The Chinese TV Show That Showed Death Row Inmates’ Last Minutes

“Many of us do not believe in capital punishment, because thus society takes from a man what society cannot give.” —Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Modes and Morals

In A Nutshell

The Chinese show Interviews Before Execution took reality TV to unsettling new levels. For six years, reporter Ding Yu interviewed death row inmates, many of whom were only minutes away from walking the green mile. As you might assume, the program was wildly popular, and it sometimes got a bit dramatic.

The Whole Bushel

Reporter Ding Yu is a celebrity in the Henan Province of Central China. Between 2006 and 2012, almost 40 million fans turned on their televisions each week to watch her in action. Wearing silk scarves and smart suits, this “Beauty with the Beasts” captivated audiences with one of the most disturbing shows in television history. Every Saturday night, Ding Yu found herself sitting across from death row inmates, often moments before they were going to die. Meant to deter would-be criminals, the show was called Interviews Before Execution, and it was a major hit.

It’s a well-known fact that the Chinese government is obsessed with the death penalty. While the numbers are a “state secret,” it’s believed China executes thousands of prisoners each year. These insane statistics are probably thanks to the fact that, in China, you can be executed for over 55 offenses, including bribery, smuggling, and embezzling. However, that makes for boring television, so Ding Yu’s show focuses exclusively on murderers. She’s interviewed scorned lovers, child killers, axe murderers, and more. One of her highest-rated episodes dealt with a man who murdered his mother. However, the episode was so popular because the criminal was openly gay, and homosexuality is severely frowned upon in the People’s Republic.

In preparation for each episode, Ding Yu reviewed numerous files, trying to find the perfect “guest.” After discovering a potential interviewee, she then asked permission of the Henan high court. After getting the go-ahead, Ding Yu had to move quickly since condemned prisoners are often executed days after sentencing. In fact, quite a few of the murderers were killed moments after the cameras stopped rolling. Thanks to the rather tense atmosphere, Interviews Before Execution captured several unsettling moments like a tearful prisoner collapsing, a convict offering a handshake, and one inmate asking Ding Yu if she thought he’d go to heaven. Through most of the episodes, Ding Yu kept her journalistic demeanor. though on occasions she’d offer to convey messages to loved ones. She also sometimes lost her cool and told prisoners they deserved their punishment.

It should come as no surprise that the program stirred up controversy, particularly in the Western world. However, Ding Yu never saw her show as unethical. In fact, she claims her program gave prisoners an opportunity to talk about their lives, confess their secrets, and unburden themselves. However, when the BBC and PBS International announced plans to air a documentary on the controversial show, the Chinese government canceled Interviews Before Execution to attempt to save the country from embarrassment. As for China’s troubling death penalty laws, well, that’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Show Me The Proof

BBC News: China’s death row TV hit: Interviews Before Execution
Dangerous Minds: Fascinating, Disturbing Chinese Talk Show
ABC News: China’s Death Row Reality Show Axed from Air
NBC News: Chinese TV show ‘Interviews before Execution’ stirs controversy

  • Atlas

    ….and I thought Honey Boo Boo was disturbing…..

    • TheMadHatter

      It’s still pretty close.

      • Atlas

        Yeah you’re right.

        • Lisa 39

          Is that honey boo boos mom? I don’t watch tv.

          • Atlas

            Yes it is, and you’re not missing anything, at least in the Reality TV department, although there are plenty of other good shows on TV!

          • Lisa 39

            They put her on tv? Well crap, i want a reality show then, i most definitely am not that scary looking and i’m literate!

          • Atlas

            I’d watch that show, and think about all the money you would make! I did read that HBBs mom is putting a lot of the money they make from the show into college funds, which gave me some respect for her. At least she is interested in her childrens future and not just blowing it all on herself.

          • Lisa 39

            Thanks atlas, well if she’s investing in her childrens future i guess she’s not all bad.

          • At least you can wank over the Chinese show, cant do that to Boo boo

          • Lisa 39

            off topic, here’s a cross stitch that i made, it took 3 years to finish the stitching and it was 16 years before i framed it and hung it in my living room!

          • Atlas

            Holy hell, 3 years? That is awesome Lisa, it looks great!

          • Lisa 39

            Thank you atlas, i found it in a cross stitch book, the diagram for it was spread out on 4 pages, there’s a mistake in it, i did 3 stitches backwards so i told my kids i’d give $10. to whoever finds it, 4 and a half years later they still haven’t found it lol

          • Natasha

            Really beautiful!

          • Lisa 39

            Thank you chicky 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            Let me know if you get this

          • Ray

            What’s a honey boo boo?

          • Lisa 39

            A honey boo boo apparently is some mouthy kid with a reality show, i’ve never watched it but from what i’ve heard they’re a very trashy family 🙂

          • Ray

            Is that a real name? It sounds like a dog’s name. I guess I just Google it.

          • Lisa 39

            I have no idea and i don’t even think i want to know.

  • oouchan

    Woah…creepy, but death is a big crowd drawer. Executions of the past brought out the people like a holiday. Seems that fact hasn’t changed.

    Edit: Forgot to add that my brother and I had a discussion about this subject one day….both of us were drinking, btw.


  • Ray

    I don’t think a show like that would be unethical. Unless they didn’t have a choice it at least gave them an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

    • Nathaniel A.

      I really don’t think the inmates minutes away from execution were given a choice.

      • Clyde Barrow

        “Give this “journalist/gameshow host” an interview a few minutes before your execution, or your family will be sent to hard labor Gulag!” -Chinese government.

      • P5ychoRaz

        What if the convicted asked to use the restroom just before throwing the switch? Do you think they would let him go? He does still have certain rights…

        • Nathaniel A.

          Unless in the interest of cleaning up less of a mess, no, I don’t think they would. When you are dealing with a person who is soon-to-be dead, you tend to streamline what is essential and what isn’t.

  • Clyde Barrow

    Call me crazy, but if I were minutes away from execution and some journalist was in my face looking for ratings, I’d do the best I could to snatch that journalist and strangle them. What are they going to do, execute you?

    Just imagine the ratings for that show…

    • Saw some fragments and really wanted to punch the presenter’s lights out. In China, they would probably execute your family if you did that.

      • lonelydisco

        Could you describe it?

        • She was first shown taunting the convict, a broken man on the verge of being murdered. Taunting him with his sins, but especially with the fact that he would leave behind his child, a little girl, who would be so sad and so on and so on.

          Then the witch went on to interview and taunt the child, rubbing her face in the fact that her father was a disgrace, that she must live in shame, a sad life of embarrassment, until the child broke into tears and then she pushed some more, breaking the child.

          Then that footage was shown to the convict.

          Punch her lights out, that was an understatement.
          But I believe in peace.

          * meditates *

          * grumbles*

          • lonelydisco

            Great, another wasp stinging the Chinese.

          • Stinging a Chinese, not the.

          • lonelydisco

            But first, the Chinese.

          • Shoveling water from the deep end to the shallow end is far from effective, but it may be a good meditation tool. Free Tibet… China’s back. Free Tibet… China’s back. Free Tibet…

          • God! I almost forgot about Knowledge Nuts.

          • lonelydisco

            Backstreet’s back, alright!

          • Evray bohdayuh! Yeaah

          • lonelydisco

            I’m trying to forget, Felix.

          • Have you ever thought of writing fan fiction about Madonna and Felix Howard reuniting inadvertently through some strange anonymous social medium? You’re welcome… or sorry.

          • lonelydisco

            You’re forgiven.

          • Where?!

          • In Richard Gere’s backyard.

          • That would probably work. Sorry that took so long. I hope you weren’t waiting. You were probably expecting something good. I’m at a loss.

    • inconspicuous detective

      i support public executions as a form of entertainment. pay per view to cover the cost of appeals.

  • RosauraHeaton

    Its drama not reality I do not believe in the Ghost to be Killed Him.

  • Texas should follow this fine example as a reality show. Could earn enough dollars from the show to feed the poor but then we have the republicans giving themselves a massive tax break and you’re back to square one. At least China has one reality show to end ALL other reality shows.