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Public display in Pith Paper


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Line three is easy but doesn't tell us anything we can't see: 首示众 "public display of head"

Second character looks to be 劫 as in robbery/rapine, then I think it's 犯人 criminal.

Second line seems to be a date, mentions 本月 this month then I think fifth day. Last line (left side) is a date too, of when the notice was posted I think, can see a year in the sexegenary cycle notation.


Got some guesses elsewhere but see what better readers have to say.

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1 minute ago, 889 said:

So you think it refers to the twelfth year of Guangxu's reign, or 1887.


We talked here before about Chinese name taboos. Could there have been a taboo on using the emperor's reign name on an inauspicious notice like this?

Yes, seems to be that year though can't read the 乙 too clearly, seems a little extra stroke in there ; the taboo thing makes sense, will try to look that up. 

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Not come up with anything on the taboo yet but think that character in second line after 日 will be 枭 as apparently 枭首示众 was the set term for the public display of a criminal's head: https://www.zdic.net/hans/枭首示众 Seems odd to write the latter three character larger on a separate line if that is what this is, but have seen similar formatting elsewhere.

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I think that's it; I'm wondering if the two dates are respectively the date of the execution and the date of the publication of the notice/display of the head. Didn't have much luck trying to find examples of similar notices to see if there was a set format.

The superimposed red writing is interesting too, seems to be highlighting parts of the black text, Not sure if that's an official's name in red bottom left, looks to be 王 something. As if the clerk writes up the notice then the magistrate signs off on it in red ink.

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You'll recall how the emperor signed death warrants. The imperial eunuchs would present him with a large sheet at the autumn assizes on which the names of the condemned were written out. The emperor would then take his brush and draw a circle in vermillion ink on the sheet. Those whose names were inside the red circle were executed. Apparently a payment in the right place at the palace could insure a condemned's name was placed at the very edge of the sheet. (Only some death sentences in China received this sort of imperial review, however.)


You'll also recall that up until 20 years or so ago you'd see large posters pasted up in Chinese cities detailing a convict's crimes and announcing a death sentence had been imposed. With a large red check mark at the bottom signifying it had been carried out.


Finally, you'll recall that signing a letter in red ink means the death of the relationship.

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