The Chinese code of penal laws is compiled in such a manner as to have a punishment appropriated for every crime.
The wisdom of the Chinese Legislature is nowhere more conspicuous than in its treatment of robbers, no person being doomed to suffer death for having merely deprived another of some temporal property, provided he neither uses nor carries any offensive weapon. This sagacious edict renders robbery unfrequent; the daring violator of the laws hesitating to take with him those means which might preserve his own life, or affect that of the plundered, in the event of resistance, he generally confines his depredations to acts of private pilfering, and a robbery attended with murder is, of course, very rarely perpetrated. This instance of justice, moderation, and wisdom in the laws of China, receives an unfavourable contrast, in the decree which pronounces the wearing of a particular ornament to be a capital crime, and in the custom of attending to the fallacious information extorted by the rack.
By the laws of China, treason and rebellion are punished with a rigor even beyond the severity of our judgments, for the criminals are ordained to be cut in ten thousand pieces.
Children cursing or striking their parents was considered as next in atrocity to treason and rebellion, and in like manner punished by cutting the delinquent in one thousand pieces.
The usual capital punishments in China are strangling and beheading. The former is more common, and is decreed against those who are found guilty of crimes, which, however capital, are only held in the second act of atrocity. For instance; all acts of homicide, whether intentional or accidental; every species of fraud committed upon government; the seduction of a woman, whether married or single; giving abusive language to a parent; plundering or defacing a burying place; and robbing on the highway.
The punishment inflicted on disorderly women in China, is effected by placing small pieces of wood betwixt their fingers, and then drawing them very forcibly together with cords.
There are no people existing who pay so sacred an attention to the laws of decency as the Chinese. Habituated in preserving the constant appearance of modesty and self-control, nothing is more uncommon amongst them than deleterious examples of unblushing vice; and if there be truth in the old maxim, that want of decency, either in action or word, betrays a deficiency of understanding, they certainly indicate more sense than some other nations, who affect to excel them in education and refinement. The general manners of people of every condition in China wear as modest a habit as their persons. They discover no gratification in wresting their proper language into impure meanings; and grossly offensive phrases are only to be heard amongst the very dregs of the community, and at the risk of immediate and severe judicial correction.
For certain offences, the Chinese fasten a man to a large block of wood, by passing a strong ring of iron through one corner of it. From this ring a weighty chain is continued round the neck of the man, and fastened by a padlock upon his breast.
Wooden cage in China. -- For other crimes a malefactor is farther secured by a chain from his neck to his ankle, whence another chain proceeds round one of the corner posts of his wooden cage, the entrance to which is through two moveable bars: these bars fastened by an iron bolt, that passes through some staples, and is prevented from sliding by a padlock. A plank serves the prisoner for a seat and for a bed.
Another severe punishment in China, and which we have alluded to in another part of our work, is the wooden collar, which is deemed very disgraceful. The collar is formed of heavy pieces of wood closed together, and having a hole in the centre, which fits the neck of the offender, who, when this machine is upon him, can neither see his own feet, nor put his hands to his mouth. He is not permitted to reside in any habitation, nor even to take rest for any considerable length of time, an inferior officer of justice constantly attending to prevent him. By night and by day he carries this collar, which is rendered heavier or lighter according to the nature of the crime and the strength of the offender. The weight of the common sort of these wooden collars is only fifty or sixty pounds, but there are those which weigh two hundred, and which are so grievous to the bearers, that sometimes through shame, pain, want of proper nourishment, or of natural rest, they have been known to expire under them. The criminals find various methods, however, of mitigating their punishment, by walking in company with their relations and friends, who support the corners of the collar, and prevent it from pressing upon the shoulders; by resting it upon a table, a bench, or against a tree; or by having a chair constructed for the purpose, with four posts of equal height, to, support the machine. When this ponderous encumbrance is fixed upon an offender, it is always before the magistrate who has decreed it, and upon each side, over the places where the wood is joined, long slips of paper are pasted, upon which the name of the person, the crime which he bas committed, and the duration of his punishment are written in very distinct characters; a seal is likewise stamped upon the paper, to prevent his instrument from being opened. Three months is the usual time appointed for those to bear about this collar for those who have been convicted of robbery; for defamation, gambling, or breaches of the peace, it is carried a few weeks; and insolvent debtors are sometimes ordered to bear it till they have satisfied their creditors..
When the offender is liberated from the collar, it must be in the presence of the magistrate who imposed it. He then generally orders him a few blows of the pan-tsee, and dismisses him, with an exhortation to comport himself more regularly in future.
Persons in this situation are supplied with food by a particular kind of basins and spoons.
The punishment of the wooden tube. -- A piece of bamboo cane is provided, which nearly corresponds with the height of the criminal, and is of considerable circumference. This bamboo being perfectly hollow, admits the passage of a large iron chain, one end of which is rivetted round a stake, the other encircles his neck, and is confined there by a padlock: his legs are fettered by a few links of chain.