A show trial is a public trial in which the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the defendant. The actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as an impressive example and as a warning to other would-be dissidents or transgressors. Show trials tend to be retributive rather than correctional justice and also conducted for propagandistic purposes such as conviction of a false flag patsy, a nuisance journalist that needed to be silenced, etc. The term was first recorded in the 1930’s.
Following the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong began a massive socioeconomic and political campaign called the Great Leap Forward, which lasted circa 1958–1961. During this time, many thousands of people classified as elements of the bourgeois like wealthy landlords were rounded up, given show trials, with some receiving executions.
Between 1 and 2 million landlords were executed as “counterrevolutionaries” in Communist China. After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, show trials were given to “rioters and counter-revolutionaries” involved in the protests and subsequent military massacre. Chinese writer and dissident Ma Jian argued that Gu Kailai, the wife of purged Communist Chinese leader Bo Xilai, was given a show trial in 2012. Zhai Yanmen was convicted in a 2016 show trial for political protest.
See also: kangaroo court