Liu Shinan

Behavior that calls for harsh punishment

By Liu Shinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-16 08:02
Large Medium Small

Chinese adage - luanshi yong zhongdian, which means in times of chaos, harsh laws are needed - is sometimes quoted when people discuss the necessity of strengthening the rule of law when society is plagued by lawless acts.

But the two words are often thought to be too strong for a fair commentary on the current situation in China, because luanshi - literally "chaotic time" - actually refers to an anarchic, lawless society, or one plagued by war or rebellion, while zhongdian - literally "heavy law" - implies high-handed enforcement of severe laws.

Today's China cannot be defined as a lawless society, much less one that is war-torn or rebelling. And laws, generally speaking, should not be deliberately made tough.

However, I would argue for the use of zhongdian in this country now.

This is because we need a few stern rules to bridle and punish the unruly, unscrupulous behavior that is now rampant in our society.

For instance, a more severe law to prohibit and punish the producing or selling of foods or medicines that harm human health and harsher traffic rules to punish reckless driving that endangers public safety.

We have seen far too much of such behavior in this country and there is nothing wrong with adopting harsh laws even if the current times are not luanshi.

Wang Lijun, who is the head of the public security bureau of Chongqing municipality, proposed last Wednesday at the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) that a "harsh law" be introduced to "severely punish" crimes endangering the safety of food and medicine. Explaining the reasoning behind his proposal, he said unsafe food and medicine are causing "the largest harm to our nation".

A total of 439 deputies from 12 provinces supported Wang's proposal, representing the largest number of co-signatories for a single bill at the NPC since 1983.

This fact testifies to how serious the problem has become in China.

For at least 20 years, we have been hearing about cases of contaminated food, ranging from pork injected with water and cooking oil retrieved from restaurant sewage, to vegetables with excessive pesticide residue and chickens fed with fodder containing hormones.

So many kinds of food have been contaminated that people often ask: "What can we eat now?"

Admittedly, the government has taken measures to crack down on producers and sellers who profit from adulterating food with hazardous substances. But there has never been a stop to such crimes. The reason? The punishments are too soft.

Most food adulteration crimes fall under the Law on Food Hygiene. The penalty on a "comparatively serious offense" is a fine between 20 and 30,000 yuan. Even the maximum sum is far from enough to act as a deterrent.

While the recently revised Criminal Law includes tougher punishment against food-related crimes, "the force of punishment still falls short of matching the severity of the crimes," as was observed by Li Qihong, an NPC deputy and vice-head of the Intermediate People's Court of Zhumadian, Henan province.

What is more, offenders can easily get away with their crimes thanks to the inadequate supervision by the food safety authorities.

"The current supervision team is poorly staffed nationwide," according to Wang Gang, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, who commented on the problem of food safety last Thursday in a panel discussion at the committee's annual session,

In his bill submitted to the NPC, Wang Lijun suggested that people who adulterate food or medicine with poisonous substances that lead to deaths or severe injuries should be convicted of intentional homicide or intentional injury and the financial penalty should be raised to as high as millions of yuan "so as to deprive them of the capability to commit the crime again".

Wang Zuwen, another NPC deputy, said: "This bill is meant to have the producer of poisonous foods pay a very high price - his family fortune, even his life."

Such a law, if passed, would be zhongdian.

But the public would heartily welcome such a harsh law, I believe.

The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. E-mail:

(China Daily 03/16/2011 page8)