Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

Yung Ah-lai, 1885


Yung Ah-lai

Mixed Court, Shanghai
K'o and Giles, 20 July 1885
Source: North China Herald, 24 July 1885

Shanghai, 20th July, 1885.
Before His Worship K'o, Acting Magistrate, and H. A. Giles, Esq., British Assessor.
  Yung Ah-lai, a Cantonese woman, a brother-keeper of 116 Szechuen Road, was charged with causing the death of a Cantonese girl named Ah-su, aged 18 years.
  Mr. Drummond appeared for the prisoner, and was attended by Mr. Lo Cheng-yee, who checked the interpretation, which was carried on for the most part by the Court Interpreter, who however also had to be kept up to the mark by the British Assessor.
  The foreign Prosecutor, at whose instance the charge was made, was first recalled and asked to restate his case.  He said for some weeks the deceased had complained, not only to him but to his servants, of Ah-lai's ill-treatment.  On Thursday night Ah-su was very much concerned at an accident which had occurred to prosecutor - an accident which had necessitated his going to the doctor's and having his had sewn up.  She remained up a great part of the night sponging and attending to his wound, and left his house at ten o'clock the next morning.  At about half-past ten that morning (Wednesday) prosecutor again saw Ah-su near the Soochow Creek, apparently quite well and quite happy.  At half-past three in the afternoon, a foreigner came to prosecutor and told him that Ah-su had taken opium.  This foreigner had already done all he could to save the girl's life; but when the prosecutor got to the prisoner's house, where Ah-su was lying, he found things so bad that he went for a doctor, and ultimately found Dr. Jamieson, who, when he saw the girl pronounced the case to be one of opium poisoning.  The girl died at 8 o'clock, and Ah-lai then kowtowed to witness very strongly.
  His Worship (through the interpreter) - Why did she kowtow?
  Prosecutor - Simply because she was afraid I should proceed against her.  I went to the house again at 9 o'clock, at 11 o'clock, and, I think, at 1 o'clock in the morning.
  His Worship - Did you see Ah-su?
  Prosecutor - Yes, I saw the body each time.
  Did you find any wounds? - I never looked for any wounds when she was dead; but I saw marks on her back and arms two days previously.  My servants also saw them.
  What were the wounds caused by? - By beating with a cane.
  What colour were they?  Black and blue.
  Did she talk to you about the wounds? - Yes. She said she would take opium if she was ill-treated any longer.
  Did you persuade her not to take opium? - Yes, very often.  She said she would not take any, unless she were beaten.  On Saturday week - about four days before the girl's death - I remonstrated with Ah-lai for beating her, and Ah-lai said Ah-su was a very bad girl, and very disobedient.  She said she would do what she liked.
  Did Ah-lai beat her on the Wednesday after she went home? - I cannot tell.
  Do you know anybody who knows? - I do not know anybody who could know.
  The Prosecutor, continuing his statement, said - When the girl was dead, and Ah-lai was kowtowing to me, I said she scarcely knew what she had done, and it would cost her five hundred dollars to get clear of it, and I advised her to give this money to a local charity.  I sent for Ah-lai several times to come and see me afterwards; but she never came.
  Wu Kwei-lun, houseboy to the prosecutor, was then called.  He said his master and the girl Ah-su had been living together for about a year. She left his master's house at about ten o'clock on Wednesday; that was about the time she usually left.  He had several times heard Ah-su complain that the old woman Ah-lai abused her and beat her and ill-treated her in various ways, and about three weeks before her death he saw some black bruises on one of her arms resulting from a beating which she had received.  The girl often said she was so ill-treated that she would not continue to be a human being if she were beaten any more.
  Mow Ah-kwan, the next witness, said he had been for five years a dog coolie in the prosecutor's employ.  The girl Ah-su had been for more than a year with his master.  Two or three weeks ago, while the prosecutor was up country, Ah-su complained of the old woman's ill-treatment, and witness saw marks on her, the prosecutor had wanted her to go up country with him, but she would not go because she was afraid of the old woman,  She left his master's house at about ten o'clock on Wednesday morning.
  Dr. Huang, a Chinese physician, was the next witness, and at Mr. K'o's invitation he occupied a seat on the bench.  He said he was called in to see Ah-su at about 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon.  He saw that she was suffering from opium poisoning, and a stomach pump was applied. Dr. Jamison came, and witness had a consultation with him, when they agreed that the girl was too far gone to answer.  Witness went away, and was again called by a messenger from Ah-lai at about 7 o'clock, when, after seeing the girl, he told he prosecutor, who was present, that there was no hope.  He attributed the death to the heat of the weather, combining with the opium poisoning.  Witness did not see Ah-lai at any time during his visits.
  Dr. Huang was then cross-examined by Mr. Drummond, and giving his evidence mostly in English but partly in Chinse, said he had never seen the girl before he was called in at 4 o'clock on Wednesday. She never spoke to him; she was too far gone to speak when he first saw her.  Her pupils were very much contracted, which showed it was a case of opium poisoning, and her lips were blue.  The cause of death was undoubtedly opium poisoning. He did not make an examination of the body, as he was quite certain it was a case of opium poisoning; and he did not see her arms or shoulders, as she was fully dressed all the time he saw her.  It was his assistant, Kung-lai, who applied the stomach pump.  There were no traces of opium in the contents of the stomach, except a slight smell of opium; but the appearance of the eyes alone was sufficient to show that it was a case of opium poisoning.  He asked the people in the house when and how the girl had taken opium, but none of them knew.
  Mow Ah-kwan, the dog-coolie, recalled and cross-examined by Mr. Drummond, said he himself aw Ah-su leave the house at about ten on Wednesday morning.  She passed his rom on her way out, and told him she was going.
  Wu Keu-lun, the house-boy, recalled and cross-examined, said Ah-su was dressed in foreign clothes on Tuesday night when she came to his master's house.  The costume had been sent to her from a foreign store on the Monday, and she wore it on the Tuesday. His (witness's) wife took opium in about the second month of this year, but she did not die; Ah-su attended to her when she was sick.  Ah-su said then that if she ever took opium she would be careful to take enough.  Ah-su had no quarrel with his master on the Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, as far as he knew.  In answer to the magistrate, the witness described the girl as having an unsettled, or not very happy expression on her face when she left on the Wednesday morning; but in answer to further questions he explained that in his view that was her ordinary appearance, and that he noticed nothing unusual on that morning. One week before her death he saw two marks on Ah-su's arm, and the girl told him that Ah-lai had beaten and threatened to kill her.
  Kung-lai, Assistant to Dr. Huang, was then called, and, like his principal, honoured with a seat on the bench.  He said that when he first saw the deceased her mouth was wide open, her pupils were very much contracted, and her lips were blue.  He could not find out at what time the opium was taken, but the people in the house said she became insensible at noon; and it was half-past three then.  She was lying on the verandah, in the sun. There was a very slight smell of opium when the stomach pump was used.
  A foreigner who had been present said there was a very strong smell of opium and samshu.
  The Witness, further examined, said he remained there till 5 o'clock.  He did not examine the body, and as the girl was fully dressed he could not see whether there were any marks of violence.  She had been drinking samshu.
  An assistant of the tipao of the district was then called.  He said he was summoned to the house at 8 o'clock in the evening.  He took the clothes off the body down to the waist, and saw no marks.  He did this in the presence of the Inspector of Police, because the latter told him to do so.  The Inspector was not present when he took off the clothes; but the Inspector had previously told him to examine the body.  He (witness) did not off the clothes; but Ah-lai took them off in his presence.
  Mr. Giles remarked on the contradictions in the witness's evidence, and said that in accordance with Chinese law the tipao had no right to examine the body; it was his business, if there was anything suspicious about the death, to see that the body was not touched till the Chehsien arrived to hold an inquest.
The Prosecutor was then recalled and cross-examined by Mr. Drummond, his Worship K'o constantly interposing with questions.  The Prosecutor said the foreigner who had fetched him on the Wednesday afternoon was present for a considerable part of the time while the girl lay dying.  The girl died in his (prosecutor's) arms at four minutes past eight.  The girl had left his house in the morning a few minutes after he himself.  She was not in the least disturbed or unhappy; in fact she was in good spirits at the contemplation of a carriage drive which she was to have in the evening.  He and the other foreigner took off the girl's wet things and put on dry clothes.  He did not notice any marks; but he did not see her back, or the backs of her arms.  He could not say whether the other foreigner was in a position to see whether there were any marks of violence.
  The foreigner alluded to here interposed, saying that he could see perfectly well, and there were no marks of violence on the girl's body.
  The Prosecutor, further examined, said the foreign clothes which Ah-su wore on Tuesday night remained in his house till the Thursday morning, when another girl fetched them, saying they were going to dress the body in them before it was buried.  He had no reason to know that Ah-su had been beaten on the day she took the opium.
  This concluded the case for the prosecution.
  Mr. Drummond submitted that there was no evidence whatever of the girl having been beaten or threatened or ill-used in any way whatever.  The evidence was simply to the effect that the girl had been found suffering from opium poisoning and had subsequently died.  He could call a foreign witness to prove that there were no marks of violence on the body, and he could call several native witnesses; but he submitted that the prosecution had entirely failed to make out any case whatever, and the accused ought therefore to be dismissed without being called upon for any defence.
  Mr. Giles admitted that there was no evidence according to English ideas; but he did not know what view his Worship would take.
  The Magistrate then gave his decision in Chinese, after a consultation with Mr. Giles.
  Mr. Giles said the Magistrate was of opinion that there was no real evidence, and that therefore he could not proceed to the extremity of sending the woman into the city for trial before the Che-hsien. He could not, however, hold her free from all blame, as, being the mistress of the house, she ought to have seen that the proper tipao was sent for, and the City Magistrate invited to hold an inquest.  He therefore proposed to inflict a fine of $100, to be devoted to the Kuangtung Inundation Fund.  While there was no evidence of any complicity of the accused in causing the death of Ah-su, his Worship was of opinion that the foreign prosecutor had acted very properly in having a matter like this thoroughly investigated, and he was quite satisfied that there was no ground for the charge against the prosecutor of having attempted to extort $500 from the prisoner to be put in his own pocket.  He did not think for a moment that the prosecutor had any other than a proper motive in making the suggestion he did - his idea being to inflict a penalty on the woman in much the same sway as his Worship had done in regard to the fine of $100.  His Worship had added that if the accused had not been the girl's mother, by purchase, the penalty would have been much heavier; but her position as mother gave her a certain power over the girl.
  Mr. Drummond understood that the woman was acquitted of the charge brought against her, and fined for not having a proper inquest held.
  Mr. Giles said that was so.
  Mr. Drummond remarked that the decision was slightly illogical.
  Mr. Giles said it was a very different thing from sending the woman into the City.  By very slightly stretching a point the magistrate might have done this, and then by the rules of the Mixed Court none of the foreign authorities would have been able to say a word.

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