BEIJING -- Police executed eight convicted criminals in a single day last week, according to official press reports, and observers said that more executions can be expected as part of China's current morals campaign leading up to the national day holiday on Oct. 1 and a major Communist Party congress scheduled for Oct. 25.
Executions regularly precede important holidays in China, and the need to impose discipline before the congress has apparently added impetus to a crackdown on crime.
A senior attorney from China's Supreme Procuratorate, the country's highest prosecutorial body, announced Saturday that while cases of arson, murder, rape, theft, and gambling had decreased, cases brought to court dealing with bombings, smuggling, assault, robbery, and the abduction of women and children had increased.
Of the eight men executed last Thursday, six were convicted armed robbers accused of holding up or attacking taxi drivers in Beijing last year. Two other men in the southern city of Guangzhou were executed for inducing women to become prostitutes.
Executions in China are usually administered by a policeman firing a single bullet into the back of the neck.
Western sources, including the London-based human rights organization, Amnesty International, estimate that thousands of people were executed after a major crackdown on crime began in September 1983.
Amnesty has accused the Chinese government of carrying out summary executions, in some cases without trials. The human rights organization argues that there are no studies to prove that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to crimes than other forms of punishment.
In contrast with this view, a book of talks and speeches by China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, published here earlier this month provides an unusual insight into the thinking of Chinese leaders on the use of capital punishment.
In the book, Deng calls for the death penalty for hardened criminals who refuse to reform, corrupt officials who cause heavy financial losses to the state, and "the worst proprietors of brothels" in Guangdong Province, where Deng said prostitution is "rampant."
The Chinese leader also calls for the execution of "some of those people" who organize superstitious and secret societies.
The book gives a hitherto unpublished account of a talk Deng delivered at a meeting of the powerful five-man standing committee of the Politburo Jan. 17 of last year.
"The death penalty cannot be abolished, and some criminals must be sentenced to death," said Deng, according to the newly published English-language book entitled "Fundamental Issues in Present-Day China."
Deng said he had read documents showing that "there are a great many habitual criminals who, on being released after a few years' remolding through forced labor, resume their criminal activities, each time becoming more skillful and more experienced. . . .
"Why don't we punish severely, according to law, some of those people who traffic in women and children, who make a living by playing on people's superstitions or who organize reactionary secret societies, and some of those habitual criminals who refuse to reform despite repeated attempts to educate them?" the Chinese leader wrote.
It was not known whether any organizers of superstitious or secret societies have been executed.
"Generally speaking, the problem now is that we are too soft on criminals," Deng said. "As a matter of fact, execution is one of the indispensable means of education."
Deng's view on executions is supported by many Chinese. Ordinary Chinese refer to it as "killing a chicken to frighten the monkeys."