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'Death Vans'— Probably Not on Today's Sino-US White House Agenda

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Photo: Nick Humphries
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Here's one topic not likely to come up for discussion between President Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintao: 'death vans'.

China, in its quest for both order and efficiency, has taken a novel approach to executions. The so-called death vans, which are blue-and-white police vehicles fitted with a 'couch' that serves as an operating table, are mobile platforms where lethal injections can be administered.

The first thing to know about capital punishment in China is that the Chinese government executes more people than every other country in the world—combined.

For example: According to statisticspublished by Amnesty International, China executed 1,718 people in 2008. That figure represents nearly three quarters of the 2, 390 executions worldwide during the same year.

The Chinese have referred to the death van program as 'progress', as explained by this article in the British Daily Mail newspaper in 2009.

An example of this 'progress' is provided:

"It seems a perverse claim [claims of humanitarian improvement by the death van], but certainly the shootings can be gruesome. Once carried out in public parks, these executions -sometimes done in groups - have seen countless cases of prisoners failing to die instantly and writhing in agony on the ground before being finished off. "

Also, there are more pragmatic objections to the firing squads—aside from the obvious spectacle created by al fresco mass shootings in a public park: "There are other concerns: soldiers carrying out the shooting complain that they are splashed with Aids-contaminated blood. "

With death by firing squad passing into history, as the 'death vans' improve in popularity, another vestige of Chinese execution culture may pass into the history books: "After the shooting, relatives are often presented with the bullet hacked from the condemned's body - and forced to pay the price of the ammunition."

Talking of the history of Chinese executions, the article in the Mail helpfully notes that the most dreaded form of execution, Ling Chi—or death by a thousand cuts—, was abolished by China in 1905.

(Apparently, death by a thousand cuts was more than just a metaphor. But it was a loose metaphor at best: "Traditionalists insisted that exactly 3,600 slices were made")

But, in a certain sense, the thousand cuts have taken on a more modern—and equally literal form—mobile organ harvesting.

The condemned's vital organs are recycled in the death vans by a team of doctors who are standing by to remove them.

Once again, the Daily Mail explains:

"Little goes to waste, though the heart cannot be used, having been poisoned by the drugs. The organs are dispatched in ice boxes to hospitals in the sprawling cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, which have developed another specialist trade: selling the harvested organs. "

Perhaps, most ominously of all, the death vans have been compared to a Nazi vehicle, pioneered for a similar use:

Also from the Daily Mail:

"In chilling echoes of the 'gas-wagon' project pioneered by the Nazis to slaughter criminals, the mentally ill and Jews, this former member of the China People's Party will be handcuffed to a so-called 'humane' bed and executed inside a gleaming new, hi-tech, mobile 'death van.'"

In a final note, Chinese industry is—as always —open for export: If you'd like a death van of your very own, the manufacture is now taking orders.

"We have not sold our execution cars to foreign countries yet,' beamed a proud spokesman. But if they need one, they could contact our company directly."

(Hat Tip: Business Insider)

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