Chinese Justice by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

They do things differently in China. Here in America, when a man burgles your residence, you go and confide in a detective, who keeps your secret and gets another detective to help him. Generally that is the last of it. In China, not long ago, the house of a missionary was entered and valuables taken by the thieves. The missionary went to the authorities with his tale and told them whom he suspected. That’s the last he heard of that for three weeks. Then he received a covered champagne basket from the Department of Justice. On opening it he found the heads of the suspected burglars packed in tinfoil and in a good state of preservation. These heads were not sent necessarily for publication, but as an evidence of good faith on the part of the Department of Unimpeded Justice. Mind you, there was no postponement of the preliminary examination, no dilatory motions and changes of venue, no pleas to the jurisdiction of the court, no legal delays and final challenges of jurors until an idiotic jury had been procured who hadn’t read the papers, no ruling out of damaging testimony, and finally filing of bill of exceptions, no appeal and delay, or appeal afterward to another court which returned the defendant to the court of original jurisdiction for review, and years of waiting for the prosecuting witnesses to die of old age and thus release the defendant. There is nothing of that kind in China. You just hand in your orders to the judicial end of the administration, and then you retire. Later on, the delivery man brings in your package of heads, makes a salaam, and goes away.

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Now, this is swift and speedy justice for you. I don’t know how the guilt of the defendants is arrived at, but there’s nothing tedious about it. At least, there’s nothing tedious to the complainant I presume they make it red-hot for the criminal.

Still this style of justice has its drawbacks. For instance, you are at dinner. You have a large and select company dining with you. You are about to carve the roast There is a ring at the door. The servant announces that a judicial officer is at the drawbridge and desires to speak with you. You pull your napkin out of your bosom, lay the carving knife down on the virgin table cloth, and go to the door. There the minister of justice presents you with a champagne basket and retires. You return to the dining hall, leaving your basket on the sideboard. After a while you announce to your guests that you have just received a basket of Mumm’s extra dry with the compliments of the government, and that you will, with the permission of those present, open a bottle. You arm yourself with a corkscrew, open the basket, and thoughtlessly tip it over, when two or three human heads, with a pained and grieved expression on the face, roll out on the table.

When you are looking for a quart bottle of sparkling wine and find instead the cold, sad features and reproachful stare of the extremely deceased and hic jacet Chinaman, you naturally betray your chagrin. I like to see justice moderately swift, and, in fact I’ve seen it pretty forthwith in its movements two or three times; but I cannot say that I would be prepared for this style.

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Perhaps I’m getting a little nervous in my old age, and a small matter jars my equilibrium; but I’m sure a basket of heads handed in as I was seated at the table would startle me a little at first, and I might forget myself.

A friend of mine, under such circumstances, made what the English would call “a doosed clevah” remark once in Shanghai. When he opened the basket he was horrified, but he was cool. He was old sang froid from Sangfroidville. He first took the basket and started for the back room, with the remark: “My friends, I guess you will have to ex-queuese me.” Then he pulled down his eyelids and laughed a hoarse English laugh.

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