The country is expected to register its lowest number of death penalties in more than a decade, largely due to measures that have stripped all but the top courts of their powers to approve capital punishment for serious crimes.
Although authorities do not provide figures on the number of executions carried out annually, a senior court official said the country's legal system had exercised caution this year in terms of capital punishment.
As of January 1, only the Supreme People's Court (SPC) had the power to approve executions.
SPC spokesman Ni Shouming said local courts had taken a prudent attitude to dealing with death penalty cases.
Ni made his comments yesterday after SPC Vice-President Jiang Xingchang said death sentences across the country in the first half of this year "clearly continued" to decrease, compared with the same period last year.
"After the SPC took responsibility, death penalty cases have been treated more even-handedly. Applications [for capital punishment] have become stricter, trial procedures are fairer and more streamlined," Jiang said on the sidelines of a two-day work conference on jury system reforms in Beijing.
Four categories of crimes can result in the death penalty, including murder, robbery, drug trafficking and intentional injury.
"We are handing down a very small number of death sentences for economic crimes now, just a few a year," Jiang said. "And much fewer for crimes of bribery."
Capital punishment was reserved for an "extremely small number" of serious offenders, Jiang said.
He admitted, however, there was room for improvement, particularly regarding coordination between high courts and the SPC.
"It is urgent we establish and improve the rules governing evidence, including rules to exclude wrongful evidence and prioritizing material evidence," Jiang said.
"Standardizing evidence collection should also be on top of the agenda," he said. "Improved systems for judicial authentication, evidence and cross-examination, witness testimony and time limits for concluding a trial" should also be considered.
Last year, 889,042 people were convicted by courts at all levels on the Chinese mainland, and 153,724 received sentences of five years or longer. The SPC figures include life terms and executions.