Although there are many different forms, a typical cangue would consist of a large, heavy flat board with a hole in the center large enough for a person's neck. The board consisted of two pieces. These pieces were closed around a prisoner's neck, and then fastened shut along the edges by locks or hinges. The opening in the center was large enough for the prisoner to breathe and eat, but not large enough for a head to slip through. The prisoner was confined in the cangue for a period of time as a punishment. The size and especially weight were varied as a measure of severity of the punishment. The Great Ming Legal Code (大明律) published in 1397 specified that a cangue should be made from seasoned wood and weigh 25, 20 or 15 jīn (roughly equivalent to 12.5, 10 or 7.5 kilograms) depending on the nature of the crime involved. Often the cangue was large enough that the prisoner required assistance to eat or drink, as his hands could not reach his own mouth.
The word "cangue" is French, from the Portuguese "canga," which means yoke - that carrying tool has also been used to the same effect, with the hands tied to each arm of the yoke. In contemporary Standard Chinese it is called a 木枷 "mù jīa", or a 枷鎖 "jiā suǒ".
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