Mr. Angell to Mr. Evarts.
Peking , November 30, 1880. (Received January 17, 1881.)
Sir: On receiving your instruction No. 27 of August 16, 1880, calling attention to certain allegations found in a circular issued by Mr. Francis Parry, of England, of inhuman proceedings in the mixed court of Shanghai, for which he intimated the foreign consuls are in some degree responsible, I at once called the attention of Consul-General Denny to the matter.
I have received a reply from him, a copy of which I inclose. It is so full that I need say but little on the subject.
Mr. Parry has probably given the impression that the foreign consuls have a larger responsibility for the procedure in the mixed court than that which they can really exercise. The court is a purely Chinese court, which administers Chinese law.
Neither the consuls nor their representatives, the assessors, can perform any other function in the court than to be present and watch the proceedings and question witnesses in order to see that justice is done to the citizens of the nation they represent, or to protest if injustice is done to such citizens. In all cases between Chinese and foreigners the case is tried in the courts of the defendant’s nationality, the proper official representing the plaintiff’s nationality being permitted to be present to watch the proceedings in the interest of the plaintiff, but having no direct voice in the judgment.
It has been thought, and I believe justly, that the frequent presence of foreign assessors in the mixed court of Shanghai has done much to ameliorate its procedure, and that in respect to humanity it presents a most favorable contrast to most Chinese courts.
Unhappily the penal code of China does sanction the torture of witnesses and corporal punishments, which seem to us barbarous. And we cannot indulge very sanguine hopes that the most vigorous representations foreigners can make of their repugnance to such usages will speedily work a radical change.
But our consul-general has instructed our assessor to protest against the use of the cangue and of the bamboo in cases in which he appears. It is true that in the past, punishments in excess of the hundred blows allowed by law have been inflicted; but none such have been administered since Mr. Denny has been at Shanghai. It is perhaps justifiable to infer that an improvement in this respect has taken place. It is to be observed, also, that the magistrate of the court asserts that owing to the objections of foreigners to the use of the bamboo it is now usually resorted to when the assessors are not in attendance, and in the opinion of the consul-general it is now rarely employed by the mixed court magistrate.[Page 214]
It would seem that there is some error m respect to the report of the case which is described as a particularly shocking one of torturing a prisoner in the presence of a United States assessor, the case of Shun-chi sze, charged with abduction. The consul-general reports that there is no such case on the official records.
I think then that, so far is it from being true, that the foreign consuls and particularly that the American consul-general and assessor are implicated by acts of commission or of omission in countenancing or tolerating inhuman punishments ordered by the mixed court of Shanghai; the fact really is that by their efforts and by the presence of the assessors in that court, the procedure in it has been ameliorated and improved as it has been in no other purely Chinese court in the Empire.
I have, &c.,