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It is to the origins of this Western discourse of Chinese legal despotism – which can be found in the infamous execution (by strangulation) of two Western sailors at the hands of the Chinese in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – that Song-Chuan Chen turns in Chapter 7. When placed within the larger historical context of the punishments meted out to other foreigners similarly convicted of murder on Chinese soil; the nature of the Chinese legal system in general; and the struggle between the interests of state security and local trading interests in Canton, it becomes clear that these two executions were exceptional events which did not accurately reflect the judicial treatment of foreigners in China.

But whereas Spierenburg identified this increasing sensitivity to the sight of death as a product of the civilising process, others have laid more stress on secularisation, individualism and the social experience of death as drivers behind the privatisation of death in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In Revolutionary France, for instance, it was urged that the death penalty should as much as possible resemble a natural death. According to Paul Friedland, it was widely exhorted in the wake of the Revolution ‘that the taint of execution not follow the condemned into the afterlife’.

72. 25. Providing, however, that the offender’s crime was not of ‘such enormity’ that ‘a completely abhorrent example’ was necessary, in which case the malefactor was, in the traditional manner, to be broken alive: Evans, Rituals of Retribution, p. 122; van Dülmen, Theatre of Horror, p. 95. 26. John McManners, Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death among Christians and Unbelievers in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1981), p. 372; Spierenburg, The Spectacle of Suffering, p. 73.

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A manual of the historical development of art, pre-historic, ancient, classic, early Christian : with special reference to architecture, sculpture, painting, and ornamentation by G G Zerffi


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