public treasury". This was the case with Bai Enpei.

See also


  1. ^ "Gazette of the State Council of the People's Republic of China" (PDF) (in Chinese). No. 10. Government of the People's Republic of China. 4 April 1997. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  2. ^ Trevaskes, Susan (May–June 2008). "The Death Penalty in China Today: Kill Fewer, Kill Cautiously". Asian Survey. 48 (3): 393–413. doi:10.1525/as.2008.48.3.393. hdl:10072/26121.
  3. ^ Scobell, Andrew (September 1990). "The Death Penalty in Post-Mao China". China Quarterly. 123 (123): 503–520. doi:10.1017/S0305741000018890. S2CID 154380257.
  4. ^ Miao, Michelle (2016). "Two Years between Life and Death: A Critical Analysis of the Suspended Death Penalty in China". International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice. 45 (3): 26–43. doi:10.1016/j.ijlcj.2015.10.003.
  5. ^ "What is China's suspended death sentence verdict?". The Straits Times. Singapore. 5 February 2024.