A year ago, I mentioned here a Chinese TV show called Interviews Before Execution, in which, as the title indicated, condemned prisoners were interviewed immediately prior to being hauled off to the execution chamber. It was cancelled soon after it caught international attention, though seemingly less due to the show's content and more due to the fact that people were trying to use it to extrapolate how many people China executes every year, a number China doesn't release, calling it a state secret.
We can pretty safely say it wasn't cancelled for the content. Because CCTV, Chinese state television, has caught fire from the global community for their actions concerning four foreign drug traffickers, convicted in the 2011 killing of 13 Chinese fishermen. One was Burmese, one Laotian, one Thai and one of "unknown nationality". A television special was constructed around their execution, including live footage running right up to just before the actual execution by lethal injection, which was just about the only thing CCTV didn't show. Although given the content of the program, one gets the idea that even that was strongly considered. The full fear of death from the condemned were placed on display and played to the hilt, while CCTV reporters talked at length about how humane the lethal-injection method was and what a fair trial the condemned received despite the original considerations to just kill them with a drone strike. It all smacked of brazen propaganda.
Nations that don't parade people around before executing them immediately went up in arms, asking what kind of civilized society China thinks it's running, because that kind of behavior is one normally associated with a bygone era and now associated with only the most draconian and repressive nations. China itself was more polarized than universally outraged: many were as outraged as everyone else- one lawyer even noted that it broke China's own criminal code stating that executions should be announced but not displayed- but there were some who not only cheered it on, but whose only complaint was that the method of execution was too humane. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted one blogger who stated, "These beasts should be pulled apart by vehicles.''
It's a throwback to China's previously-common practice of public executions, officially banned in 1979 but which in practice has never actually stopped. One set of public executions was reported by The Australian in advance of the 2008 Olympics. Another was reported by the Epoch Times as having occurred around the 2012 New Year period. Public executions have slowed down, but they've been replaced with 'execution vans', literally vans with blacked-out windows where the condemned is bundled into and executed on the spot.
The LA Times, by the way, ventured a guess of 4,000 executions a year. The BBC quotes a number of 8,000. For whatever that's worth. Second-place Iran is thought (PDF) to hover somewhere in the 300's. In any case, it shoots holes in the 'announce the executions' part of the criminal code as well. After all, if they announced them all, you'd be able to count them.