Pardoning criminals would boost China's image in 60th year | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 26, 2015
  • Updated: 2:41pm

Pardoning criminals would boost China's image in 60th year

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 August, 2009, 12:00am

With barely two months to go, the mainland is in full swing to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic. Of all the elaborate preparations, the main feature will be a one-hour full-scale military parade scheduled for the morning of October 1, National Day - displaying the latest weaponry and billed as the biggest in the mainland's history.

President Hu Jintao, along with other former and current top government leaders, will stand on the Tiananmen rostrum to review the parade and acknowledge the cheers, the rostrum where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic, and where Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin stood during their reign and solidified their places in Chinese history.

This will be Mr Hu's first since coming to power seven years ago and probably the only one, as the next celebration of this magnitude is most likely to take place in 2019, when the republic turns 70.

But this is not just about Mr Hu assuming his place in the history books, but more an auspicious occasion to celebrate the rise of China and its achievements and inspire national pride.

The top mainland leaders, who often delve into rich Chinese history for inspiration and wisdom, can do something particular to mark the milestone occasion by making a special pardon of convicted criminals.

Ancient Chinese tradition has provided a perfect opportunity for such an act of beneficence. According to the ancient calendar of counting 'heavenly stems' and 'earthly branches', a full lifespan takes 60 years, and the 60th year is called jiazi. Much like the Western tradition of marking a diamond jubilee, anyone Chinese who lives long enough to celebrate the jiazi is considered very blessed.

In feudal times, the emperors used the jiazi year to slash taxes or issue special pardons for criminals. On the occasion to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the People's Republic in 1959, the leadership issued the first and most significant pardon, which covered not only the war criminals but ordinary prisoners. From then until 1975, the government issued six other pardons, for war criminals only.

Two of China's neighbours, South Korea and Thailand, also used their jiazi years to pardon criminals.

Some mainland academics began to push for the authorities to consider pardons for the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic late last year and early this year. During the annual plenary session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March, some delegates formally tabled motions urging the government to consider the move.

The central government is believed to have set up a secret task force headed by a member of the Politburo Standing Committee to study the issue and explore the possibilities. It remains unclear what recommendations the task force has made to the top leadership as the window of opportunities is closing.

Understandably, some officials believe the move is too risky, as the mainland is going through an unprecedented period of upheaval.

But many supporters have argued that in the auspicious jiazi year, which signals a fresh start, making a special pardon of criminals can go a long way to foster the harmonious society trumpeted by Mr Hu and further unite the country by healing old wounds.

Such an act could also help improve China's image and standing in the international community at a time of its rising economic influence.

Over the past decades, the mainland leadership has frequently used 'strike hard' campaigns against crime, doling out harsh sentences and provoking strong criticism from human rights groups abroad.

Moreover, as the mainland authorities usually jail political dissidents and activists on criminal charges, a special pardon for those people could help promote political reconciliation.

The time may be short, but the mainland leadership could make this happen. The only thing needed is political courage.

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