Yukikm: Is Hong Kong worse than Qing?

Is Hong Kong worse than Qing?
Translated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, written by Yukikm, edited by Vivian L.
Original: http://polymerhk.com/articles/2015/08/24/20005/

(Little Cabbage and Yang Nai-wu in Chinese Torture Chamber Story)
In late Qing, in the year of 1873, 12th October marked the beginning of the redress of a famous case of injustice in late imperial Chinese history as the drum of magistrate of Yuhang County rung. The case went through all levels of court in the imperial justice system, originating from the county level, then to prefectural level (also known as fu), and brought all the way up to the Chief Justice, the provincial level court and the Justice Department. Seven times the courts dismissed the case, and it was only because of the direct intervention of Empress Dowager that the case was redressed after she commissioned some important ministers to oversee the matter. At the end, a large number of officials involved in the misjudgement were removed. The incident was later known as the famous case of "Yang Nai-wu and Little Cabbage" (alternatively transliterated as Yang Nai-wu and Hsiao Pai Tsai).

Nicknamed Little Cabbage, Pi Hsiu-ku was married to tofu seller Ko Pin-lien at the age of 16. The couple once rented a house that belonged to Yang Nai-wu, who taught Little Cabbage to read and write. Therefore the neighbours had rumoured that they had been having an affair. In fact, Yang was deeply in love with his wife, so the rumour was indeed unfounded. Subsequently, Ko and Little Cabbage moved out, and Yang had not seen Little Cabbage since. Later, Ko got sick and died, but Ko’s mother suspected he was poisoned, and went to the county's magistrate, Liu Hsi-tung, who had held a personal grudge against Yang. Though according to the coroner's report Ko did not die of intoxication, and Yang had an alibi at the time of Ko’s death, Liu simply dismissed those evidences, and insisted Yang and Little Cabbage killed Ko because of their affair. Liu even falsified "evidences" and physically coerced Little Cabbage into confessing to the crime (as Yang was an imperial scholar whose title excluded him from being punished by the court, Liu plotted to have Yang’s title removed, so that he could to force a confession out of Yang with his own means).

Without a confession from Yang, Liu handed down his sentence nonetheless. He then sent the verdict denouncing both Yang and Little Cabbage as guilty to the chief of Hangchow, Chen Lu. Chen was a soldier who contributed in the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, and was prejudiced against scholars. He thought that Yang’s behaviour was out of line by having too much to say about current affairs. Therefore, Chen took great pains including physical torture to force a confession out of Yang. He finally concluded the case as a lovers’ quarrel went sour where Yang allegedly "murdered the husband to get the wife". Little Cabbage was sentenced to be killed by slow slicing, and Yang was to be beheaded. When the case was sent to the upper court for approval, Chief Justice Kuai He-sun and governor of Chekiang Yang Chang-chün, who were in the same faction with Liu and Chen, approved the ruling despite they were dubious, because overturning Liu and Chen’s decision would have caused harm in Liu and Chan’s careers. Perhaps, officials collusion is something that is as old as time. And it should be no stranger to today’s society, where thuggish and corrupt cops were well protected by the HKSARG.

Luckily, the fourth estate was there — independent from influence of the Qing regime, Shun Pao, also known in English as Shanghai News played a pivot role in holding the authorities in check. The English language newspaper had been following Yang and Little Cabbage’s story from the very beginning and had found a lot of instances of injustice during the trials. This had given Yang's family slightest glimmer of hope, thus they went from pillar to post to petition Yang’s case. Hu Xue-yan, a rich merchant, was sympathetic to Yang’s situation, so he funded Yang's family to appeal. What's worth mentioning is Hu was in General Tso's faction, whose member included Chen Lu. Despite sharing the same affiliation with the prime antagonist in the case, Hu still showed solidarity with Yang’s family through action. What a great difference when it's compared to the so-called rich men in Hong Kong. With the necessary resources provided by Hu, Yang's family went to Peking to petition for Yang’s innocence. After all, Qing was not as bad as the Communists who brutally suppress petitioners "to maintain stability". Meanwhile, Emperor Tung-chi died. Kuang-hsü ascended to the throne and granted clemency to all. But since Yang's case had been brought to Peking, it was excluded from the pardon and was held back "as the case was serious".

But Wang Shu-ruei from the Justice Department thought that those magistrates/officials were procrastinating deliberately, so that the two defendants—who had suffered severe injuries from repeated torture—would die in jail, giving them another closed case that would serve as a merit on their report cards. Same as the magistrates now in Hong Kong, counting their career by the number of cases closed. Wang reported his concern to the Empress Dowager, who agreed with Wang. She then appointed Hu Ruei-lan, the Chekiang Minister for Education, to rehear the case. Hu continued to use severe corporal punishment on Yang and Little Cabbage. All of Little Cabbage’s fingers were shattered, and Yang's legs were broken. And they continued to be forced to confess. Hu Ruei-lan was a learned scholar in Confucianism, but apparently he had little, if not no, knowledge in the justice system – not unlike the "Yi Jin graduates" in the case of Hong Kong’s law enforcement officers.
To be a policeman, one has to at least pass the HKDSE exam, or join the Project Yi Jin, a project for students with less...
Posted by Hong Kong Columns - Translated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015
On one hand, Hu submitted a faked testimony polished in his favour to the Imperial Court, on the other hand, he also submitted the original testimony to credit himself as being "fair". When Shanghai News gathered and published both versions of the testimony, readers and the authorities were stunned by the absurdity.

After the wide coverage of Shanghai News, many scholars and local officials submitted a joint petition raising the obvious doubts of the case. The seven trials held on the imperial order had been a hoax. The Peking Investigating Censor Pien Pao-chüan also impeached Hu Ruei-lan and Yang Chang-chün in accusation of the unfair trials. At last, Empress Dowager decided to commission an interdepartmental panel consisting of the Justice Department, the Censorate and the Supreme Court to hear the case. Ko's corpse was excavated and re-examined, upon which no sign of intoxication was found, showing that the initial "evidences" had been fabricated by Liu.

Back in the Imperial Court, ministers were divided: some thought officials involved in the shenanigans shall be severely punished; while others thought that the Imperial Court shall not sacrifice a large number of its elites merely because of two civilians (Wow, such patronising authoritarian crap! Just like some officials in Hong Kong who think they are high-and-mighty, but never think for a moment who’s paying their paychecks). Finally, it was Empress Dowager who decided to depose officials involved in great number—a rarity in Qing history.

The last few decades of Qing bore resemblance to present-day Hong Kong—dominated by an authoritarian regime, collusion abound and rule of law under constant threat. Yet a century ago there were still Shanghai News revealing the truth, upholding justice for the society. And now in Hong Kong, mainstream media "castrate themselves" by ceding the power to criticise the authority or are even jump at the opportunity to be the government’s mouthpiece. Journalists have to distort the truth to save their jobs. The fact that those Qing officials were mindful of public outrage and spoke against their colleagues stood in stark contrast with the elites in our city today. Now the HKSARG simply ignored public opinion, and felt good while protecting each other. While rich men in Qing would stand up against injustice, rich men in Hong Kong are but bloodsucking vampires who profit off of deceiving civilians. Hongkongers seem to have grown numb about injustice in the society. Perhaps we are in a state where progress actually moved backwards, making today's Hongkongers worse than the people in Qing, who could tell right from wrong. Are Hongkongers worse in insisting on justice when compared to people back in Qing?

(This article mainly transliterate names in Wade-Giles as it happened before 1949.)

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