The Five Punishments (Chinese: 五刑; pinyin: Wǔ Xíng) was the collective name for a series of physical penalties meted out by the legal system of pre-modern Dynastic China. Over time, the nature of the Five Punishments varied. Before the time of Western Han Dynasty Emperor Han Wendi (r. 180-157 BC) they involved tattooing, cutting off the nose, amputation of one or both feet, castration and death. Following the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907 CE) these were changed to penal servitude, banishment, death, or corporal punishment in the form of whipping with bamboo strips or flogging with a stick. Although the Five Punishments were an important part of Dynastic China's penal system they were not the only methods of punishment used.
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The earliest users of the Five Punishments are believed by some to be the Sanmiao Clan (三苗氏). Other sources claim they originated with Chi You, the legendary creator of metalwork and weapons and leader of the ancient Nine Li (九黎) ethnic group. During the subsequent Xia Dynasty (ca. 2070 BCE–ca. 1600 BCE), Qi of Xia, son of Yu the Great, the dynasty’s founder, adopted the Miao’s punishments of amputation of one or both feet (yuè 刖), cutting off of the nose (yì 劓), chiseling (zhuó 琢), tattooing the face or forehead (qíng 黥) and other types of punishment. Tattooing, amputation of the nose or feet, removal of the reproductive organs and death became the main five forms of the punishment system during this period. From the Xia Dynasty onwards through the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) and the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE). The “Five Punishments for Slaves” were abolished during the reign of Emperor Wen of Han following a petition from a female subject Chunyu Tiying (淳于缇萦), and replaced by the “Five Punishments for Serfs”.
The Five Punishments in Ancient China
Apart from the death penalty, the remaining four Punishments for Slaves were designed to bring about damage to their bodies that would mark them for life. All ordinary citizens were subjected to these punishments. These punishments were for men. The number of crimes to which the punishment was applicable is listed next to each one.
- Mò (墨), also known as qíng (黥), where the offender would be tattooed on the face or forehead with indelible ink. (1,000 crimes)
- Yì (劓), where the offender's nose was cut off. (1,000 crimes)
- Yuè (刖), also known as bìn (膑/臏) during the Xia Dynasty and zhǎnzhǐ (斩趾) during the Qin Dynasty, involved amputation of the left or right foot or both. Other sources claim that this punishment involved removal of the kneecap, which is claimed to be the source of Warring States period military strategist Sun Bin’s name. (500 crimes)
- Gōng (宫), also known as yínxíng (淫刑), fǔxíng (腐刑) or cánshì xíng (蚕室刑), where the male offender’s reproductive organs were removed. The penis was removed and testicles were cut off, and the offender was sentenced to work as a eunuch in the Imperial palace. Gōng for men was applied to the same crime as gōng for women, namely adultery, "licentious" or "promiscuous" activity. (300 crimes)
- Dà Pì (大辟), the death sentence. Methods of execution were quartering, or cutting the body into four pieces (fēn wéi lù 分为戮); boiling alive (pēng 烹); tearing off an offender's head and four limbs by attaching them to chariots (chēliè 车裂); beheading (xiāoshǒu 枭首); execution then abandonment of the offender’s body in the local public market (qìshì 弃市); strangulation (jiǎo 绞); and slow slicing (língchí 凌迟). Other methods of execution were also used. (200 crimes)
The Five Punishments in Imperial China
During the Western Han dynasty, tattooing and amputation were abolished as punishments and in subsequent dynasties, the five punishments underwent further modification. By the Sui dynasty, the five punishments had attained the basic form they would have until the end of the imperial era. This is a brief survey of the five punishments during the Qing dynasty:
- Chī (笞), beating on the buttocks with a light bamboo cane. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), bamboo clappers were used instead. There were five degrees of chī:
- 10 lashes (remitted on payment of 600 wén (文) in copper cash).
- 20 lashes (remitted on payment of 1 guàn (贯/貫) and 200 wén in copper cash).
- 30 lashes (remitted on payment of 1 guàn and 800 wén in copper cash).
- 40 lashes (remitted on payment of 2 guàn and 400 wén in copper cash).
- 50 lashes (remitted on payment of 3 guàn in copper cash).
- Zhàng (杖), beating with a large stick on either the back, buttocks or legs. The five degrees of zhàng were:
- 60 strokes (remitted on payment of 3 guàn and 600 wén in copper cash).
- 70 strokes (remitted on payment of 4 guàn and 200 wén in copper cash)
- 80 strokes (remitted on payment of 4 guàn and 800 wén in copper cash)
- 90 strokes (remitted on payment of 5 guàn and 400 wén in copper cash)
- 100 strokes (remitted on payment of 6 guàn of copper cash)
- Tú (徒), compulsory penal servitude with five degrees of severity:
- One year of penal servitude plus 60 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 12 guàn in copper cash).
- One and a half years penal servitude plus 70 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 15 guàn in copper cash).
- Two years of penal servitude plus 80 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 18 guàn in copper cash).
- Two and a half years of penal servitude plus 90 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 21 guàn in copper cash).
- Three years of penal servitude plus 100 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 24 guàn in copper cash).
- Liú (流), exile to a remote location (for example, Hainan) with return to one’s place of birth being forbidden. There were three degrees of severity:
- 2000 lĭ (里) (620 miles) plus 100 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 30 guàn in copper cash).
- 2,500 lǐ (775 miles) plus 100 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 33 guàn in copper cash).
- 3,000 lǐ (930 miles) plus 100 strokes of the large stick (remitted on payment of 36 guàn in copper cash).
- Sĭ (死), death. Following the Sui and Tang Dynasties there were generally two options: strangulation (jiǎo 絞/绞) or decapitation (zhǎn 斩/斬). From the Song Dynasty (970–1279 CE) onwards, slow slicing (língchí 凌迟) along with beheading (xiāoshŏu 枭首) were also used. The death penalty could be remitted on payment of 42 guàn in copper cash.
The scale of the remittance payments can be gauged from the fact that at the time of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795 CE), the average wage of a construction laborer in Zhili Province was 0.72 wén or 0.6 troy ounces of silver per day.
The Five Punishments for female offenders
These punishments were applied to women for the same crimes as committed by men.
- Xíngchōng (刑舂), where the offender was forced to grind grain.
- Zǎnxíng (拶刑), also known as (zǎnzhĭ 拶指), squeezing of the fingers between sticks.
- Zhàngxíng (杖刑), beating with wooden staves.
- Cìsǐ (赐死), permission to commit suicide.
- Gōngxíng (宫刑), sequestration or confinement to a room. Punishment for licentiousness or adultery. Gōngxing for women was applied for the same crimes as the gōng punishment for men.
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This article is based on 五刑 in Chinese Wikipedia.