Oxford Criminology doctoral student, Michelle Miao, recently successfully defended her Dphil. Michelle's thesis, entitled ‘The Politics of Change: Explaining Capital Punishment Reform in China’, seeks to enhance the understanding of the causes, significance, and limits of China’s recent capital punishment reform.

The research surveys the reform initiated by China’s top judiciary – the Supreme People’s Court – around 2006-2007. It demonstrates a changing domestic socio-political context, within which the external and domestic impetus to reform is inevitable. Drawn from elite interview evidence with penal policy makers including judges, prosecutors, and legislators, the thesis concludes that European-inspired abolitionist forces created motivation for change in China during the past decade. However, due to intranational power relations, political ideologies and historical discourses, soft socialization forces have yet to unleash their full power in persuading China to embrace aspirations.

In the domestic realm, the research further identified three pairs of interrelated tensions – the contrasting views between elites and the public, the competing forces between political intervention and judicial autonomy, and the divergent interests between national-level judicial organs and lower courts. These tensions are useful social, political and legal indicators to explain why and how China reformed its capital punishment machinery.

Michelle is currently a Howard League post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford.