Rule by vengeful whip in colonized Korea

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Rule by vengeful whip in colonized Korea

The Japanese Government General of Korea institutionalized a barbaric use of force against Korean people in the name of the rule of law.

“Article 1, lawbreakers who are sentenced to imprisonment or detention of less than three months can be punished instead by flogging...

“Article 4, if a monetary penalty or a fine is exchanged for a lashing, one day of detention or one won will be equal to one lash. An amount smaller than one won will be punished with one lash...

“Article 11, lashing will take place in secret at a prison or a summary court...

“Article 13, this ordinance is applicable to Koreans only.”

On March 18, 1912, the Japanese Government General of Korea promulgated the Korean Lashing Enforcement Ordinance.

Prior to this, the Japanese imperialists enacted a crime summary ordinance giving a provost marshal or police superintendent the authority either to lash or imprison an offender for up to three months without a formal trial. These legal provisions were a means not only of official punishment, but also of private revenge. The barbaric use of violence in the name of the civilized rule of law ran rampant at that time.

At the end of that year, the government general revised the enforcement ordinance to reduce the chance of punishments being doled out on the basis of personal vendettas. Article 1 of the revised ordinance stipulated that the prisoners to be punished by lashing should be laid facedown on the rack, with their arms and legs stretched and tied to the rack and their buttocks uncovered, to be spanked.

Article 11 of the law required that enforcement officers provide water to the prisoners whenever they needed it. Article 12 allowed investigators to use wet towels to muzzle convicts if they made screaming sounds. One can easily imagine just how barbaric the lashings must have been before this revised ordinance, given these were the revisions to make the punishments more humane.

Punishment was first developed by humans as a means of retaliation when one person hurt another. Individuals first took their own revenge. Then governments created laws and court systems to administer justice when violations were committed. The ancient Babylonian law code, the Code of Hammurabi, which was created in 1790 B.C., says that crimes should be punished in kind - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

It was not until the modern era that punishment was thought of more broadly as a means of correction, not just revenge. People started considering criminals as social deviants, not simply people who meant to hurt their victims.

Although this concept was well-established during Japan’s occupation of Korea, it is clear that the government was retrograde in its administration of justice.

Even today we struggle with our understandings of punishment, and are tempted at times to seek revenge on heinous murderers or rapists, rather than correction.

The writer is a research professor at Seoul National University Hospital.


By Jeon Wu-yong
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