5 December 2008
[MASON, George Henry ]. The Punishments of China. London: William Miller, 1801.
2o (365 x 275). Text printed in French and English. 22 hand- colored engravings (some spotting). (Lacking English language title-page.) Contemporary vellum-backed boards, uncut (worn).
FIRST EDITION. Attributed to the artist George Henry Mason, this work describes, in graphic detail, the forms of punishment deemed suitable for numerous crimes committed in China. Each plate illustrates one type of torturous punishment from less severe penalties like "Torturing the Fingers" and "Twisting a Man's Ears," to the most serious "The Manner of Beheading." The accompanying text, in both French and English, explains the method by which the punishment is delivered. Oftentimes, a particular punishment was used for a specific crime, as is the case of "Punishment of the Swing," in which a "man is suspended by his shoulders and ankles, in a very painful situation... This punishment is chiefly inflicted upon such merchants as have been detected in committing frauds, impositions, or any other unwarrantable tricks of the trade" (plate vi). While the methods are clearly barbaric by today's standards, Mason's book, along with the translation of the Qing penal code in 1810, created growing concern in Britain and other Western countries over the perceived severity and unnecessary cruelty of the sentences described. The English title in this copy may have been removed for a French buyer. Abbey Travel 532 (1804 edition); Colas 2010; Cordier Sinica 549.
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