Innovation/Global Risk

Before You Die: Tell Your Fans Why You Did It

By Shlomo Maital  

Ding Yu Interviewing Death Row Man



This is the ultimate reality show. In China, a program with 40 m. viewers interviews Death Row inmates, sometimes just minutes before they die.   The interviewer, wearing silk scarves, perfect hairdo and immaculately dressed, contrasts sharply with the distraught interviewees. Her name is Ding Yu. Many of the prisoners confess their crimes and beg forgiveness from family and friends, before they are executed.   A documentary has been made, Interviews Before Execution, which will be viewed worldwide on BBC2. 

  The interviewed prisoners sit in leg irons, with a prison warden attending.  Ding Yu starts with some trivia (favorite foods, colors) but then cuts to the chase, asking about motives, crimes, feelings, fears.  Her goal seems to be to wring apologies from the distraught prisoners. 

  Her program has run now for five years, and has a prime-time Saturday night slot on national TV.

   Ms Ding has covered more than 250 cases in Interviews Before Execution. She told a child killer: ‘Everyone should hate you.’ Her interviewees also included a jealous divorcé who stabbed his ex-wife in front of her parents.  The shocking and macabre interviews have made Ding Yu, a household name across China.  In one scene, a prisoner in his 20s falls to his knees before his parents, who have been allowed to see him. He pleads: ‘Father, I was wrong. I’m sorry.’  Moments later, his parents see him about to be led away to his death. His distraught mother apologizes for beating him once as a child and implores her son: ‘Go peacefully. It’s following government’s orders.’   Prison officers then push her aside and drag him away.   In another scene, a firing squad of about 20 men is briefed by a senior officer before executing condemned prisoners. ‘Some criminals will be very tough and difficult. That means they’ll be dangerous,’ the officer tells them.

    The death penalty is wildly popular in China.  The Chinese believe strongly that for some 55 different crimes, death is deserved.