Under the Constitution of China, the Communist Party (cpc) does not merely play a leadership role in the political field, but also in the legal arena. Legislation must reflect the Party’s outlook and achieve its policies, including any legal provisions governing particular systems, such as arrangements for the death penalty. After introducing the relationship between the cpc and legislation, this article will discuss the shift in the cpc’s approach to human rights and changes to the death penalty system in the Maoist, Deng Xiaoping and post-Deng eras. In the Maoist era, the government rejected human rights, but its policy on execution – at least on paper – was cautious and even stricter than during the other eras; the cpc recognised and accepted human rights in the Deng era, but emphasised national security and stability. As a result, individual human rights were not fully taken into account. Execution was considered an important measure to control crime and the scope of the relevant legislation was expanded. Post-Deng, human rights have developed gradually. Human rights protection has been incorporated into the Constitution and individual human rights have become more valued, but the cpc still focuses on state security, development and stability, and has not valued the right to life to the same extent as the right to subsistence. Although steps to reform the death penalty are being taken, 46 crimes are still punishable by death. The cpc should change its outlook and focus on the right to life, and abolish the death penalty de facto and de jure.