Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies/Justice

In conclusion, a brief mention must be made of the laws of China and their administration. The penal code now in force, known as the Tai Ching Lut Lee, was compiled at the beginning of the present dynasty, and comprises (at least in one edition) some twenty-four volumes. It has been added to, altered, confirmed, or modified from time to time, by the rescripts or edicts of successive emperors, the emperor being, both in theory and practice, the lawgiver.

Four, or sometimes five, ministers of his own choosing act as his advisers. They are usually venerable officers of high standing, and hold office during their lifetime, or until disability or the imperial pleasure dictates their retirement. The administration of the penal code is left to magistrates appointed by the Viceroys of the several provinces. During the hearing of criminal cases not only the defendant but also the complainant and the witnesses are liable to be punished if suspected of suppressing the truth — caning, bambooing, and torture being inflicted at the discretion of the magistrate.

Until quite recently these methods of "truth-compelling" were permitted in civil cases, and though they have now been formally abolished by imperial edict they are still commonly employed in a great number of places. The tortures, which have so frequently been described that they need not here be detailed, are fiendish in their ingenuity, and are certainly effectual in securing to justice a victim, even though an innocent one, for every crime committed. The punishments meted out by the court in criminal cases include fines, imprisonment, and death by the cord, by the sword, or by torture.