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Chinese Couple That Murdered Toddlers in 2020 Get Executed, Case Sparks Nationwide Debate

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: February 1, 2024
Police officers patrol the High Court in Hong Kong on July 28, 2023. A Hong Kong judge denied on July 28, 2023 a government request for an injunction banning "Glory to Hong Kong", an anthem that emerged from the city's huge pro-democracy protests in 2019. (Image: ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)

In a case that has gripped the nation with horror and indignation, China has carried out the execution of a couple convicted of murdering two toddlers by throwing them out of a high-rise apartment window.

The brutal act, which took place in the southwestern city of Chongqing, has not only shocked the country but has also reignited heated discussions about the death penalty and the moral compass of society.

The Supreme People’s Court found Zhang Bo and his girlfriend Ye Chengchen guilty of the premeditated murder of Zhang’s children from a previous marriage. The court detailed a chilling plot to eliminate what Ye perceived as “obstacles” to their union and future happiness. The crime, which took place in November 2020, saw Zhang throw his then two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son from the 15th floor of his apartment complex. 

Zhang Bo (R) and his girlfriend Ye Chengchen (L) are pictured in this undated photograph. (Image: via NBT/Times of India)

According to local media reports, the little girl died instantly, while the young boy succumbed to his injuries shortly after the fall. 

After the execution took place on Feb. 1, it sparked a visceral reaction across China, with the country’s Supreme Court labeling the couple’s motives as “extremely despicable” and their actions as “particularly cruel.”

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‘They deserved it’

State-run media outlet Xinhua first reported that the couple had been sentenced to death in December 2021 — a decision that was met with widespread approval and sparked a plethora of comments and discussion on social media.

The news of the execution became a trending topic on Weibo, a popular social media and blogging site in China. “They deserved the punishment,” said one user in a comment that garnered 27,000 likes. “How very satisfying!” said another commenter that amassed over 31,000 likes and drew in millions of views. 

However, beneath the surface of the widespread public support for the couple’s execution lies a complex and contentious debate about the use of the death penalty in China. 

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According to a 2020 study and survey, 68 percent of Chinese citizens support the death penalty. Yet, the author of the study, John Zhuang Liu, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, cautioned that online opinions might not fully represent the broader public’s sentiment. 

Liu’s research suggests a gap in understanding the general populace’s stance on capital punishment due to the lack of rigorous data collection methods and transparent access to information from Chinese authorities. This gap raises questions about whether public opinion has evolved since the last nationwide data was collected in 2013.

‘World’s top executioner’

According to Amnesty International, China is considered the world’s “top executioner,” with thousands of people scheduled to be executed or sentenced to death every year. Though the specifics of these cases often remain shrouded in secrecy, they are contributing to an ongoing debate about the transparency and fairness of the country’s justice system.

The method of execution itself, which is typically lethal injection, has also come under scrutiny. Some social media users compared the practice to euthanasia — with some suggesting it is too lenient of a punishment for heinous or severe crimes. 

“It’s basically euthanasia. They had it too easy,” said one Weibo user, garnering over 20,000 likes.

But this perspective is juxtaposed against global discussions on humane methods of execution — highlighted by recent debates over the use of nitrogen gas to execute prisoners in the U.S, which some experts argue could cause excessive pain for long periods of time before death. 

“Why do I think a [long execution] is very suitable for serial killers and those who maliciously kill their wives, parents, children?” wrote another user. 

The couple’s execution has, therefore, not only brought closure to a case that has struck a chord with millions of people, but has also propelled fervent discussions on the morality, efficacy, and transparency of China’s death penalty system.