Notes, Short Comments, and Answers to Correspondents

1872 The Lancet  
CHINESE CORONERS' INQUESTS. ) THE Chinese coroner (Wu-tsoh) is an assessor of very mean rank, who assists the district magistrate in determining the cause of death, in cases of a suspicious character only, upon the report of the friends of the deceased, the headmen of the tything, or the constable. There is an old treatise which forms the Coroner's Manual, dating from the thirteenth century, and is called Si-yuen-lub, or the Record (treating) of the Redress of Wrongs. From this work, in four
more » ... is work, in four volumes, illustrated by a few curious plates of topographical anatomy, may be gathered all that is known of medical jurisprudence and toxicology in China. Cases of suicide from oppression, excessive dunning, and the complications of litigation form the great bulk of cases usually inquired into. The suddenness of any death does not call for any inquiry in the absence of any suspicion or litigious proceedings, as in the East cases of such character are necessarily frequent, and perfectly natural from the character of the climate. Suspicious cases must be cleared up within forty days, or the magistrate may be removed upon petition. There is the same popular (and official) objection in China as in English villages against the removal of the body from the very spot in which it may be found. The identification of the corpse, the verification of the injury, the condition of all the natural orifices and passages of the dead body, and the noting of deformities, bruises, wounds, and scars, are points of importance in the ceremony, which is usually gone through before three days have entirely elapsed. The behaviour of the skin of the corpse after several washings, scourings, and even boilings, is carefully noted. An adjournment sometimes takes place. In the case of female corpses, female assistants or trusty midwives are employed, and great attention is paid to the state of the abdominal and pelvic regions. Many of the directions given in the Si-yuen-luh are altogether omitted at the present time. Nothing of the nature of a jury is met with at these examinations, which are, however, generally made in the presence of the relatives of the deceased and the representative crowd of the neighbourhood. The depositions of the coroner are taken down, and the whole case is mutually discussed, and authoritatively decided by the magistrate. The corpse may now be coffined and removed, or it is purposely left to stigmatise the locality and the offender until the case is settled. In the mean, while the offender has been pursued, and is now taken into custody at the instance of the magistrate, whose jurisdiction is undivided and his responsibility most serious in such cases. On a report of the headmen of the tything, who thereby hold themselves responsible, the magistrate may stay all the proceedings. Certain cases of death by visitation of the gods, where the clothes and money of the deceased are untouched, are never inquired into. Two or three coroners are appointed to each district (Hien). Some difficulty is experienced in finding men who are willing to perform the duties of the office, or have the necessary acquaintance with the forms used. Very small salaries are paid to each coroner (,S8 per annum in one instance), and slight fees are allowed at each inquest. The children of a coroner are not eligible for the literary examinations without special permission from the Emperor. The coroner performs very much the same duty as the skilled medical witness of this country, and his decision is much the same as the "finding" of the jury with us. No kind of oath is administered on these occasions, and much "hard swearing" is practised as a matter of course. In the degradation connected with the post-mortem ; ,
doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)63905-4 fatcat:mbsxevl3bneo5h4uchysvd2cwa