An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

cipei 刺配, tatooing and exile

Dec 12, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

Penal tattooing (ci 刺, also called mo 墨 or qing 黥) was in ancient China combined with the penalties of penal servitude (tupei 徒), exile (liupei 流配) or penal military service (chongjun 充軍). In addition, beating with the heavy stick (zhang 杖) was applied. The combination was called cipei 刺配, juepei 決配 or peifa 配法.

It is attested for as early as under the Later Jin 後晉 (936-946), one of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960). Sending into exile was from the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420-589) on a common means of commuting the death penalty.

Males not able to be sent into exile were condemned to very long penal servitude (changtu 長徒: salt boiling, wine production, service at state-owned kilns, mines or smelters), and females to penal "pestling" (peichong 配舂). The penal codes of the Sui 隋 (581-618) and Tang 唐 (618-907) dynasties included concrete regulations for criminals being exiled (ying pei zhe 應配者, pei liu zhe 配流者). At that time, exile to spots in the border regions (liupei 流配) was not combined with tattooing the face (cimian 刺面), but only with blows by the heavy stick (juezhang 決杖). Yet Shi Jingtang 石敬塘 (r. 936-942), emperor of the Later Jin, re-introduced in 938 the penalty of tattooing and chose the word ci 刺 instead of the word qing 黥 from antiquity.

The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) took over this regulation and sentenced robbers and bandits to exile, in combination with corporal punishment and tattooing on the face and the arm. This combination of punishments, called cipei, came to replace execution from the reign of Emperor Taizong 宋太宗 (r. 976-997) of the Song dynasty.

Regulations on the combined exile already comprised as much as 46 paragraphs during the early 11th century, and were swollen to no less than 570 paragraphs in the late 12th century. These regulations fixed the designations of particular punishments, the number, position, wording (for instance, qiang dao 強盜 "robber") or marks, and size (ranging from 2 fen to 7 fen, see weights and measures) of the tattooing, the number of blows with the heavy stick, as well as different distances into which delinquents were exiled.

The judicial apparatus of the Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279) knew fourteen places of exile: absolute, lifelong exile (yong bu fang huan 永不放還); islands in the sea, like Shamen Island 沙門島; distant prefectures like Qiongzhou 瓊州, Wan'an 萬安, Changhua 昌化 or Zhuya 朱崖 (today's Hainan); Guangnan 廣南 (i.e. Guangdong or Guangxi); places 3,000 li (c. 1,500 km) from the home prefecture; 2,500 li; 2,000 li; 1,500 li; 1,000 li; 500 li; a neighbouring prefecture; another city in the same prefecture; the prefectural city; and finally, no tattooing. For all punishments except "absolute exile", amnesty was possible.

The Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) changed the place of the tattooing to the left or right upper arm, or the neck. The Qing 清 (1644-1911) used various different terms for the spots in which penal tattoos were applied to. The Yuan and Qing did not apply tattooing for Mongolian and Manchu delinquents.

The combined punishment was only abolished in the very early 20th century.

Wu Shuchen 武樹臣, ed. (1999). Zhongguo chuantong falü wenhua cidian 中國傳統法律文化辭典 (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe), 179.
Zhongguo laogai xuehui 中國勞改學會, ed. (1993). Zhongguo laogaixue da cidian 中國勞改學大辭典 (Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe), 432.
Kong Qingming 孔慶明 (1990). "Cipei 刺配", in Yang Chunxi 楊春洗 et al., ed. Xingshi faxue da cidian 刑事法學大辭書 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 54.
Liu Zhizheng 劉志正, Hu Yunteng 胡雲騰, ed. (1990). Faxue xiao baike 法學小百科 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 794.
Zhongguo baike da cidian bianweihui 《中國百科大辭典》編委會, ed. (1990). Zhongguo baike da cidian 中國百科大辭典 (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe), 259.