As for those youngsters who haven’t quite reached the stage of being profitably strippable, yet retain a certain holistic worth, I would be willing to bet forty or fifty dollars that the rumors I’ve heard lately in this regard are untrue. It’s being whispered breathlessly in the Free World that condemned Chinese prisoners who happen to be pregnant are being deprived of their soon-to-be-ex-spawn beforehand, which are then sold as health food and also as the active ingredient in high-tone American society matrons’ hand creams. This is probably mere nonsense. If there are half as many Palestinian medical students chained to the conveyor belts at municipal abortion mills today as there were a few years ago, the not-quite-children of well-behaved citizens are in plentiful supply, and extraordinary measures to garner felons’ fetuses would create a redundancy in the larder. (Swift suggested ragout, but in this case I think it’s stir-fry.)

Masochistic religiosity is another shortcoming which is not typically Chinese. If Japan’s famous child-dismembering serial killer, Miyazaki-san, had spent a working holiday on the mainland, they would never have gratified him with bushels of tearful petitions begging him to reveal the whereabouts of his victims’ legs so they could be cremated and wafted up to third-hand Buddhist heaven, there to be magically reattached to the rightful owners, who could then run and play among the pink clouds and keep in lock-step with all the other dead youngsters. (Japanese children have a strong inclination to bully anyone of their number who happens to be handicapped.)

In China, executions serve two purposes, at least one of which is arguably nefarious. But enhancing the fame of non-governmental egomaniacs is not among them. Even the most whorish of China’s famous novelists could never be expected to attend the execution of a particular criminal as preparation for belching the "true life story" into a dictaphone—unless, for some bizarre reason, the Party, which keeps writers on salary, assigned this famous novelist to engage in such behavior.

As for that other group of citizens of the People’s Republic who lately seem to be having a disproportionate number of their skulls perforated and vitals harvested—it does occur even to my educated, enlightened, "westernized" Chinese friends that an organization which methodically indoctrinates and deliberately encourages its prepubescent female members to set themselves on fire should, perhaps, be subjected to a certain amount of discouragement, with judicious numbers of its followers put down as an example. China has to be a hideously difficult place to govern, and the uneducated masses do tend toward a certain extravagant faddishness, particularly the youth. Large numbers of teen self-immolations in public squares can only have a destabilizing effect.

However, the carrying out of legal sentences on convicted criminals, and the recycling of viscera they have no further use for, in order to liberate law abiders from coronary disease and the living hell of dialysis—this somehow sits well enough with most Chinese I’ve shot the breeze with. They may not cherish each member of their nation in the same heartfelt way that an enlightened Occidental such as George "the Reaper" Bush does, but they are not heartless. Neither are they brainless. That’s apparent on execution day.

A single round fired point-blank into the occipital lobe is preferred to our kindler, gentler lethal injection, as the latter chemically taints innards and renders them unsuitable for sale. This back-of-the-attic approach also leaves precious hearts and kidneys unpunctured, which makes them more attractive to the people-giblet mongers who cater to rich sick people, including Americans. So greed does enter into it, certainly, especially in this century.

But in my day, before there was so much saturated fat in the Chinese diet, causing heart disease and gout to flourish and the giblet market to boom, these preservative effects were considered merely incidental benefits of inducing fatal brain trauma. There used to be, and probably still is, a much deeper reason than greed for the "head shot," to use the phrase made famous by G. Gordon Liddy.

In spite of their typically Asian lack of a concept of the individual, the people of the Flowery Middle Kingdom have contrived an eerily individualistic method of execution. Personalized service, if you will. For purposes of rapport, each boy is held from behind by the boy who is about to shoot him. The killings are as much for the benefit of the soldiers as they are for the ones about to die. And it’s easy to understand why they refrain from stepping back in a squad and putting a dozen bullets into the front of a torso tied firmly to a post or chair, as they did until a few years ago in my beloved home state of Utah, most glamorously to Gary Gilmore.

Kneeling down, flopping forward with the blast, the condemned undergoes a split second of total subjugation and repentance. Before his head scrubs into the ground, there is a moment when it seems that not the bullet, but the shocking realization of his own culpability, makes his body thrash out of control. And the solitary soldier standing straight above and behind is filled with a reaction to that action, an equally overwhelming sense of his own righteousness and that of his superiors.

Many of the executioners’ pectorals swell, their chests ballooning at the moment their cousins’ split faces slop into the cobbles—though their disciplined mouths remain inscrutable, unsplit by grin or gape.

This way of liquidating undesirables in China could not contrast more ironically with the anonymous gang-bangs that only a few years ago were choreographed in my native Utah, in order to obey the Mormon prophet Brigham Young’s injunction that "He who spills man’s blood, so shall his blood be spilt." (Not only the hangman, but the electrician and the pharmacist were cheated in the Latter-Day-Saint Zion.) A dozen unnamed volunteer Mormon farmers and drugstore cowboys were selected by lot and handed high-powered deer-hunting rifles at random, one of which was supposedly loaded with a blank shell, so they could each go home after the brave feat was accomplished and tuck in their eight or nine blond children at bedtime with the news that Daddy maybe wasn’t instrumental in granulating a person’s torso that day.

Multiple killers, working as a team, a small robotic mob of them, in which they can lose their identities; the refinement of the problematical blank cartridge, affording at least the technical possibility of anonymity even within the executioners’ private selves—this is the sort of procedure one would expect an Oriental civilization to devise. Meanwhile, China invents precisely the personalized method of state-sanctioned murder, the hands-on, man-to-man delectation of gunpowder-driven sadism, that could come straight from Dubya’s brain (which seems to function well enough on this vicious level).

It was said in my Chinese town that from among the ranks of these one-on-one death-ushers would come a disproportionate number of the lieutenants, which the revisionists were introducing into the formerly rankless People’s Liberation Army. But maybe one particular student’s executioner wasn’t destined to receive his commission as soon as his comrades, for he wasn’t allowed his full measure of warrior-making exhilaration. It was reported on the streets of the city afterwards that my own Wei FuLiao, alone among his death-mates, had refused to yield to the full measure of degradation.

Though frailer and lighter than the others, and though his milkless skull had disintegrated more completely than anybody else’s that day, or on any other festival of public death anyone had ever witnessed, Wei FuLiao’s small body resisted the final insult with enormous insolence. Refusing to go limp, my teaching assistant’s spine knelt straight up for almost ten full seconds, minus two-thirds of its crown. Then it thrashed as if in moral, or at least electrical, outrage. It stomped on two knees, then one knee, and only fell to the ground because it slipped in a puddle of spit.

But even then, Wei FuLiao did not fall forward, exposing his buttocks and anus in a ritual offering of the penultimate submission, but actually fell backwards into the blast, facing the soldier in bright-red faceless scorn, snagging the smoking muzzle among his ragged membranes, wrenching the rifle from the soldier’s hands and thrashing some more until not one, but two, men had to use their bayonets to carve out his cardiopulmonary system—which used to be the regulation response to this rare circumstance, before cardiopulmonary systems became worth their weight in foreign exchange currency.

In those days, they hadn’t yet dreamed up the cynical measure of deliberately placing the bullet in such a way that the body could stay alive long enough to keep its salable bits fresh for surgical removal. No, they still had a certain level of squeamishness under cuddly little Deng Xiaoping and shot to kill every time. And when an executee failed to cooperate, as Wei FuLiao did, they said "Fuck the harvest" and put him out of his misery. They cheated the audience out of its spasms of delight by rolling him over and performing their own soldierly style of surgery with their bayonets. Presumably, in this bright new millennium, the recent boom in the market for hearts, brought about in part by the opening of the doors to America, has put paid to that remnant of what we big dumb cowboys used to call compassion and the victims are left alive, even strapped down so their thrashing won’t bruise the goods.

Sometimes, I wonder if the warden at the Utah State Penitentiary during Gary Gilmore’s glitzy stay had already dreamed up the notorious Chi-Com refinement of shooting a few of the brighter-eyed wretches someplace far away from the head to preserve their corneas for harvesting, as is done once in a while today, now that market forces have rendered P.L.A. officer training less important than before. Gary had some lustrous peepers, as you’ll recall. There could be a rich Salt Lake City polygamist ogling his newest twelve-year-old bride through that sage’s lenses at this very moment.

Wei Fuliao wore Coke bottle glasses—but not to the execution he so selfishly disrupted with his obduracy. As it happened, one of the bayonets snapped off between his ribs, those early stages of modernization being incompetent to produce steel resilient as my favorite pupil. It’s said that
a mysterious female derelict took advantage of the chaos to run up and pluck the broken bayonet out of the carnage. She vanished into the cheering crowd, thirteen centimeters of serrated death, red and bristling with bone slivers, concealed in her crawling rags.

This was not good for, like most sane countries in the world, even ones which place a low value on a lone human being, China has not only gun control, but knife control, and unregistered blades over a certain length are illegal. This provided impetus for another anti-crime campaign, on the local level. That piece of stolen government equipment had to be located and secured, so the bamboo-and-rag doors of many suburban prole hovels were booted down in the following days and nights.

If every municipal government in the country had acted this swiftly and decisively in 1988, a lot of fuel for army tanks could have been saved a year later on Tiananmen Square.