8. Chinese punishment for criminal behavior was harsh and swift
As with all of the ancient civilizations, a criminal element emerged in China, and authorities both local and national enacted policies and procedures for dealing with it. Those suspected of committing crimes could be induced into providing the authorities with a confession through the use of torture, and several ingeniously cruel methods of conducting it were developed. The ancient Chinese also used torture against prisoners of war. Children were subject to various tortures or maiming as well as adults, the binding of girls’ feet being just one example. It was common among the urban poor to castrate males at birth, similar to the idea of circumcision in the west, in order that they may serve as eunuchs in the homes and palaces of the wealthy.
Judges often ordered torture during the course of a trial, conducted within the courtroom, using a variety of methods including twisting the victim’s arm around an upright pole in an agonizing manner while officers of the court beat the victim with whips or poles. A victim which persisted in a plea of not guilty to whatever crime he was charged with merely increased the severity of the beating until he collapsed. Few prevailed in court. Sentences for the guilty included maiming, restraining in collars and stocks, beatings, ritual executions, or exile to remote areas of the empire, enslaved for the remainder of his life.
9. Women were considered a commodity during the Tang Dynasty
During the Tang Dynasty (seventh to tenth centuries CE) the role of women in Chinese society changed in many ways. Legally a man could have but one wife at a time, and wives were not supposed to be sold into slavery, but in practice both wives and daughters were sold into brothels, where the girls took the name of the madam as theirs. In addition, under the law, a man could retain a wife and as many concubines as his finances would allow. Young girls sold as concubines were trained in several areas, such as reading of poetry and developing conversational skills, and performed services as courtesans which were similar to those of the geishas of Japan. Courtesans remained the property of the brothel’s madam unless they were released, or through marriage to a customer.
Because the courtesans were required to converse intelligently with customers, perform songs, and read poetry, the education of women became a matter of good business. During the Tang Dynasty, young girls saw opportunities open up for them which had been denied to those of earlier generations. Young women developed skills in weaving, considered an art form as well as a business. Women became street artists and storytellers, relating their stories through acting them out. Both Buddhist convents and Taoist priestesses emerged. Women began to work as assistants to government functionaries, serving as secretaries within the bureaucracy, though not as civil servants themselves. Tang households often paid their taxes in the form of bolts of silk, paid by the male master of the house from silk woven by its women.