CHAPTER XV. Police - Detectives - The plank-walk - The square board - The wooden blocks for hands and feet - Floggings - The bamboo rod - The stick - The flexible board - A flogging in Seoul - One hundred strokes for three-halfpence - Wounds produced.
Should you happen to be one of the tender-hearted sort, please pass this chapter and the next over, and I shall not bear you any malice. My present object is to describe some of the punishments inflicted on criminals, and, though they are, as a whole, quaint and original, I cannot say that they are pleasing, either to see or to read about.
First of all, you may not be aware that there is in Seoul a sharp and well-regulated body of police, always ready to pounce on outlaws of any kind; and that there is hardly a crime committed, the delinquent in which fails to be immediately collared. These guardians of the peace do not wear any particular uniform, but are dressed just like the merchant classes; and thus it is that, unknown, they can mix with people of all sorts, and frequently discover crimes of which they would otherwise probably never hear. Instead of being mere policemen, they rather do the work of detectives and policemen combined; for, by ably disguising themselves, they try to get on familiar terms with people about whom they are suspicious; and in many a case, after having become a bosom-friend of one of these officials and acknowledged and confessed his evil deeds to him, the culprit finds himself arrested and very likely beheaded.
In speaking of their mode of arrest, I purposely used the word "collared"; for no better term can express the action of the Corean policeman. The man is taken before the magistrate soon after his arrest, and should he offer resistance he is dragged before him by his top-knot or his pig-tail, according respectively as he is a married man or a bachelor. If he is strong and restive, a rope with a sliding knot is passed round his neck, after his hands have been firmly tied behind his back. After his interview with the magistrate at the yamen, if he be found guilty, he is generally treated with very great severity.
If the crime has been only of the minor degree the culprit undergoes the plank-walk, a punishment tiresome enough, but not too harsh for Coreans. The following is a rough description of it. A heavy wooden plank, about twelve feet long and two feet wide, with an aperture in the centre, is used, the man's head being passed through the aperture and then secured in it in such a way that he cannot remove it. Thus arrayed he is made to walk through the streets of the town, his head distorted by the weight he has to carry, and his body restrained by the dragging of the plank either in front of him or at his back. The passers-by point at him the finger of scorn, as, in his helpless state, he is made to swing from one side of the road to the other with the slightest push, or else is pulled along mercilessly by people who seize the plank and begin to run. He is poked in the ribs with sticks, and gets his head smacked and smeared with dirt; yet has to bear it all patiently, until, twirled round, knocked about, and with his neck skinned by the friction of the heavy plank, he sometimes falls down in a dead faint.
Little or no compassion is shown to criminals by the Coreans. Rather than otherwise, they are cruel to them; and children, besides being cautioned not to follow their bad example, are encouraged to annoy and torture the poor wretches.
A more severe punishment still is the square board, a piece of wood too heavy to allow of the man standing for any length of time, too wide to allow of his arms reaching his face, too big to allow of him resting his head on the ground and going to sleep, and too thick to allow of his smashing it and getting rid of it. Instances are on record of people thus punished having become lunatics after the fourth or fifth day. During the fly season I should think such an occurrence cannot be uncommon. Imagine half a dozen flies disporting themselves in a tickling walk on a man's nose, eyelids and forehead, without his being able to reach them, owing to this huge square wooden collar! It must be dreadful! Merely the thought of it is enough to give one the shivers.
This last mode of punishment has, I think, been imported from China, for I have also seen it frequently in the Empire of Heaven. The other, which I first described, may also be a modification of this one, but I do not remember having seen it, as I have described it, anywhere except in Corea, at Seoul. There is also in Corea another machine of torture, in which the head and feet are tied between heavy blocks of wood.
The principal, and most important, of all the lesser punishments, however, is flogging. It is that which has most effect on the people, and it is certainly by far the most painful. It is carried out in many ways, according to the gravity of the crime committed. The simpler and milder form is with a small bamboo rod, the strokes being administered on the hands, on the bare back or on the thighs, a punishment mostly for young people. Next in severity, is that with the round stick - a heavy implement - by which it was always a marvel to me, that all the bones of the body were not smashed, judging from the fearful blows which the powerful flogger bestowed on the poor wretches who lay stretched out flat, and face downward, on a sort of bench, to which they were fastened, and on which they generally fainted from pain after the first few strokes had been given. This is considered a low and degrading way of being flogged, and is chiefly limited to people of the lowest standing in society. The implement most generally in use in this line of sport is the paddle or flat board, a beating with which, when once received, is likely to be remembered for ever. I shall try to describe the way in which I saw it done one day in Seoul.