An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

fei 剕, cutting off a foot as punishment

Aug 26, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The penalty of cutting off a foot (fei 剕, yue 刖 or zhuo jing 斮脛) was one of the five capital punishments (wuxing 五刑) in ancient China. The practice is proved in oracle bone inscriptions. The character depicts a person holding a saw to cut off another one's limbs. The use of knife and saw (dao ju 刀鋸) is mentioned in the history book Guoyu 國語. The knife was used for cutting off the nose (yi 劓), and the saw to cut off hands or feet. The word ju 鋸 could also be used as a verb in the sense of "cutting off a limb". Some authors hold that this punishment was identical to taking out the patella (bin 臏, or 髌, also called diao 𠚥). Probably it was a replacement of an earlier punishment of cutting off the ear (er 刵).

The punishment of cutting off a foot is often mentioned in Zhou-period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) texts. In the regional state of Qi 齊, for instance, it was carried out so regularly that a proverb became popular, saying that "sandals were cheap, and boots for the crippled expensive" (lü jian yong gui 屨賤踊貴). Two historical persons from the state of Lu 魯, Wang Tai 王駘 and Shu Shan 叔山, were cripples as a result of punishment (wu zhe 兀者), likewise Qiang Chu 强鉏 from Zheng 鄭, and a certain Master He 和氏 from Chu 楚, who had lost both feet. The punishment was also known in Wei 衛. The penal law of the state of Qin 秦 used the terms duan zu 斷足 or zhan zhi 斬趾.

Emperor Wen 漢文帝 (r. 180-157 BCE) of the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) abolished mutilations (rouxing 肉刑) as punishment, and replaced the punishment of cutting off the left foot by 500 blows with the light stick (chi 笞), and taking off the right one by public execution (qishi 棄市). Emperor Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE) again allowed to commute the execution into the original mutilation, if the convict desired so. The punishment was occasionally used in later centuries, but disappeared after the Tang period 唐 (618-907).

Zhongguo laogai xuehui 中國勞改學會, ed. (1993). Zhongguo laogaixue da cidian 中國勞改學大辭典 (Beijing: Shenhui kexue wenxian chubanshe), 752.
Pu Jian 蒲堅 (1992). "Fei 剕", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中国大百科全书, Faxue 法学 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 134.