Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Branding in Hong Kong

An administrative note: Stefan is actually in the middle of switching apartments, hence the delay in his contribution to the blog. In the meantime, I will keep up my posts.

Today's post, you might think, is going to be about some local marketing gurus. I shall disappoint you if that was what you were expecting. No, today we're talking about the rather unsavory practice of colonial administrators in the 1860s and 1870s of branding prisoners and convicted Chinese criminals on the ear or neck, which was nominally banning them from re-entering the territory.

Except that it also prevented these criminals from ever finding gainful employment again in China; indeed, some would be punished again, in even worse ways, upon being released from prison in Hong Kong and deported back to the mainland. So many of them chose to hang around Hong Kong and enter at night as vagabonds, and depart by morning with booty of various descriptions.

This all changed when Governor John Pope-Hennessy arrived, who saw this treatment of Chinese prisoners as unconscionable. I quote now from his report of 1882:
Sir Hercules Robinson's successor mentions that he took on himself, in October 1866, the responsibility of abandoning the new and extensive gaol just completed on Stone Cutters' Island. About the same time, he also modified the authorized scale of remissions of sentences, by directing that there should be no remissions unless the prisoners consented to be marked permanently on the lobe of the left ear and deported, and to this, in a few months, he added the further condition that they should be flogged if found again in the Colony.

Under this new system, five hundred and twenty-nine prisoners were branded, and one hundred and ten flogged, when Mr. May, the Police Magistrate, expressed the opinion that "there was not any legal power by which branding could be inflicted, or for flogging branded men simply for being within the Colony after deportation," and he requiested that the opinion of the Attorney General might be taken on the subject. Sir Julian Pauncefote thereupon wrote:-"Since my return to Hongkong in December 1868, I have heard of criminals being liberated upon certain conditions as to Branding, Deportation and Flogging, but I never was consulted until now as to the legality of these proceedings," and he concludes a clear and well-drawn opinion by stating that the proceedings in question were illegal.

This unauthorized branding and flogging was at once stopped by an Executive order...thereupon, some higly respectable and very influential European residents held an indignation meeting and meorialized the Government in favour of branding and flogging Chinese crininals instead of returning to Sir Hercules Robinson's system [of just keeping criminals incarcerated], which they pointed out, would involve the cost of a new gaol, and was, in their opnion, unsuited to the Chinese race, a race that they conceived to be incorrigibly bad. They pointed out the economy in prison expenditure of branding and deporting the Chinese, and, if they returned, flogging and deporting them, and again flogging and deporting them if they came back, and so on ad infinitum... this led to the passing of "The Branding and Flogging Ordinance."

Under this Ordinance, a printed form was used,-"Return of Prisoners in Victoria Gaol, Hongkong, who are eligible for remission of sentences in accordance with Ordinance 4 of 1872," the heading of one column being "Date of completion of half sentence and willing to be marked." ...

As the new system admitted of reducing the number of prisoners in the gaol at any moment, it also appeared to render his idea of a new gaol unnecessary. I soon found that this experiment in the treatment of criminals had not been entirely successful, and that I could not comply with Lord Carnarvon's instructions,-to submit proposals for placing the system of prison discipline on a sound basis in future,-if the experiment were to be continued.

I called for returns showing the real effect of the experiment on the criminal population. I found that those returns justified a statement made in October 1872 by Mr. Douglas, the late Superintendet of the Hongkong Gaol, in a report on branding, to the effect that when a prisoner is deported with a gaol mark on his beck, which cannot be concealed, and not removed without mutiliation, it prevents him from getting an honest livelihood in his own country, or being taken as an emigrant, so that such a man is tempted to become a pirate or robber near the shores of this Colony, upon which he is thus driven back..."long-sentenced prisoners, short-sentenced prisoners, prisoners whose character in gaol was described as "very bad," and those whose character was described as "very good," had all been treated in the same way, and sent in a batch to the mainland of China when one-third of their sentences had been worked out."

Sir Brooke Robertson, Her Majesty's Consul at Canton, told me that he thought the system was not quite fair to the Chinese Authorities nor to the Chinese villagers near Hongkong. The Chief Justice of Hongkong, in giving judgment in a case in which a Chinaman had been deported on an illegal warrant, publicly expressed the opinion that the system was hardly consistent with our Trewaty with China, and that the Government of China might justly complain of it. On this latter point, the Governor who had started the experiment had officially recorded his opinion that "it suits this Government very well, in a selfish point of view, to get all its criminals exported to other "countries."

But even taking, as the guardian of the peace and good order of the Colony, a purely selfish view of it, I felt unable to sanction the continuance of the system. A police report, from the frontier of British Kau-lung [The New Territories had not yet been acquired in 1882], that was submitted to me in the ordinary course of official business, said:- "Numbers of deported criminals frequent this neighborhood; on the 8th instant, fifteen men who had been branded and banished from Hongkong, were counted in the streets of Chinese Kau-lung and Shan Shui Po."

On further enquiry, I asecertained that the places where these old offenders were seen were not a hundrd yards from the boundary of the Colony, and on sending for the gentleman who was acting as the head of our Police Force, he assured me that the night robberies and the serious crimes that were causing alarm, had been committed by branded men, some of whom had been flogged and deported more than once. Some of them had committed felonies half a dozen times. Others were well known burglars. Others had been simply branded and deported as rogues and vagabonds, and thus rendered permanent outcasts...to consign them to a life of permanent shame, and, by an act of the State, to render their reformation difficult, and sometimes impossible.

As to the alleged economy of the system, I found that some these branded, flogged and repeatedly deported criminals had, by their night raids in the Colony, destroyed property, in a few months, to a greater amount than the whole cost of their maintenance in gaol would have been in ten years, had they been kept in prison...

Furthermore, I ascertained, beyond all doubt, that the negation of prison discipline, the excessive use of the lash, and the illegal punishments that had become mixed up with this system, had created and fostered a criminal class in the Colony and the neighbourhood, instead of diminishing the number of criminals. In short, a system devised for the suppression of crime had increased crime....

What has occurred here shows that, though a criminal population may be manufactured, the Chinese are not naturally a criminal population. On the contrary, I regard the Chinese as the least criminally disposed race I have seen in any part of Her Majesty's Dominions. Perhaps this might be explained by the fact that no other race in the world combines so many of the qualities that are the rational antidotes to crime: industry, temperance, frugality, and filial affection.

Reviewing the whole question, I therefre, felt justified in suggesting last year to Her Majesty's Government that the Branding Ordinances be repealed, that Public Flogging be abolished by law, that all laws in Hongkong which impose flogging on persons of the Chinese race exclusively be repealed, that all flogging be abolished except for such offences as entrail flogging in England, and that flogging on the back be abolished by law."
Governor Hennessy here, for the first time, took steps to bring the penal code for Chinese and for Europeans, a supposedly 'separate but equal' system, to an end. Again, proved himself a man far beyond his time (as several of his reforms were rolled back). For it, he was excoriated by the colonial community, and when he left, none of the entire expatriate community saw him off, or dared to see him off, at the docks. There were, as you can imagine though, many Chinese and sincerely regretted his departure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Things haven't changed that much then ex prisoners are marked by their convictions and excluded from employment.