China's Supreme Court has ordered judges to be more sparing in the imposition of the death penalty.
Ex-drugs official Zheng Xiaoyu was executed in July
An order on its website said execution should be reserved for "an extremely small number of serious offenders".
It said the death penalty should be withheld in certain cases of crimes of passion or economic crimes.
Amnesty International says China carried out two-thirds of the world's executions last year, but China says it expects a 10-year low this year.
The Supreme Court said murders triggered by family disputes should not always result in the death penalty.
Crimes of passion should take into account the offender's payment of compensation, it said.
CHINA'S DEATH PENALTY
China is believed to execute more people than rest of the world combined
Non-violent crimes such as tax fraud and embezzlement carry death penalty
Other crimes include murder, rape, robbery and drug offences
China does not publish official figures on executions
Many cases are based on confessions and trials often take less than a day, observers say
Similarly, those convicted of economic crimes should be treated more leniently if they help to recoup money that was defrauded.
The court suggested greater use of two-year suspensions on death penalties - allowing them to be converted to imprisonment.
However, it continued to back capital punishment as a deterrent.
"We must hand down and carry out immediate capital punishment in regard to heinous cases, with iron-clad evidence that result in serious social damage," its statement said.
The most high-profile execution this year was of the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, for taking 6.5m yuan ($860,000; £430,000) in bribes and for dereliction of duty.
In 2005, an estimated 1,770 executions were carried out and nearly 4,000 people were sentenced to death, human rights group Amnesty International says.
But China says the number has fallen since an amendment came into force this January requiring the Supreme People's Court to approve all death sentences.