Nothing fundamentally Asian about Executions

28 Mar

In a journal article entitled, ‘Is the Death Penalty An Asian Value?’ published in Asian Affairs, the author, Sangmin Bae, reasoned that there is nothing fundamentally ‘Asian’ with capital punishment.

To support his claims, he reiterated the stance of former South Korean President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kim Dae- jung, who, “argued that although social order and economic development are important to the protection of human rights, maintaining them at the expense of individual freedom and personal integrity would violate the essence of human rights.”

It is however his research and take on Confucianism that shatters to pieces the hypocrisy of Asian autocrats who uses the excuse of ‘Asian values’ to justify the death penalty.

Citing from Confucius’s Analects, she described the man’s conversation with Ji Kangzi, ruler of the state of Lu,

In your governing, Sir, what need is there for executions If you desire goodness, then the common people will be good.

In another instance, Confucious had also said,

If excellent people managed the state for a hundred years, then certainly they could overcome cruelty and do away with executions’ – how true this saying is!

The writer also cites the ‘Buddhist duty of non-violence and harmlessness (Avihimsa)’ to further support the argument.

In conclusion, the writer concurred that the death penalty did not arise from a ‘deterministic culture, but from acts of political will’ which is the oft misrepresented belief.

Following his line of argument, Asian anti-death penalty advocates could further explore and craft their awareness campaigns by highlighting the fact that some of the best Asian historical values or ideologies such as Buddhism and Confuciansim, is in fact, against executions.



1. Bae, Sangmin (2008) ‘Is The Death Penalty An Asian Value?’, Asian Affairs, 39:1, 47 – 56

2. Confucius, Confucius’sAnalects, trans. Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett PublishingCompany, 2003


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