In two unexpected articles, the state-run Xinhua News Agency has shown what appears to be sympathy for 29-year-old billionaire businesswoman Wu Ying, who was recently sentenced to death for fraud.
Eight experts, including law professors, sociologists, economists and businessmen, were quoted by Xinhua on Monday as saying authorities needed to give Wu's case a second look, after the Zhejiang High Court upheld her death penalty on January 18.
Wu, from Zhejiang, was convicted of illegally collecting up to 770 million yuan (HK$947 million) from the public by means of high interest rates and deception.
Professor Qian Shuitu, dean of the school of finance at Zhejiang Industry and Commerce University, told Xinhua: 'The mainland's financial industry is still highly monopolised and controlled 30 years after economic reform. Private enterprises don't have enough legal financing channels to meet their demands.'
Some of those interviewed also said simply sentencing Wu to death would not solve the problem of illegal underground financing, and that there needed to be a fundamental change in the financing system.
But the Zhejiang court issued a statement from judge Shen Xiaoming to defend the ruling.
Shen said Wu's goal was to use the illegally obtained money to cover her huge debts. 'It wasn't private financing but illegal fund-raising to defraud the public of their money,' Shen said.
Professor Wang Weiguo, who teaches law at the China University of Political Science and Law, said the ongoing debate suggested that Wu's case deserved another look by authorities, especially given the financing dilemma facing the mainland's small- and medium-sized enterprises.
'Simply executing Wu and blocking the country's underground financing channels won't solve the financing problems of small enterprises, which account for more than 90 per cent of China's economy and provide 70 per cent of job opportunities,' Wang said.
He said the authorities should provide the public with an alternative to underground financing, given the realistic demands of enterprises. Under current law, lending by investors without authorities' approval can be deemed illegal.
Wu's death sentence, which has sparked intense debate, awaits a final review by the Supreme People's Court.