Thomas Allom (1804–1872) was an English architect, artist, and illustrator, who published books on his travels from Europe to the Middle East and throughout Asia. In 1842, the treaty of Nanking was signed after the British were victorious over the Chinese in what is usually refered to as the “First Opium War”. The treaty gave the British additional control over Chinese ports, opened trade restrictions, and ceded Hong Kong to British sovereignty. It was during this period of rapid change and increased British presence in China that Thomas Allom published an extravagent 2 volume set on Chinese history and culture. The publication provides a narrative, as well as a mulititude of illustrations on topics such as topography, social customs, history, law and politics. Although Allom traveled extensively, many of his Chinese illustrations were actually based on the works of other artists, including Lieutenant Frederick White, R.M., Captain Stoddart, R.N. and R. Varnham, rather than on his own firsthand accounts in China. The descriptions that accompany Allom’s works reveal the biases and prejudices of the Victorian mindset toward China at the time. Within the second volume, Allom devoted a significant section on aspects of crime in China, including the judicial system and the application of punishment.
Policeman and Prisoner
“The policemen, not enrolled in the military ranks, are described by one, who according to Mr. Montgomery Martin, “has closely studied the subject,” as being “a collection of the very scum of the nation; well versed in all tricks; personaly acquainted with thieves, robbers, and gamblers; initiated in all the mysteries of iniquity; and often partaking largely not only of the bribes, but also in the practice of abomination, in the very haunts of vice.” Their pay is small-from one to two dollars per month; but many serve gratuitously, and some even pay for the appointment -”proof that their situations must be worth something;”
Examination of a Prisoner
“The forms of justice are few and simple. When the police apprehend a Chinese for any offence, he is taken before a magistrate, who is seated at a table (as we see in the engraving.) The prisoner is made to kneel in front of what forms the tribunal of justice—his captor on one side, and another policeman, with the instrument of punishment, on the other. The magistrate has his clerk; but in no case is there either jury or pleading. He hears the witnesses, and passes sentence; intimating the number of blows to be given (if flogging is awarded), by throwing on the ground some of the reeds which are seen in two small boxes at the corner of the tale. If it is an offence punishable by the bamboo, bastinado, or cangue, that punishment is immediately inflicted; if it is more serious, and death or banishment is the sentence, the offender is sent to prison, or to the place of execution.”
Punishment of the Bamboo
“No person in China, whatever his rank, is exempt from the punishment of flogging. As we have stated elsewhere, officers of the army are subject to it. A mandarin who interferes in government matters is fined, and receives besides eighty blows; as does any official who recommends an improper person for promotion; or is guilty of neglect or delay in performing the business of his office. Subordinates of government are examined at the end of each year, and if they are found not to have improved, they receive forty blows. Physicians, who prescribe improperly for their patients, receive one hundred blows; the punishment of domestics for making a noise or disturbance in the imperial palace, is one hundred blows; and their masters (being considered responsible for the behaviour of their servants) receive fifty. The smallest number of blows inflicted is five.”
Punishment of the Rack
“One of the worst features in the criminal procedure of the Chinese is their retention of torture. While religious fanatics and hypocrites have been compelled to lay aside that horrible engine of barbarity, the rack, the Chinese are still permitted to employ it for the purpose of extorting confession; and, as Queen Victoria has interceded for the abolition of death as a punishment of apostasy in Turkey, it is to be hoped she will extend her humane influence to the extinction of an infinitely more cruel practice in China—a country which recent events have taught to respect her power.”
“The Chinese appear to be fond of public punishments: and we give two engravings, from Chinese drawings in the library of the East India Company, showing two culprits undergoing the sentences awarded by the mandarins. In our first plate there is a group of four figures, all engaged in receiving or administering a penalty awarded, we should say for piracy—when we look at the pigmy banners which are fixed behind the ears of the culprit, being apparently stuck into his head; causing a torture, we should think, at least equal to the flagellation itself. The first figure is striking a gong; this is to call the attention of the public, to whom he announces the crime, and the number of blows with the bamboo the prisoner is to receive. Then follows the prisoner, his hands tied behind him, and his countenance betraying both pain and terror; his feet are bare, and his dress of the thinnest description. The third figure is the flagellator, who brandishes the bamboos, four in number, as if he were intending to lay them on with a will. The fourth figure is a petty mandarin? who has the charge of the prisoner, and is present to see that the punishment is properly inflicted. The ensemble is indicative of an uncivilised and a barbarous regime, little accordant with European habits and modes of thinking in the nineteenth century.”
“In Plate II, the unhappy culprit is undergoing a species of torture. He is suspended from a cross-pole, supported by two uprights, by a rope passed round his neck and under his arms—his feet being tied together, and drawn up higher than the level of his head, by another. His breast rests on a long bamboo, which is held at each end by a policeman; and it is evident, that by elevating and lowering this pole, letting the prisoner fall upon it each time, the severity of the punishment is greatly increased.”
- China: its scenery, architecture, social habits, &c. illustrated. London : printed and published by the London Printing and Publishing Company, Limited, [1843?].
- Persistent Link:
- Widener Library
- Harvard University