Capital punishment is on the decline in China, a country responsible for more than half of the world's executions. Beijing doesn't release figures, but human rights watchers say death penalty cases are down as much as 40% over the last six years. Sinologists reckon much of that drop represents an image manicure as the Beijing Olympics approach.
But the move may reflect broader ferment in a criminal justice system that almost never acquits defendants, and which counts political dissidents among the tens of thousands it puts to death each year. Executions are expected to drop further in 2007, as China's Supreme Court assumes oversight of every capital case.