An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

yi 劓, cutting off the nose as punishment

Aug 26, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The penalty of cutting off the nose (yi 劓) was one of the five capital punishments (wuxing 五刑) in ancient China. It is first mentioned in the ritual Classic Zhouli 周禮, but the character can be found in oracle bone inscriptions, where it is written {自刂}. The penalty was heavier than tattooing (mo 墨 or qing 黥), but not as cruel as cutting off a foot (fei 剕). It was often applied during the Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE), and the use increased over time until the mid-Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE), when the penalty became less popular.

During the Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) and the Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE) periods it was a common penalty for officials and soldiers, for instance, if the latter were not able to conquer a besieged city. Occasionally the punishment of cutting off the nose was combined with other pains, like tattooing. 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 nose by 300 blows with the light stick (chi 笞). Yet in practice, the punishment was still used during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600), and by the Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234) of the Jurchens.

Pu Jian 蒲堅 (1992). "Yi 劓", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中国大百科全书, Faxue 法学 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 703.