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Colonial Cases

Chinese police, 1891

Source: North China Herald, 17 July, 1891

The so-called detectives or thief-takers in yamens are in the habit of putting thieves to horrible torture to extort confessions, and many a time an accused persons have been driven to confess crimes which they never committed.  Worse than this, thieves are sometimes compelled by torture to implicate personal enemies of the detectives or well-to-do people as a means of blackmailing.
  A striking case in point occurred recently at Tientsin. A thief was caught by a certain detective of the Tientsin magistrate's yamen. After illegally subjecting him to all sorts of torture to compel him to acknowledge thefts, the detective lighted a large joss-stick and commenced burning the thief's wrists with it. The poor wretch, unable to comprehend what was wanted of him, asked for instructions. The detective then requested him to implicate in court a certain man named Li Kuan, as his associate, adding that if this favour was granted the torture would cease and rice and good food would be supplied. There was no choice but to comply with the demand.
  When in Court during the examination, the magistrate was surprised to hear  that so many depredations had been committed by one man, and desired to know how many accomplices he had. The thief could only remember the surname Li, and forgot the other name Kuan. Next morning the examination was continued and the thief, whose memory had been refreshed, gave the full name of Li Kuan as that of his accomplice. This forgetfulness one day and, on the next, sudden remembrance of the name of a comrade in crime, aroused suspicion. Nothing was said by the magistrate, however, beyond ordering the arrest of Li Kuan. Li Kuan was accordingly arrested by the detective who gained his revenge by inflicting on the innocent man all the refinements of torture to make him state in Court that he was the thief's partner. While this was going on in the rendezvous of the runners, Li Juan's family applied to the Tientsin Prefect, who at once ordered the whole case with the parties concerned, including the magistrate, to be brought before his court.
  The thief being hard pressed confessed the whole conspiracy. The prefect darted a furious glance at the magistrate, who had no chance of explaining himself, and ordered him to report the true facts of the case in twelve hours. The magistrate, badly snubbed, examined the detective, who stoutly denied everything, even when confronted with the thief and Li Kuan.  "Very well," said the magistrate, "I will do unto you as you have done to the thief;" and a big burning joss-stick was applied to the wrists of the detective, who writhed under the torture and made a full confession. Heavy irons were placed on the wretch and he was consigned to a cell. Li Kuan was sent to the Prefect, who set him at liberty in open court, so as to wipe away the stain on the character of an innocent man wrongfully accused.
  The case is to be reported and the detective will be put on trial at the autumnal assize. Probably his sentence will be exile to Amoor with penal servitude. The Tientsin people rejoiced exceedingly.

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