Ancient China Decapitation

Sep 2018
6
Canada
Thanks for all your detailed replies!

Thank you for the recommendation. I hope my local library carries this book!

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.
That's very helpful! Do you know what the general attitude towards these public beheadings was? E.g., in medieval and Victorian England, executions and beheadings were seen as entertainment by the peasants and common class.

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
Would that have been carried out in public, also?
 
Mar 2015
870
Europe
Note that Poling´s dissertation focuses on delayed death penalty, which produced bigger caseload, compared to "direct" death penalty.
County magistrate was required to propose a punishment appropriate for the crime, but normally he was not allowed to have it carried out. The case was reviewed at least twice and both levels were allowed to correct te punishment, upwards as well as downwards.
The exceptions where lower level officials were allowed to carry out executions and report fait accompli were recognized in Qing code, but concerned military justice. These permissions were kept restricted until Taiping revolt. In other words, after Taiping war, Qing started to grant officials "martial law" powers. Until then, martial law was kept at actual battlefields.
Except martial law, as a minimum standard of due process even for direct execution slam dunk red handed heinous criminals required reporting every death sentence to capital (it was reviewed at least twice - once in provincial capital, once in Board of Punishments in imperial capital - in 14th century, Nanjing) and at least formal and ritual personal signing of death warrant by Emperor in person. Meaning a minimum of a few months waiting for the file to travel to Nanjing and back (not sure how long it took in offices in the easy cases).
By Qing, a routine part of trial included transporting most capital prisoners from county jail where the initial investigations were held to provincial capital prison for repeat investigation. This included criminals sentenced for direct executions. There were exceptions for ill and elderly prisoners, women - and remote areas; in those cases officials described as "intendants" visited the county for the extra investigation.
While "direct execution" sentences were commuted less often than the "delayed execution" sentences, sometimes they were.
 
May 2009
1,335
Do you know what the general attitude towards these public beheadings was? E.g., in medieval and Victorian England, executions and beheadings were seen as entertainment by the peasants and common class.
Based on descriptions of executions the prisoner was lead to the execution spot (again, usually a market square) in a cangue (a heavy wooden board locked around the neck) or sometimes inside a large basket. The crowds along the route often jeered and abused them. Just to make sure they had the right man a final reading of the prisoner's name and hometown might be made by officials, along with a record of his crime and judgement. Executions were usually carried out immediately after final judgement to avoid prolonged suffering for the prisoner. Bodies could be claimed by their families a day after the execution.
 
Mar 2015
870
Europe
The crowds along the route often jeered and abused them. Just to make sure they had the right man a final reading of the prisoner's name and hometown might be made by officials, along with a record of his crime and judgement.
As well as to inform the crowds.
Executions were usually carried out immediately after final judgement to avoid prolonged suffering for the prisoner.
Not clear that this was the goal. It was not the goal of lingchi, after all. Rather, they were obeying Emperor - waited until Emperor made a decision, which might take over twenty years, then acted promptly when they did get His order.
Bodies could be claimed by their families a day after the execution.
Some, but not all, decapitations provided for public display of head.
 
May 2009
1,335
Yeah there were a lot of variables over time and not everyone followed the letter of the law. Sometimes innocent people were executed because of rushed sloppy justice. You also had plenty of corrupt officials who abused their power and executed people as they pleased.

The book Law & Order in Sung China has a good chapter on capital punishment.