18. The ancient Chinese could buy their way out of even the death penalty
All of the prescribed sentences in ancient Chinese society could be avoided through the payment of fees to the court, which ultimately went to the emperor. The payment was cash in the form of copper coins. Even the death penalty could be averted by the payment of a fine in copper. That even capital crimes could be resolved by the transfer of the equivalent of hard currency is a clear indication of the lack of hard cash at all levels of Chinese society. The amount of the fines charged to avoid corporal and capital punishment varied with each crime, and changed over the years. Thus in ancient China, wealthy criminals escaped the courts and the consequences of their crimes far more readily than the poor.
Even for the wealthier Chinese, the amounts of the fines were huge for the day, and the majority of those convicted from all classes suffered the physical punishments, rather than the financial. It was a harsh and brutal life. A child born into Chinese society entered into it unaware that he or she was limited by circumstances over what could be accomplished during life, and many lived their entire lives within a few hundred feet of the place where they had been born, dying many years later as a venerated elder, to be worshiped by succeeding generations in the same house for centuries. In many Chinese families, they remain venerated today, despite the many changes to China and its people.
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