THE method of conducting coroners' inquests in China seems admirably adapted to facilitate the escape of criminals. The feeling of the country is abhorrent to dissections, and magistrates, consequently, find the prosecution of their inquiries attended with great embarrassments, unless the case is of the plainest character. The law-makers, however, have always, from the earliest times, recognized the importance of human life by directing that an inquest be made in every case of sudden death. A number of books have been prepared, containing the instructions needed by the magistrate in the performance of this part of his duties. The best known of these collections was published in the thirteenth century, by the direction of the officers of the Bureau of Penalties, and is a kind of official manual for the inquiring magistrate. It is called the "Se Yen Luh," or treatise on the redress of wrongs. In it is expounded the whole system of legal medicine in use among the Chinese. A few extracts from it will be of interest.
The first advice given in the "Se Yen Luh" is that the magistrate must be sure he has a dead body before he issues his order for the inquest. The reason given to make this advice seem pertinent is hardly less curious than the advice itself. "It sometimes happens," says the manual, "that unscrupulous sharpers demand an inquest on an imaginary deceased for the sole purpose of extorting money from the person they will denounce as the author of the death; and the latter, in fear of falling into the claws of the law, readily pays all that is required of him, in order to arrest the process." The officer then, having assured himself that there is a real case, goes to the spot, taking with him a good provision of onions, red pepper, white plums, and vinegar, articles that he will almost certainly have use for. If death has taken place recently, the first step is to examine the top of the head, behind the ears, the throat, and other vital parts, for marks of a sharp instrument. If this examination does not reveal the cause of death, the friends and neighbors of the deceased are questioned. An attentive examination is then made of the wounds.
"A sure means of fixing the date of a wound may be found by noticing the color of the bone that has been attacked. If the wound is recent and slight, the bone will be red; if old and severe, the color will be dark blue. It is, however, necessary to be assured that the color is real, and has not been applied so as to square with the deposition of the relatives. A red color may be given to a bone by staining it with a composition of saffron, pine-wood, black plums, alum, and boiling vinegar; and green alum or gall-nuts mixed with vinegar will give a dark-blue or black tint; but the counterfeit is generally betrayed by the absence of luster. A false wound may also be made on a body with bamboo-coals, but such wounds are always of little depth