Posted by: secondeguerremondialeclairegrube | June 22, 2014

Lingchi: supplice chinois

Lingchi : supplice chinois

Grüß Gott !

Owing to photographs we know how Chinese executioners sliced live people to death. Finely and refinedly.

Death by a Thousand Cuts / Timothy Brook / Jérôme Bourgon / Gregory Blue / Harvard University Press / England / 2008:

« The execution of Wang Weiqin unfolded in the middle of a crowd and soldiers and onlookers who had gathered to watch the most sever legal penalty the Qing state could impose. Two soldiers brought forwards the basket holding the knives that the procedure required. Others stripped the victim and bound him by his queue to a tripod in such a way that the front of his body was fully exposed to the state executioner and his assistant. The executioner began by slicing off pieces of flesh from the convict’s breats, his biceps, and his upper thights. Before the slicing went any further, the executioner punctured Wang’s heart with a swift stab, putting the man to death. Thereafter he proceeded to methodically sever the limbs, first at the wrists and ankles, then at the elbows and knees, lastly at the shoulders and hips. His final cut severed the head from the body. »

« Wang was put to death in the last season of lingchi executions, though his lingchi was not the last. That distinction fell to a Manchou servant, Fuzhuli, whose execution on April 9, 1905, was the last. On that date, China’s legal history turned a corner. Thousands had been put to death by lingchi over the two and a half centuries of Qing rule, but no longer. »

« That we know anything about Wang Weiqin’s execution is also thanks to its timing, as it took place before the abolition of lingchi but after the arrival of foreigners in Beijing with the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion, foreign governments were granted the right to station soldiers in their legations. This is why soldiers attached to the French legation were at Vegetable market that day. They must have learned about the execution ahead of time, for they arrived prepared to record the event with a camera. »

« This circumstance too was a matter of timing. A decade earlier, the only people who owned cameras were professional photographers who could manage the technicalities of producing pictures. Thanks to the improvement and mass production of portable cameras, after 1900 ordinary people could own and operate them. By our count, amateur photographers stationed themselves at three lingchi executions in the final season of their legality. Wang Weiqin’s had the sad distinction of being of these three. »

« There is no chance that the Frenchmen were simply out for a stroll and happened on the excution, given the care with which the man holding the camera took the sequence of pictures showing the process from beginning to end. They knew what was on offer and with the intention not just to watch but to photograh. As no penalty this severe remained in European capital statues, the soldiers must have gone out of curiosity. Were they shocked, revolted, or even amused at the sight of an execution conducted in this way ? »

« What the law chose to banish, the new technology of portable photography enabled foreigners to keep alive as a cultural memory. By preserving images of cruel punishments from the last execution season of the old penal regime, European photographers preserved the gap between Chinese and European penal practices that the Qing state was about to close, making these shocking deaths a permanent memorial of cultural difference. »

« Had the French soldier not been there with his camera that morning, Wang would still have been cut apart. Without these photographs, though, the chasm between East and West that these pictures have subsquently been used to demonstrate might have closed the following spring. »

« Without the photographs, far less potent traces of this form of execution, such as written accounts, might have survived, but they would have been less likely to find their way into public consciousness. « Death by a thousand cuts », to suffer a thousand cuts » – these phrases would not have crept, as they have, into an expressive vocabulary that makes China the heterotopia where such unpardonable acts were practiced at though they were normal. »

« On the Chinese side, we face the challenge of entering the severely underdocumentated history of the death penalty to make sense of this particular form, which today seems only a meaningless butchery. »

« The history of lingchi might well have been written differently had these photographs never existed, but as they do, our working assumption has had to be that this history cannot be approched without taking them into account. »

« A common reaction to the photograhs of lingchi is to see them as scenes of torture. (…) Torture seeks to produce an outcome, whereas torment applies pain solely for the purpose of making the victim suffer. (…) Yet this is exactly what lingchi invoved : putting a person to death while, at least by intention, inflicting the greatest possible torment. »

« Lingchi : disembowlment, dismemberment, chopping of the body into small pieces. »

« Once European visitors in China were able to take photographs of lingchi executions and circulate them as curiosities (especially in the form of postcards) back in Europe, tormented execution became a distinctive cultural icon of Chinese inhumanity and barbarity not just in law but in all things. When we look at these photographs of near-naked prisoners brought to the execution ground and sliced beyond life and recognition, it is very difficult to get past our natural revulsion and actually think about the event we are supposed to be viewing. »


« A picture is worth a thousand words »


Claire GRUBE




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