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.
I was walking along the main street when I saw a kisso (soldier), with his hands tied behind his back, being led with a rope and followed by about a score of cavalry soldiers in their picturesque hats and red tassels. A magistrate, in his long white gown and with a huge pair of circular spectacles on his nose, headed the procession. I asked a passer-by what they were going to do, and was soon informed, both by action and by word of mouth, that the man was going to be flogged, whereupon I at once slackened my pace, and joined the procession, that I might, if possible, see how they did this sort of thing in military circles. I had already seen ordinary floggings with the bamboo and the stick, but what attracted me more especially on this occasion, was a long wooden board which a soldier was carrying, and with which, the man who was walking by my side said, they were going to beat him. It was a plank about ten feet long, one foot wide and half an inch thick, probably less, and therefore very flexible. After walking for a short distance, the procession at last made a halt. The man to be performed upon, looked almost unconcerned; and, save that he was somewhat pensive, showed no signs of fear. His hands having been untied, he at once took off his hat - for in the land of Cho-sen a man does not mind losing his life as long as his hat is not spoilt! His padded trousers were pulled down so as to leave his legs bare, and he was then made to lie flat on the pebbly ground, using his folded arms as a sort of rest for his head. The magistrate, with his pompous strides, having found a suitable spot, squatted down on his heels, a servant immediately handing to him his long-caned pipe. The soldiers, silent and grave, then formed a circle, and the flogger; with his board all ready in his hand, took up a position on the left-hand side of his victim. The magistrate, between one puff and another of smoke, gave a long harangue on the evils of borrowing money and not returning it, however small the sum might be. The disgrace, he argued, would be great in anybody's case, but for a soldier of the King, not only to commit the great offence of borrowing money from a person of lower grade than himself - "a butcher," but then also to add to his shame by not returning it - this was something that went beyond the limits of decency.
"How much was it you borrowed?" he inquired in a roaring kind of voice.
"A hundred cash," answered the thread of a voice from the head on the ground buried in the coat-sleeves.
"Well, then, give him a hundred strokes, to teach him to do better next time!"
As a hundred cash is equivalent to one penny-halfpenny, to my mind, the verdict was a little severe, but, as there is no knowing what is good for other people, I remained a silent spectator.
The flogger then, grabbing at one end of the board with his strong hands, swung it two or three times over his head, and gave a tremendous whack on the man's thighs, causing them to bleed. Then immediately another and another followed, each being duly reckoned, the poor fellow all the while moaning pitifully, and following from the corners of his frightened eyes the quick movements of the quivering plank. Soon his skin became livid and inflamed, and, after a few more blows had been given, large patches of skin remained attached to the board. The pain must have been intense. The wretch bit his sleeves, and moaned and groaned, until, finally, he became faint. Meanwhile, I had produced my sketch-book, and had already with my pencil jotted down magistrate, flogger, flogged and soldiers, when the ill-natured official took offence at what I was doing and ordered the flogging to be at once stopped. Had I only known, I would have begun my sketch before. As it was - and the culprit had only received less than one-fifth of the number of blows to which he had been sentenced - the performance was bad enough. There was only one redeeming feature about it, and I must say no one was more astonished at it than myself. Nearly all the soldiers, friends of the offender, blubbered like children while his punishment lasted. This circumstance seemed to prove to me that the Easterns, though apparently cruel, are, after all, not quite so hard-hearted as one might be inclined to imagine. And, mind you, the soldier-classes in Cho-sen are probably the most cruel of all; that touch of sentiment on their part, therefore, impressed me much, and upset entirely those first ideas I had formed about their lack of sensitiveness and sympathy for others.
The order to that effect being then given, two soldiers proceeded to help the man to rise. Calling to him was, however, of no avail. They had, therefore, to lift him up bodily, but when they tried to dress him they found his swollen bleeding legs to be as stiff as if they had been made of iron; wherefore, as they failed to bend them, two other men had to come to their assistance and carry him away. It not unfrequently happens in the case of this cruel method of flogging that a man's thighs are broken and himself ruined for life, and many have been known to have even died under the severity of the punishment.