The Chinese “Five Punishments” included boiling a criminal to death and foot amputation. (G41rn8 / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
CAIRO – 26 May 2022: A new study confirms that a Chinese woman's feet were amputated nearly 3,000 years ago as a punishment for a criminal act, one of the few times archaeologists have discovered evidence of such punishments for a woman.
Various evidence indicates that the woman's feet were amputated, her bones showed no signs of any disease that would make such an amputation necessary, and the injury appears to have occurred in a rough, rather than strictly medical manner.
The researchers looked at other possibilities for how a woman might lose her foot, such as an accident, a war injury or a surgical procedure, study lead author Li Nan, an archaeologist at Peking University in China, told Live Science. But "after careful examination, the research team ruled out other possibilities, and agreed that punitive amputation was the best explanation."
This was a common penalty in ancient China for more than 1,000 years, until it was abolished in the second century B.C., according to a 2019 study in Tsinghua China Law Review. At the time, up to 500 different crimes could result in amputation, including rebellion, fraud, theft, and even scaling certain gates.
According to historians, it was one of the "five punishments for slaves" imposed since the second millennium BC by the emperors of the Xia dynasty, the first dynasty in ancient China. There is extensive historical evidence of this practice and a Chinese official in the first millennium BC called for the need to find special shoes for amputees.
Minor crimes were punished with beatings, but perpetrators who committed serious crimes could be sentenced to one of five punishments: boiling to death, tattooing on the face or forehead with indelible ink, cutting off the offender's nose, and amputation of both feet (the worst offenders having both of their feet cut off).