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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 73-74

Inquest of Imperial Envoy: The True Depiction of an Inquest During the Qing Dynasty

1 Department of Legal History Research, Law School, China University of Political Science and Law, Changping District, China
2 Department of Judicial Technology Research, The Higher People's Court of Gansu Province, China

Date of Web Publication29-May-2015

Correspondence Address:
Xiaochuan Shi
China University of Political Science and Law, Haidian District, Beijing
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2349-5014.157905

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How to cite this article:
Shi X, Wang S. Inquest of Imperial Envoy: The True Depiction of an Inquest During the Qing Dynasty. J Forensic Sci Med 2015;1:73-4

How to cite this URL:
Shi X, Wang S. Inquest of Imperial Envoy: The True Depiction of an Inquest During the Qing Dynasty. J Forensic Sci Med [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Feb 7];1:73-4. Available from: https://www.jfsmonline.com/text.asp?2015/1/1/73/157905


Inquest of Imperial Envoy, [1] a picture by Zhang Zhiying, was included in the Dian Shi Zhai Pictorial[2] published in 1884. Jia Jingtao, the renowned expert on Chinese forensic history, confirmed that this picture was the first one to depict the process of an inquest in ancient China. [3] The text on this picture provides an introduction to this procedure, which is as follows:

Two imperial envoys were sent to Hubei province to investigate a case in which the suspect's surname was Yu. When the envoys Sun and Wu arrived in Hubei, they decided to conduct an inquest of the bones at Yamen on May 7 as per the lunar calendar. Four officers and a postmortem examiner sent by the Ministry of Justice arrived at the place, along with the imperial envoys, in order to restart the process of investigation. A total of 14 tables were placed in the court. The imperial envoys and governors sat to the north facing the south, whereas the other officers were seated on either side of the court. A moment later, the bones were brought to the court and placed correctly, following which they were transferred to a boiler to be burned as per the relevant procedural provisions. Another table was placed near the boiler for Nie Xian to supervise this process. When the process ended the postmortem examiner from the Ministry of Justice reported that there were two abnormalities on the bones, namely, a scar behind the head and the loss of a tooth. However, the postmortem examiners were confused as to how these came to be. The process took so long that the officials were late in returning. It was a very rigorous investigation procedure as excepting for a few waiters, most of the officers' servants had to wait outside the court. Soldiers at the court, including officers, were cross-examined on entering or leaving this place. One of the officers had said, "Since the order has been given by the Emperor, we should be cautious."

This illustration enables us to observe the inquest during a real case, depicting the following scenes. On the right, we note the envoys, governors, and magistrates who supervised the process of inquest. On the left, we observe the postmortem examiners doing their job under the direction of inspectors.  According to the Qing dynasty records, we know that Zongdu was a governor who was the chief executive of one or more provinces and also in charge of the military, political, and civil affairs of his precinct. Xun Fu was another governor who was in charge of civil affairs, and the military and official management of criminal cases in a province. Xun Fu managed two institutions, namely Bu zhen shi si and An cha shi si. Fan Tai, the manager of Bu zhen shi si, was in charge of a province's civil affairs, taxes, census register, etc.,  Nie Tai, the officer who was also called Nie Xian, was the manager of An cha shi si and in charge of the province's judiciary, post, etc., Dao Yuan, also called Dao Tai, was an officer whose power was greater than Zhi Fu but less than the governor.

Historical records provide information on the officer in charge of judicial inspection, as noted in the literature of the period prior to the Qin dynasty, i.e. before 221 B.C. The procedures and methods of judicial inspection were regulated under the laws laid down during the Qing dynasty (221-227 B.C.). The system and techniques of inspection matured during the Song dynasty.  After the Yuan and Ming dynasties, the system and techniques of inspection during the Qing dynasty reached the highest levels in ancient China.

As an aspect of inspection, the technique of inquest was first recorded in the book Record of Redressing Mishandled Cases written in 1247 by Song Ci of the Southern Song dynasty. In 33 Qing Kangxi year (1694), the book Lv Ii Guan Xiao Zheng Xi Yuan Lu was published. The publication of this book indicates that the technique of inquest had already become part of the national legal formal method of inspection. In 35 Qing Qianlong year (1770), the publication of The Picture of Inquest of the Bones and The Chart of Inquest of the Bones (together referred to as The Picture and the Chart of Inquest of the Bones) and The Appliance of Inquest of the Bones indicate that this technique was normal and standardized. [4]

The Picture of Inquest of the Bones depicted a face and a back, and illustrated the human skeleton. The names and positions of different bones with fatal and nonfatal positions of injuries were depicted here, with the former positions marked by black points and the latter by circles. There were 10 fatal positions marked on the face, including the parietal bone, fontanelle bone, frontal bone, forehead, temple, external acoustic meatus, Adam's apple bone, sternum, sternum xiphoid process, and collarbone. There were 33 nonfatal positions also marked on the face. There were eight fatal positions marked on the back, including the occipital squama, occipital bone, ear bone; the first section comprised the neck bone, the first section of the back bone, the first section of the spine, wicket bone, and sacrum. A total of 23 nonfatal positions in the back were also depicted. These were illustrated for the convenience of the postmortem examiner, aiding him to mark abnormalities during the inquest.

The Chart of Inquest of the Bones was in the form of a formatted table. The table listed some blanks in which the basic information of the following people need to be filled: the criminal, the witness, neighbors of the victim, relatives of the victim, the householder of the victim, and the postmortem examiner. It also included the phrase "inquest of a human skeleton according to law" and the birth date of the victim. This information had to be entered into the table during the inquest. The rest of the table listed the names of the bones of the face and back, derived from The Picture of Inquest of the Bones that constituted the record of the inquest.

The Appliance of Inquest of the Bones formed an appendix to The Chart of Inquest of the Bones, and provided a list of the equipment and space required for the inquest. These were as follows: 1) a ground prepared for the officers so that they faced south, with a flag showing the wind direction, 2) a ground to wash the bones in proximity to the space demarcated for officers, 3) four workers, 4) a pit furnace measuring 155 Χ 77.5 cm in length and breadth with a depth of 93 cm, 5) a ground on which to place a stove, 6) two freshly painted tables, 7) two Chinese lute tables with stools, 8) two yellow umbrellas, 9) 100 bamboo strips with a length 6.2 cm each to mark the bones, 10) two barrels, 11) two water tanks, 12) two wooden spoons, 13) two big bathtubs, 14) two bamboo brooms, 15) two bamboo strainers to collect the bones, 16) two boilers to place on the stove, 17) a big steamer, 18) six iron bars, 19) two pincers, 20) three fire shovels, 21) a ji dou (a kind of Chinese container to load metal), 22) two shoe brushes, 23) four bamboo mats, 24) four straw mats, 25) four scissors (large and small), 26) four small bayonets, 27) a golden chain to lock the barrel, 28) three wide long boards, 29) a wide, freshly painted door, 30) a hammer, 31) 150 g of silk floss, 32) 220 g of manila rope, 33) 150 g of red hair band, 34) a white cloth to wrap the bones, 35) a red cloth to wrap the bones in the barrel, and 36) a cloth to wrap the body.

Other material required included: 1) shaojiu (a kind of Chinese white wine), 2) distillers grains (the residue of rice after making wine), 3) vinegar, 4) aged wine, 5) sesame oil, 6) white salt, 7) ginger, 8) Equisetum hyemale (L.), 9) the rhizome of Chinese atractylodes, 10) liquorice, 11) Japanese apricots, 12) chicken, 13) duck, 14) meat, 15) Chinese honey locust, 16) Chinese Ephedra, 17) firewood, 18) Asarum sieboldii Miq (L.), 19) Allium fistulosum (L.), 20) mulberry paper, 21) oilpaper, 22) coarse paper, 23) stencil tissue paper, 24) Xingchuan paper, 25) writing brush, 26) hui mo (a kind of Chinese ink produced in the Anhui province), 27) inkstone, 28) incense burner, 29) candlesticks, 30) charcoal ash, 31) gray seal, 32) golden hairpin, 33) brass basin, 34) tin pot, 35) quilt, 36) lime, 37) su xiang (a kind of Chinese wood that has a lovely woody fragrance), 38) joss stick, and 39) glutinous rice.

At the left of the picture, we can see some details of the place where Nie Xian sits, the ground near the stove, and some of the material used, such as the barrel, boiler, bamboo strainer, etc., The skeleton of a human being is seen on the table and the postmortem examiners are depicted observing it and discussing. Nie Xian sits near the table and the book The Picture and the Chart of Inquest of the Bones is open. There is no doubt that this illustration records the entire process of inquest during the Qing dynasty!

  References Top

Zhang Z. Inquest of imperial envoy. In: Youru W, Hui QM, editors. The Pictures of the Floating World at the end of the Qing Dynasty. Vol. 6. Taipe, China: Yuan Liou Publishing Co. Ltd.; 2008. p. 100.  Back to cited text no. 1
Dian Shi Zhai Pictorial was rendered by Shen Bao Pictorial was the first pictorial depiction on current events and customs in China. It was published from May 1884 to 1898, during which period, over 4000 pictures were published. Yu Qiuyu: Preface, on Dian Shi Zhai Pictorial. Da Ke Tang ed. Shanghai Pictoria Press;  2001. p. 3.  Back to cited text no. 2
Jia JT. The picture of Inquest of Imperial Envoy and the technique of inquest of ancient China. Journal of China Medical University 1982;11:36-40.  Back to cited text no. 3
This Technique was used in Judicial Procedure from that Time until the 1950s (see: The Critical Opinion that was Mentioned by Zhang Shukui and some other Forensic Experts about the Inquest to Boil the Bones, Published by Ministry of Justice of Central People's Government; ([53] Si Xing San Zi No. 243).  Back to cited text no. 4


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