China’s Old Rules

Say what you will about China’s legal system; it’s a sight more lenient than in the grim old Qing Dynasty days. True, the CCP will detain, disappear, or downright trample any with the brass to question its authority. But at least you can change your mind about giving away your daughter. In Qing times, that called for 50 whacks with a hickory stick.

Harsh it was – endless and wormy with loopholes, like modern western canons, it most certainly was not. The whole Imperial Chinese code, after being translated by the right dogged George Staunton, came in under 600 pages. Magistrates therefore had the power to rule according to local custom, morality, and their individual take (or share thereof).

Thus, a guilty defendant without the virtue of money most often got the bastinado, a beating with a thick cane, cloven in two, the number of blows decided by the judge but often prescribed by offense, as below:

Marriages – Hiring Out Wives and Daughters – Rank Among Wives – Divorce

If the bridegroom forcibly takes away his bride, previous to the period agreed upon, he shall be punished with 50 blows.

If any officer or clerk of government marries, as his first or other wife, a female musician or comedian, he shall be punished with 60 blows.

Whoever marries a female relation closer than the fourth degree shall be punished with 100 blows.

Whoever receives in marriage any of his father’s or grandfathers former wives, or his father’s sisters, shall, whether they had been divorced or re-married, in all cases suffer death, by being beheaded.

Whoever marries his brother’s widow, shall be strangled.

Whoever lends any one of his wives, to be hired as a temporary wife, shall be punished with 8o blows.

Whoever lends his daughter in like manner, shall be punished with 6o blows; the wife or daughter in such cases, shall not be held responsible.

Whoever degrades his first or principal wife to the condition of an inferior wife or concubine, shall be punished with 100 blows.

Whoever, during the life-time of his first wife, raises an inferior wife to the rank and condition of a first wife, shall be punished with 90 blows.

Should the wife give evidence of (1) barrenness; (2) lasciviousness; (3) disregard of her husband’s parents; (4) talkativeness; (5) thievish propensities; (6) envious and suspicious temper; and, lastly, (7) inveterate infirmity, the husband has justification to seek divorce.

If a husband repudiates his first wife without her having given evidence of the above or having committed adultery, he shall in every such case be punished with 80 blows.

If the wife shall have broken the matrimonial connection by an act of adultery, the husband shall receive a punishment of 80 blows, if he retains her.

If the husband refuses to divorce, and the wife quits her home and absconds, she shall be punished with 100 blows, and her husband shall be allowed to sell her in marriage.

If, during such absence from her home, she contracts marriage with another person, she shall suffer death, by being strangled, after the usual period of confinement.

Abusive Language

Whoever addresses abusive language to his elder brother or sister, shall be punished with 100 blows.

Whoever abuses his paternal uncle or aunt, or his maternal grandfather or grandmother, shall be punished one degree more severely than in the case last mentioned.

A child guilty of abusive language to his or her father or mother, paternal grandfather or grandmother; a wife who is guilty of abusive language to her husband’s father or mother, paternal grandfather or grandmother, shall in every case suffer death, by being strangled.

A slave guilty of addressing abusive language to his master shall suffer death, by being strangled at the usual period.

An inferior wife abusing her husband or husband’s principal wife, shall be punished with 80 blows.

There is no clause respecting abusive language addressed by a principal wife to her husband, as the interposition of the laws can scarcely be supposed to be necessary.


Criminal Intercourse by mutual consent with an unmarried woman shall be punished with 70 blows; if with a married woman, the punishment shall be 80 blows.

Deliberate intrigue with a married or unmarried woman shall be punished with 100 blows.

Violation of a married or unmarried woman; that is to say, a rape, shall be punished with death by strangulation.

Any person who parts with his wife and transfers her for monetary consideration shall undergo the punishment of 100 blows, and the wife shall be sent back to her family.

In all cases of a husband consenting to the adultery of any of his wives, the husband, the adulterer, and the adultress, shall each be punished with 90 blows.

When a wife falsely accuses her father-in-law or her elder brother-in-law, of having obliged her to consent to an incestuous intercourse, she shall suffer death by being beheaded.

All strolling players guilty of purchasing the sons or daughters of free persons, in order to educate them as actors or actresses; or who are guilty of marrying or adopting as children such free persons, shall, in each case, be punished with 100 blows.

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2 Responses to China’s Old Rules

  1. HainanFeilipu says:

    Nasty stuff! See the Wikipedia article “Five Punishments” for more gruesome detail

  2. Ernie says:

    Sheesh, Phil, make a busy editor put up the link ;-/

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