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The Chinese At Home

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[Shangbáe Cor. New York World.] To foreigners who are not familiar with the aotions of cour te oí' justice (socailed) iii China, soine account of them may be interesting. I was about to cali tliem courts of law, but that seemed even more a misnomer tlian the one I haye adopted, and should I confine myself strictly to the subject I should perforce tako my model from Miss Edgeworth's chapter on the snake3 of Ireland and write, " there are no laws iu China," for this is very ncar the truth. The Chinese have nothing that can be called a code or system or law. Some years ago a gentL man in the Britdsh consular service, well qualifled to make the investigatioiij attempted to ascertain what the commercial laws of China are, but his researches were followed by no satisfactory result. There are some oíd usages and customs which the magistrates f ollow when it suits them to do so, but the purely civil Business of the court3 is very small, ordinary business differences being settled by compromise between the parties or by the guilds, of which every business or industry has one. Even the professional thieves have I their organization, which is well known to the pólice. These guilds have very considerable power over their members, and, indeed, forin a part of the machinery of government. No Chinaman of ordinary expjrience will take a civil claim before a magistrale if he can avoid it. As a preliminary, he must fee all the runners and hangers-on of the yamen or court-room, after which he must be prepared to pay a handsomc bribe to the magistvate, having always the encouragilig conscioiisnes that the adverse party may outbid him. Even should he succeed in obtaining a judgment, he is by no means certain that it will be executed, as a judicious use of inoney on the other side may open the eyes of the magistrate to the injustice of his first decisión, and induce him to treat it as a nullity. Criminal jurisdiction is exercisedmuch in the samo manner. There is something called criminal law, but it is very imperfect and of littlc practical value. The same system of bribery that prevails . in the trial of civil cases is found quite as effectual in criminal proceedings. If a wealthy of influential crimina should be convicted, which is not of ten the case, he can buy immunity from ■ ishment, exeept in the case of political : offenders and others of a similar nature. Besids, even in the case of pünishment, : one is never quite sure that the sufferer is really the guilty man, for money in ' Öhina can induce a poor starveling to ' take a flogging, and the convicted criminal by paying a few " cash " is tortured by proxy. This may seem an incredible statement, but it is not an exaggeration. Ono is constantly reminded of the '. counts of the administration of justice in the " Arabian Nights' i ments," and decisions, that seem to ns moustrous, are bought and quietly raifcted to with the same stolidity which j clwracterizes the victiins of the stories, I only iierc they have no hope of the timely interference of a good roun al Raschid. As if to form a startling contrast to the deficiencies of the preliminary proceedings, every arrangement is made for speedy punisment, and as the condemned passes out of the yamen he passes into the hands of the executioner, wno stands ! ready, in the court-yard, with his lash, j the cangue, the cage or the axe, as the I case may require. Perhaps I can remind your readers in no better way of how far back in the history of civilization one has to go in order to estímate correctly that of the Chinese, than by describing some of the instruments of pünishment still in use among them. The cangue, which is used for minor offenses, is a heavy board about three feet square, having a hole in the middle large enough to fit around a man's throat ; the board is made to divide in the middle, and being placed upon the offender, is closed and locked, leaving only his head above the aperturo. Looking at tho man in a sitting posture, ! thing below the cangue being concealed by it, one is remindod of the pictures of the head of John the Baptist on a charger. This being worn night and day, allows the man no sleep except what he gets by resting his head backwards on the edge of the cangue, and in the season of flies and mosquitoes the culprit is a helpless victim to their tortures, as the cangue is of such proportions as to preclude all possibility of reachiug the head and face with the hands. The ludicrous element of this kind of pünishment, which to an Anglo-Saxon would, in itself, be exquisito torture, has no forcé whatever with a Chinese thief. In the pünishment of the "cage" there is no element of absurdity. It is literally a cage just large enough to eontain a man, inclosed wiih bars on all sides and on the top, tho floor only being solid. The condemned is tied up by the arms so that his toes barely touch the floor, with a burning tropical sun beatiug upon his unprotected head; and he is there left, without food or water, to be gazed at by a gaping crowd until death comes to his relief. Thero is no such thing as a Chinese bar to conduct cases in court, and the witnesses are not under oath ; moreover, perjury, as a crime, is not recognized, although if a witness can be convicted of having by false testimony caused serious in jury to another he may be punished, although I never heard of but one such case. That was a case in which Chinese witnesses testified in a British court against a prisoner charged with murder, ! and afterwards admitted that not only i was the prisoner innocent, but that no j morder had been committed. The Consul before whom the case was tried exerted himself to the utmost to have the false witnesses punished, but only succeeded in procuring a sentence of two months' imprisonment, and that was probably never executed.


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Michigan Argus