Monday, February 13, 2006

Public Executions in Hong Kong

St. Valentine's Day, approaches, a holiday in which the celebration of a Christian martyrdom has oddly morphed into a celebration of love (see this site for its rather shocking precursor), immediately preceding an old pagan Roman ritual.

I thought I'd take the opportunity, as this morbid co-association of love and death approaches, to briefly discuss public execution in Hong Kong. Some people have asked me whether Hong Kong has had the death penalty, and the answer is yes, that it did until the 1960s, and the penalty, although unused, remained on the books well into the 1980s.

What is even more interesting, is that it also had public executions until 1895. Allow me to quote from Crisswell and Watson in their book on the Hong Kong Police:
Public executions were also carried out in Hong Kong until 1895. There was no regular executioner and in 1852 when six Portuguese were hanged for piracy and murder, the executioner was a coloured American prisoner who volunteered for the task in return for the remission of his sentence. In 1857 seventy-three pirates seized by the Royal Navy were found to have a case to answer. The Governor, Sir John Bowring, shrank from the prospect of a mass execution and handed them over to the Chinese authorities in Kowloon City. He was reprimanded by the Colonial Office which informed him that the Supreme Court had been set up for the very purpose of dealing with such criminals.
This gory drawing was 'executed' in 1893, shortly before the beheading of the pirates on the beach.

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