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Colonial Cases

Yuen Tsze Huen, 1877


Yuen Tsze Huen

Mixed Court, Shanghai
Source: The North China Herald, 22 March 1877



IF Chinese administration is in general a thing productive of fear rather than profit to those unfortunately subjected to it, it sometimes has its comic aspect; and a notable instance was afforded in the Mixed Court last week.  It seems strange, in our view of matters, that no provision should be made for the disposition of fees and fines in what purports to be a Court of Justice; and from the instance in point we can reason that what is not done in China generally with such windfalls as dropped into the Mixed Court on last Wednesday.  We are not going to find fault with the sentence of the Court.  It was, from a Chinese point of view, essentially a just one. 

   We ourselves know, from the experience of gambling in Hongkong, the hold that games of hazard have on the Chinese, and the necessity of putting down with a high hand all such associations as the one so suddenly disturbed in the Woohoo Road.  Yet, with all, there was something ludicrous in the manner of inflicting the fines.  We ourselves should be taken aback at a colloquy between a prisoner and a magistrate as to the sentence to be delivered in Court; the nearest attempt to it having occurred a few months ago in London, when the prisoner gravely pointed out to the presiding magistrate that the punishment he was about to inflict for a misdemeanour was, according to a recent Act of Parliament, technically wrong.

   Doubtless, His Honour at the Court the other day was delighted to have caught in his net such a big fish at the Chehsien's chief runner, and felt himself lifted up with pride accordingly.  The sentence, heavy as it was, a fine of $300, was we believe considered on the other hand as a cheap let off; and when the runner's friends came a few hours afterwards with the required amount, their countenances, on receiving him back again, showed that a load of anxiety had been taken off their minds.  But leaving the comic aspect of the matter to one side, it really throws light on the manner in which public business is conducted, which should not be lost as a warning.  So far as the part taken by the magistrate himself goes, we have nothing but commendation to offer; but how many magistrates would have acted in the matter as Chen has done?

   Were it not for the publicity given to the affairs of the Mixed Court by the presence of a Press in Shanghai, is it likely that even there the infliction of punishment would have been turned to so useful and end?  And, in the thousands of yamens which crowd the Empire of China, how many besides are there, where justice is administered in the sight of the public?  Very few!  The Magistrate's caprice is the sole law, and the endurance of the people the only check.  When we look a little deeper into the matter, our misgivings are still further aroused.  The chief delinquent is a trusted officer of the Chehsien, and one of his official duties is to see that no gambling houses are permitted within his district.  We yet find him, unabashed, taking an active part in a crime, regarding the nature of which, according to Chinese law or custom, there is no manner of doubt.

   What should we say to a chief constable caught red-handed in a chapter of thieves?  Yet this case is precisely similar.  The guardians of the law are the first to break it, and a fine of $3o00 and Chen's statement that he will be dismissed if it is not paid, is the punishment awarded after a course of bargaining.  We imagine the chief runner, who can afford to give $300 to get out of a scrape within the Settlements, would readily find a proportionate sum to get back to a post lucrative enough to afford him the means of readily meeting such paltry engagements.  Shanghai is not likely to be worse managed than any of the other cities in the Empire.  In fact, from its proximity to the foreign Settlements and the near presence of newspapers, there is a check existing not to be found elsewhere.

   If, therefore, corruption and law-breaking be the custom among the employees of the Chehsien's yamen here, we are justified in believing that still worse practices prevail where public opinion is too weak to withstand the powers that be.





The North China Herald, 22 March 1877



   The Mixed Court and its immediate neighbourhood presented an unusual spectacle on the forenoon of the 14th instant.  The sixty-four gamblers captured by the Police in a raid made there the previous night, upon a house, or rather a series of houses, in the Woo-hoo road, were taken before the Chinese Magistrate Chen, and W. D. Spence, Esq., the British Assessor, to answer the charge; and the Court and its precincts were speedily crowded by many hundreds of spectators, the majority of whom evidently belonged to the native city.  Most of the prisoners were also from the city, and included the Chehsien's head-runner and one of his clerks, a military mandarin of some rank, several bank clerks, a tepaou, a teacher from a Peking college, four wealthy pawnbrokers, several actors, and numerous tradesmen, boys, and coolies

   The premises in which the prisoners were captured were described as being the most extensive ever used for gambling purposes in the Settlements.  They consisted of several native houses, between which communication had been made by removing portions of the wooden partitions.  It is computed that there were literally hundreds of gamblers engaged in play when the Police effected their surprise, and the stampede that ensued was extraordinary.  The gamblers flew in all directions, breaking windows, doors, and furniture, and tumbling over each other, in their desperate efforts to escape.  Some of them got into bed and pretended to be asleep.  Their number of course impeded the speedy exit of many, and the work of tying queues together went merrily on until sixty-four were in captivity.  The seizure soon became known in the surrounding labyrinth of streets and alleys, and the denizens thereof rushed forth in thousands, flocking to the scene with yells and shouts that for some time made it anything but pleasant  for Messrs. Penfold and Stripling, and their small force of seven foreign an d about the same number of native constables.  Much difficulty was experienced in forcing a way through the crowd, which closed around so persistently and yelled so threateningly, that it looked as if an attempt at rescue was imminent.  At an expenditure of much muscle, however, the Central Station was at length reach, and the prisoners quickly locked in the cells. -

   It having been represented to Chen that if the prisoners were fined, the money could be devoted to the relief of the famine-stricken population of Shantung, he inflicted fines amounting in the aggregate to about $1,300.  To this sum must be added $150.95 Mexican, 12,000 cash, some bank orders, the value of two watches, four gold rings, and other property found on the prisoners or in the houses, and all of which were ordered to be confiscated, making in the whole, probably, nearly $1,500. -

   A considerable proportion of the fines was paid the same afternoon at the Central Station, some having been previously paid in Court.  Among the first to pay, was the Chehsien's head-runner, the penalty imposed upon whom was $300.  A singular feature of this case was that not a single Cantonese was found among the captured ones.  Only one prisoner, the Pekingese, was ordered to be bambooed; but we believe it was understand that defaulters are to be punished in the same way or cangued.  The whole of the prisoners were remitted to custody until the fines are paid.


The North China Herald, 22 March 1877


Shanghai, March 14th.
Before the Chinese Magistrate CHEN, and W. D. SPENCE, Esq., British Assessor.

   YUEN-TSZE-HUEN [Chinese characters], head runner in the Chehsien's Yamen in the city, and sixty-three others, were charged with gambling in a house in the Woo-hoo road.  The prisoners were captured in a raid made by the Police about half-past ten on Monday night. -

   The prisoner above-named was brought into Court singly, as being the "head-man" of the establishment, and after the usual questions had been out to him, as to how much he would offer by way of penalty, he was offered the alternative of deportation and consequently loss of his lucrative situation.  He immediately offered $100, but this was not accepted, and prisoner was remitted to the yamen yard to give the subject five minutes' consideration.  Not being ready with his answer then, Chen cut the difficult knot for him by fining him $300.

   The next batch brought in were four pawn-shop-keepers, said to be wealthy men and well able to pay a smart fine.  They were ordered to pay $100 each.

   The tepao of No. 12 district came up next, and begged hard for the infliction of a small penalty.  He was fined 4100.

   In the next batch were a banker, a clerk in the Chehsien's Yamen, the gambling-house account keeper, and the second teacher of a college in Peking, said to be on a tour for the benefit of his health.  He had no money, and consequently was ordered to expiate his peccadillo with an allowance of 100 blows of bamboo.  The banker was fined $50, and the two clerks $10 each.

   The keeper of a lodging-house ion the Woo-hoo road came next.  Mr. Penfold said it was through this prisoner's house that entrance was gained to the gambling apartments, and he was therefore one of the principals.  Without his assistance gambling could not be carried on there at all, and it was believed he kept a man on watch at the door.  He was captured with the other prisoners in a gambling-room. - Fined $100.

   Another clerk was next brought up, in whose pocket was found an order on the Tao-shan bank for Tls. 47.6 - about $60.  This he was ordered to forfeit, and to be kept in custody until it was cashed.

   A confectioner, keeping a shop at the East Gate, was next presented.  He said he could only afford to pay $1.  Seeing this would not do, he raised his offer to $3. - Chen fined him $20.

   A military mandarin, whose grade was not stated; two actors, three theatre shroffs, a school-master, a rice-shopkeeper, and e42 others, including tradesmen, boys, and coolies, were then all brought up together, and a curious  sight was presented as they swarmed into the court, their queues tied in groups of six or seven, and knelt before the Bench. - All these were fined $5 #each.

   In addition to the prisoners, there were also seized about $150 in Mexican, 12,000 in cash, two silver watches, four gold rings, another bank order for Tls. 20, numerous documents and accounts, a pair of scales for weighing money, some staves (said to be used in quelling disturbances in the house), a knuckle-duster, boxes of dice and other gambling paraphernalia, all of which were confiscated.

   The total; amount of fines and the value of the property take, cannot be far short of $1,500.  Of this sum Chen directed $50 to be given to the Police, and the remainder to be sent to the relief of the famine-stricken people in Shantung.

   All the prisoners will be detained in custody until the money is paid, and it is understood that defaulters will be bambooed or cangued.  Two or three paid on the spot, and others later in the day. 


The North China Herald, 29 March 1877


... The four pawnbrokers who were convicted at the Mixed Court on the 14th instant, of gambling in a house in the Woohoo road, in company with a large number of others, and fined $100 each, were released from the Central Police Station on Sunday, on payment of $300 between them, by desire of the Assessor who heard the case, probably because it was found impossible to obtain the $400 from them.  - The Pekingese student, or teacher, was taken Monday before the Mixes Court, and liberated after receiving a few pats on the hand. - The lodging-house keeper who was fined $100 for allowing ingress to the gambling premises though his house, it still in custody; it is believed to be unlikely that he can pay the fine.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School