Ancient China Decapitation

Sep 2018
6
Canada
Hello! I'm doing research for my novel and am interested in decapitation as capital punishment in ancient China, specifically during the 14th century Ming dynasty.

In my book, the character kills his father and is sentenced to beheading (which I understand is typically the sentence for patricide?). I'm wondering how he would be arrested and sentenced (if it happens in a small, mountain village), where and when he would be beheaded, what would be done with the corpse, and anything else that might be relevant.

Additionally, if you would recommend any resources or books about Chinese mythology and the Ming dynasty, I would be greatly appreciative.

Thank you!
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,603
Florania
Beheading is the "least" severe death penalty as far as the Ming Dynasty is concerned.
Slicing (lingchi) is the best-known; skinning and stuffing is also known.
If you are not scared of boring records, Emperor of the Ming Dynasty Record 《明实录》 may be your friend.
 
May 2009
1,315
The official way to go about it would be to report the crime to a nearby military garrison or directly to the county sheriff or magistrate, both of whom were based in the county capital. An investigation would then be conducted by county officials. The body would be examined (primitive forensics existed by this time) and witnesses would be questioned. If the case was juicy enough higher officials might get involved and conduct their own investigations. The accused killer would be interrogated (with judicial torture being an option) and would eventually stand trial before the county magistrate or possibly a higher court (im not sure if county magistrates could impose the death penalty). If found guilty he could languish in jail for years before his execution. The execution itself would be carried out in a public space like a market or open square. I assume the bodies were given to the families for burial.

In the case of a remote mountain village they might not bother with any of this though. Local militias handled security and the ranking village headman might just take it upon himself to dish out justice quick and easy. Rural people generally hated involving the government in their affairs.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,337
The accused killer
At that time in England most felonies were technically capital crimes, and most executions were for property crimes, even though property crimes rarely resulted in execution. My understanding was that it was similar in much of Europe. In China, were most executions for murder?
 
May 2009
1,315
Each dynasty had its own law code but most after the Tang dynasty used the Tang code as its model. Under the Tang code the very worst crimes, guaranteed death penalty cases, were crimes against the state and the emperor. These were the most heinous of the "Ten Abominations", the ten worst types of crimes (patricide was one of them too). Rebels, plotters and traitors were usually beheaded. Confucianism frowns on mutilation, so beheading was seen as the most severe kind of punishment, at least to strict Confucianists. Before the Ming era strangulation was the most common (and considered the most merciful) form of execution. But the Ming mightve inherited some more vicious punishments from the Mongols. I dont know enough about Ming justice to say.
 
May 2009
1,315
The Great Ming Legal code is available in English. Excerpts are available on Google books. Here's some info on punishments. Looks like the Ming maintained the earlier model, with strangulation and beheading being the main forms of execution. There were also added methods like slicing (basically cutting pieces off the prisoner until they died) which wouldve been given to someone who killed a parent.

The Great Ming Code / Da Ming lu
 
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VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,603
Florania
Each dynasty had its own law code but most after the Tang dynasty used the Tang code as its model. Under the Tang code the very worst crimes, guaranteed death penalty cases, were crimes against the state and the emperor. These were the most heinous of the "Ten Abominations", the ten worst types of crimes (patricide was one of them too). Rebels, plotters and traitors were usually beheaded. Confucianism frowns on mutilation, so beheading was seen as the most severe kind of punishment, at least to strict Confucianists. Before the Ming era strangulation was the most common (and considered the most merciful) form of execution. But the Ming mightve inherited some more vicious punishments from the Mongols. I dont know enough about Ming justice to say.
The irony is that China also featured some of the most severe death penalties, such as waist chop, lingchi, the human stick or human hog (the details are x-rated).
 
Mar 2015
865
Europe
Much of the Ming code was inherited by Qing.
How was the process of routine death penalty for homicide in Qing China, in terms of time needed to wait for formal trial and confirmation of sentence?