Did China ever actually send prisoners' families a bill for the bullet?
September 22, 2011 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I've read that in the past, the family of an executed prisoner in China later received a bill for the cost of the bullet used in the execution. Is this true?

I've seen this claim pop up in a few places, but [citation needed]. In either case it doesn't seem to be current practice, but is there any reliable evidence/confirmation that it was ever true, or is this just an urban legend about the brutality of the regime?
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

"Many public executions have been held in football stadiums so traditional execution methods are no secret. The condemned criminal is taken by open truck to the execution ground and made to kneel with hands cuffed and head bowed, before being shot in the head. Families who want to reclaim the body are charged for the bullet."
posted by fozzie33 at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2011

Also here from the London Times in 2005:
The [lethal injection] vans, which cost £33,000 each, are fitted with closed circuit television, which permitted Li’s death to be watched by local members of the National People’s Congress gathered at the city’s funeral parlour.

In the past, capital punishment was carried out by a single shot to the back of the head at execution fields outside Chinese cities and families of the dead were sent a bill for the bullet. Now the vans are circulating in several provinces, their clean and discreet method of killing hailed by officials as progress. Death by injection costs the state about £63 but is free to the victim’s relatives.
posted by Jahaza at 11:54 AM on September 22, 2011

Response by poster: Huh, interesting that those two citations are in conflict - one just says the family was sent a bill, the other says the family was billed IF they wanted to reclaim the body.
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2011

Don't have any cites handy, but I seem to recall that there are some cultural underpinnings to the practice. It's the duty of the family to raise their child as an obedient and productive member of society. Since the family has failed in their duty and produced a criminal, the government is symbolically billing them for the cost of cleaning up the mess they made.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 12:04 PM on September 22, 2011

In Chinese it's called 子弹费, or the "bullet fee." Generally said to be 50 or 60 RMB, and more about recovery of remains than the literal cost of the bullet.

However, my googling around (for example, a sort of Chinese Yahoo Answers) suggests that even in China there's debate about whether the bullet fee is a real thing or not.

It sounds like an urban legend to me.
posted by zjacreman at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a look around 'Baidu Knows' as well, and agree with zjacreman that it's likely urban legend these days. The question's been asked numerous times, and there was one answer I thought sounded a bit more credible:

In the early days just after the founding of the People's Republic, they really did ask the family of a criminal executed by gunshot to pay the cost of the bullet. There were historical reasons for this, such as the notion that those being shot were bad persons and The People shouldn't have to foot the bill for such types - the issue here being one of conceptual framing. Money was also tight at the time, an economic issue. You can read references to the above in various of the historical works covering the period from 1949 on up to the Cultural Revolution.

Only later was there no longer a requirement to pay the cost of the bullet. This, of course, was to do with progress made in thinking, economically and in how law was understood.
You can find references in Chinese (e.g. here - a memoir by her friend the poet and writer Zhang Yuanxun) to the police, after the execution in 1968 of Lin Zhao (a dissident featured in a film by indie director Hu Jie), visiting her mother to ask for five fen (cents) for the cost of the bullet. This would confirm that, as per our answerer above, it did happen, but then again in Zhang's account it's called 史无前例 (unprecedented) and 天下奇闻 (astonishing tale), so perhaps not as often as legend would have it.
Zhang's veracity has been questioned by another contemporary (Ch.), which seems worth mentioning too.
posted by Abiezer at 7:24 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Abiezer wins, as usual, but I thought I'd chime in on the side of "urban legend" -- I've heard so many references to it (e.g. teachers telling students that they'd better shape up if they want to save their families the cost of the bullet) that just sound like they've pretty much got to be urban legend.
posted by bokane at 7:39 PM on September 24, 2011

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