1911: Ernest Harrison, Sam Reed, and Frank Howard lynched

Add comment September 11th, 2018 Headsman

Ernest Harrison, Sam Reed and Frank Howard, confessed to the murder of Washington Thomas, an aged, respectable colored man. Thomas was employed in a tobacco factory, and Saturday night [September 10, 1911] the three men waylaid him along the railroad track, killed him and robbed his clothes of his salary. They were speedily captured and placed in jail. During the night the colored people of Wickliffe [Kentucky] held secret meetings and decided to lynch the murderers. Everything was quietly done. The bodies of the lynched men were left hanging until noon today, and there will be no effort by the authorities to apprehend the executioners.

-Record Herald, Sept. 12, 1911

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Common Criminals,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Lynching,Mature Content,Murder,Summary Executions,Theft,USA

Tags: , , , , , ,

1911: Daniel “Nealy” Duncan, posthumous pardon candidate

2 comments July 7th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1911, still professing his innocence, Daniel “Nealy” Duncan hanged in the county jail at Charleston, South Carolina.

“Short, thick set and very black,”* Duncan was, at length, arrested for the murder of a King Street tailor named Max Lubelsky. Poor Mr. Lubelsky had been discovered on June 21, 1910 as he lay dying of a fractured skull — the bloody cudgel rudely enhanced with a nail abandoned beside its victim was the only clue, besides someone in the neighborhood who thought they noticed “a negro, dressed in a blue suit, wearing a derby hat”** who left the store around the time of the midday attack. The attacker’s purpose was robbery.

With very little to go on, police “rounded up a number of characters” and, the papers forthrightly reported, gave these black men “the ‘third degree'”: that is, tortured them.

Granting that we find ourselves at this moment at the nadir of race relations in the Jim Crow south, these officers conceived themselves acting in good faith, torture and all. They were not utterly indiscriminate; several of the beaten-up suspects were able to produce an alibi and were duly released with their newly acquired welts. But in the absence of a witness (or knuckle-assisted self-incrimination) they had little to work with.

And so the assailant remained a mystery.

There matters still stood on July 8 when the widow Mrs. Lubelsky came racing out of her late husband’s store with blood streaming down her own face, crying murder at the top of her lungs.

To take up the narration reported in the next day’s edition of The State,

Just then a negro emerged and two men, Isaac Goodman and Moses Needle, who were passing, gave chase of the negro. He was caught a few blocks distant and promptly turned over to Police Officer Stanley and Detective Levy, who had also taken up the chase. Protesting his innocence and declaring that another negro had attempted to kill the woman, Daniels was taken to the station house amidst great excitement and the patrol wagon did not roll off any too soon from the excited neighborhood …

The State has given us an incriminating narration, but if we begin from our suspect’s denial it is not too difficult to conceive the scene otherwise — a bystander swept into the chaos as the panicked Mrs. Lubelsky barges out of her shop, the sudden attention of a crowd which the newsman gives us to understand was wound up enough for a lynching. You’d run, too.

The traumatized Mrs. Lubelsky insisted that it was Duncan who attacked her; this is one of the few pieces of palpable evidence we have in the case, though eyewitness error is a frequent factor in wrongful convictions. She would have glimpsed her assailant for a moment, dashed out of the store in a panic, then a fleeing man was chased down and hauled back to her — perfect cues for her memory to fix this man with all sincerity as the picture of her assailant.

And whatever the cliche about criminals returning to the scenes of their crimes, few are bold enough to repeat a literally identical attack days apart. It was basically just by analogy that the July 8 assault was held to place Duncan at the scene of the murder 17 days before; the vague description of the blue-suited man who might or might not have had anything to do with the murder could have fit Duncan or numerous other people. A local black man said that Duncan had been in the area on the day Max Lubelsky was killed, which would scarcely rise to the level of circumstantial even were one to discount the possible confirmation bias (or police pressure) introduced by Duncan’s arrest.

One would like to think (forlorn hope!) that a jury in 2015 would demand better than this to stretch a man’s neck … but in Charleston in 1910, it was enough to surpass reasonable doubt.†


The State, Oct. 8, 1910.

Duncan’s insistence on innocence was passed down in his own family and in the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church whose congregation the hanged man once belonged to. In these halls, he is widely understood to have been an innocent man and this conclusion has not wanted for latter-day advocates.‡

The case surfaced to the broader public recently, with a push around the centennial of Duncan’s hanging to have him posthumously exonerated. The measure failed on a 3-3 vote in 19112011.

Left: Dead Weight, a historical novel based on the Duncan case; right: Charleston’s Trial, a nonfiction account.

Duncan was the last person hanged in Charleston, but not the last in South Carolina; there was a double execution in December of 1911 before the Palmetto state adopted electrocution beginning in 1912.

* The State (Columbia, S.C.), June 11, 1911.

** The State, June 22, 1911.

† The supernaturally inclined took notice from the August 1911 hurricane that devastated Charleston as a portend of Duncan’s innocence — and nicknamed it “the Duncan storm”.

‡ 2010-2011 media accounts indicated that the victim’s descendants did not share such confidence in Duncan’s innocence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Carolina,Theft,Torture,USA,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1911: Dmitry Bogrov, Stolypin’s assassin

2 comments September 25th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1911,* Dmitry Bogrov was hanged in Kiev for assassinating Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin.

Many could diagnose the long-advancing rot of the Russian state, but few had the physic to abate it. Stolypin, a resolute conservative landowner, might have been tsarism’s last, best hope.

During the cataclysmic 1905 revolution, Stolypin was governor of Saratov and kept his province notably free from disturbances.

That earned him a kick upstairs in 1906 in hopes that he could work the same magic on the turbulent country. To a greater extent than most, he did: Stolypin was tsarist Russia’s last great statesman, notably introducing capitalistic land reforms in an effort to germinate a new rural middle class of small, freeholding landowners with skin in the Romanov dynasty. To break liberal obstruction, he also mounted a coup to weight the Duma in favor of propertied classes. “Give me 20 years of peace,” he vowed, “and you won’t recognize Russia.”

It’s left to the speculation of posterity whether he could have pulled the trick: in the event, Stolypin did not get 20 years and Russia did not get peace.

For some, like Solzhenitsyn, Stolypin is the lost chance for a Russia without either despotism or revolution: “He brought light to the world and the world rejected him.” For many others, that Great Man theory is a bit much. Russia’s issues with class and governance were a pretty long-term concern.

One of its long-term products was Russia’s energetic radical underground, and this Stolypin harried Russia’s revolutionaries from pillar to post, greatly intensifying police surveillance and infiltration of agitators’ circles to prevent a repeat of 1905. His secret courts meted out punishment with a greater regard for swiftness than certainty; a staggering 3,000 radicals were hanged for alleged involvement in terrorism from 1906 to 1909, generating worldwide condemnation and causing the phrase “Stolypin’s necktie” to enter the lexicon as a synonym for the noose.

Of course, there was plenty of real terrorism, no small part of it directed at Stolypin himself. He survived or avoided several assassination attempts, including a bomb that took the life of his daughter. In turn-of-the-century Russia, though, there was always a next man or woman up when it came to the propaganda of the deed.

In September 1911, at festivities marking the quinquagenary of the liberation of the serfs, Stolypin attended the Kiev opera’s performance of The Tale of Tsar Saltan.


The (obviously non-operatic) cartoon adaptation of The Tale of Tsar Saltan; the source material for both opera and cartoon is a Pushkin poem.

As the third intermission drew to a close, a young bourgeois approached Stolypin, drew a Browning pistol, and shot the Prime Minister. Legend has it that Stolypin opened his bloodied waistcoat and addressed the close-enough-to-witness-it sovereign with the words, “I am happy to die for the tsar.” The prime minister would linger on and die a few days later; his murderer did not long outlive him.

Despite Stolypin’s reputation as public enemy no. 1 for revolutionaries, the reason for Dmitry Bogrov to commit this particular murder has long remained murky. (pdf)

Bogrov (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) was a revolutionary, but he was also an informer for the Okhrana, the tsarist secret police whose augmentation had been a key Stolypin priority. Just where Bogrov stood at any given time in the vast foggy marches between compromised true believer and agent provocateur is difficult to pinpoint.

The Kiev opera on the night Bogrov shot Stolypin was thick with military personnel, but nobody at all stood watch on the oft-targeted politician — even though there was specific intelligence of a possible threat, issued in his capacity as an informer by the Janus-faced Bogrov himself. The eventual assassin was admitted to the theater that night on a ticket provided by his police handlers.

Considering Bogrov’s very swift execution, and the fact that the tsar suspiciously shut down the investigation (Russian link), many believe that elements of the state security apparatus were the true authors of Stolypin’s death, whether or not Bogrov himself realized it. Russia’s great landholders, never noted for farsightedness, widely opposed the reductions of their estates demanded by Stolypin’s agricultural reforms and rightly saw him as about the only man with the clout to move policy against their considerable opposition. They weren’t sorry to see him go.

As for Bogrov, his departure was a mere footnote. He asked for a rabbi before his hanging, but when he found out that this presumably confessional meeting would be monitored by the public prosecutor, he withdrew the request. (London Times, September 26, 1911) He reportedly died almost indifferently, his last words a disarmingly casual inquiry to the executioner about how best to position his head within his Stolypin’s necktie.

* September 12 by the local Julian calendar; September 25 by the Gregorian calendar.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Jews,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Revolutionaries,Russia,Spies

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1911: Joseph Christock

Add comment March 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1911, Joseph Christock — a “loose-jawed, low-browed fellow, a brother to the ox, under the fine-spun skin of the human” — was hanged for murder.

The last person executed in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania had, a mere five months before, been a hired farmhand … until he drank himself stupid on cider and proceeded to rape the lady of the farm and murder both her and her 65-year-old mother.

The crime was a straightforward one, even if the prisoner was determined to run out the clock making what reads like a rather self-conscious display of bravado. (He wrote his own death-date into his Bible and coolly showed it off to a reporter; he also attempted suicide several times.)

The definitive blog post on Joseph Christock is this one at Coal Region History Chronicles, but we were drawn to this comment left below it …

my grandfather, charles reigle was a asst. warden at this time and joesph christock made an astrological drawing the night before the hanging which i possess along with a photo of my grandfather,joesph christock and the warden which i also posses.

I took the liberty of following up this comment, and Mr. Ron Young generously sent me copies of the images below, along with the following explanation.

The one is a photo of my grandfather, Charles Riegle, and the other is a drawing cristock made for my grandmother, Sarah Riegle. They,along with my mother, Dora and i don`t remember how many more of 13 children they had were living in a house right outside of the prison walls. The drawing always intrigued me because it looks astological, but could mean a number of things. My grandfather passed aroung 1938, so a lot of the stories, i heard were at a young age.

We don’t have any special research to add on this occasion, but submit them here with great gratitude to Mr. Young, and in the spirit of the uncanny. These small artifacts, from the doomed flesh of a long-dead murderer via two generations of a warden’s family, across a random meeting on the Internet and thence to points unknown.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Pennsylvania,Rape,USA

Tags: , , , , ,

1911: Sitarane and Fontaine, Reunion Island occultists

1 comment June 20th, 2011 Headsman

This date marks the centennial of perhaps the most famous execution in the history of Reunion Island: the June 20, 1911 guillotining of Sitarane and Fontaine.

Sitarane (French link) — his actual name was Simicoudza Simicourba — hailed from Portuguese Mozambique, supposedly from a long line of sorcerors.

A contract job brought him to Reunion, but he soon abandoned it for the black [magic] economy. A fellow purported necromancer named Pierre-Elie Calendrin pulled Sitarane and run-of-the-mill hoodlum Emmanuel Fontaine into a prolific little crime ring that terrorized Reunion around 1907 to 1909, amassing about a dozen murders.

And what murders!

Most of the sources on this circle are French, and they narrate weird occult criminality: reading tarot and sacrificing a black cock before a proposed adventure, drinking the blood of their victims to gain their strength.

Still, this was practical magic: Calendrin, Sitarane and Fontaine killed people so that they could rob them.

So it was with their dark arts, too: the sacrificed chickens were drugged and tossed to watchdogs; a mysterious powder blown through keyholes narcotized targets before the gang burst in to do its dirty work. It’s Sherlock Holmes in the Indian Ocean.

The three were finally surprised in the midst of one of their mercantile and monstrous sorties, and tried in 1910.

Although all three received death sentences, Calendrin — who as the trio’s leader would figure to have been the most culpable among them — had his execution mysteriously commuted to penal transportation to Guyana instead. Maybe he foretold the lottery numbers for a judge, or just cooked him a mean chicken dinner.

Sitarane died wailing a Comorian death-chant. Fontaine, more panicky, resisted the executioners and got his neck in a twist, resulting in a bad strike from the blade that lodged in his jaw.

But bad luck on the appellate circuit would mean a bit of immortality that the spared Calendrin could never obtain: today’s doomed — most particularly Sitarane — live on yet as popular saints with a special appeal to the underworld.


Sitarane’s jaunty red grave in Saint-Pierre attracts a lively flow of cult offerings from supplicants hoping to avail the powers of its resident thaumaturge … and of gawkers who do not fear to tempt the evil eye by photographing same. Allegedly, it’s the place to pray for fortune in the sort of nefarious scheme Sitarane used to get up to: folk contemplating a robbery or homicide are among those particularly likely to invoke their criminal forebear, as are those who fear such plots against them.

Image: Par Thierry Caro (Travail personnel) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) ou CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The toxic hallucinogen Datura, a “witches’ weed” of long standing deployed over the centuries in all manner of potions and poultices, is known locally as Herbe à Sitarane.


(cc) image from mwanasimba

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Murder,Organized Crime,Pelf,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Reunion Island,The Supernatural

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1911: Laura and Lawrence Nelson lynched

3 comments May 25th, 2011 Headsman

A century ago today* Laura Nelson and her son Lawrence were lynched outside Okemah, Oklahoma.

“Two weeks ago,” mused the May 26, 1911 Tulsa World “Deputy Sheriff George H. Loney went to the Nelson home in search of some stolen meat. He found it and started to make an arrest when he was shot and killed. Both the Nelson woman and her son at first claimed to have fired the fatal shot, but it was later admitted that it was the son who fired it.”

So Laura found her way into the annals of lynched women by that most quintessentially maternal act: attempting to protect her child.

The bodies were posted partway down the road to a nearby all-black township — one little incendiary signpost en route to Oklahoma’s coming racial explosion.

As is typical in lynchings, the perpetrators remained permanently wink-wink “unknown”; indeed, the resulting investigation contributed some outstanding exemplars of racist patronizing — like the investigating judge’s charge to his grand jury of “the duty devolv[ing] upon us of a superior race and of greater intelligence to protect this weaker race from unjustifiable and lawless attacks.”

Thanks?

At least that compared favorably on the sympathy scale to the state’s governor, who slated the NAACP for stoking mob violence when the latter pressed for more vigorous anti-lynching action.

If your organization would interest itself to the extent of seeing that such outrages as this [i.e., the appointment of black federal officials in the state] are not perpetrated against our people, there would be fewer lynchings in the South than at this time, and you can do a great deal more to aid the Negro by seeing that other people of our section of the country are considered in these matters than you can issuing abusive statements against this country when a crime of this kind is committed.

Actually, a tweak here and there and that paragraph could go right into a present-day stump speech. The past, as they say, is not even past.


View Larger Map
The site of the lynching: present-day Route 56 where it crosses the North Canadian River west of Okemah.

One face in the crowd — his exact role in the lynching seems to be unknown — was a local real estate man by the name of Charley Guthrie.

This blustery conservative southern Democrat would, the next year, name his third child for the Confederate-friendly academic Woodrow Wilson, who was then making a run for the White House that would see the U.S. to the nadir of its race relations.

Young Woodrow Wilson Guthrie — you know him as Woody — grew up with some different principles from dad; the counterculture folk troubadour was sufficiently haunted by his father’s proximity to this horrific exercise of mob justice to expiate it in song.

* Many web sites give the date as May 23, but the primary sources are unequivocal; the correct date is May 25.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Common Criminals,Disfavored Minorities,Hanged,History,Lynching,Murder,Notable Participants,Oklahoma,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Women,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1911: Sugako Kanno, radical feminist

Add comment January 25th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1911, Japanese anarchist writer Sugako (“Suga”) Kanno was executed for the High Treason Incident — the only woman ever hanged for treason in Japan.

Radicalized by suffering rape in her teens, Kanno was known for her discomfiting engagement with Japan’s unsettled “woman question.”

More to the point, she was one of the handful of the treason trial subjects who was directly involved in the actual plot to assassinate the emperor. (Her diaries are full of anguish for those tried with her who were merely guiltly by association.)

Kanno is often subsumed in retrospective accounts by Shusui Kotoku, the more famous male anarchist who was also her lover.

But Kanno was also one of her country’s first female journalists, first notable feminists … a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction, and a radical intellectual in her own right.

Her voluminous diaries in the run-up to her hanging are reprinted in Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan.

[E]ven among anarchists I was among the more radical thinkers [she told her interrogators]. When I was imprisoned in June 1908 in connection with the Red Flag incident I was outraged at the brutal behavior of the police. I concluded that a peaceful propagation of our principles could not be conducted under these circumstances. It was necessary to arouse the people’s awareness by staging riots or a revolution or by undertaking assassinations … Emperor Mutsuhito, compared with other emperors in history, seems to be popular with the people and is a good individual. Although I feel sorry for him personally, he is, as emperor, the chief person responsible for the exploitation of the people economically. Politically he is at the root of all the crimes being committed, and intellectually he is the fundamental cause of superstitious belief. A person in such a position, I concluded, must be killed.

Succinct. Little wonder she admired Russian assassin Sophia Perovskaya … and that she shared Perovskaya’s fate.

She mounted the scaffold escorted by guards on both sides. Her face was covered quickly by a white cloth … She was then ordered to sit upright on the floor. Two thin cords were placed around her neck. The floor-board was removed. In twelve minutes she was dead.

-newspaper account

Sugako Kanno is profiled more extensively in Treacherous Women of Imperial Japan: Patriarchal Fictions, Patricidal Fantasies.

She was back in the news in 2010 when a long-hidden secret message of hers surfaced, corroborating the orthodox historical take that while Kanno was up to her eyeballs in a real plot to murder the emperor, Shusui Kotoku was not part of it.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Japan,Martyrs,Milestones,Notable for their Victims,Power,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Treason,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1911: Shusui Kotoku and ten other anarchists

4 comments January 24th, 2011 Headsman

A century ago today, eleven Japanese anarchists were hanged for plotting the assassination of the Emperor.

Radical journalist Shusui Kotoku challenged Meiji Japan from the insurrectionary anarchist left.

A socialist early on — he helped translate The Communist Manifesto into Japanese — Kotoku turned towards anarchism when he read Kropotkin while serving time for opposing the Russo-Japanese War. He “had gone [to jail] as a Marxian Socialist,” he said, “and returned as a radical Anarchist.”

After his release, and a trip to America which had just birthed the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, Kotoku returned to Japan as his nation’s patriarch of anarchism.*

All of this, naturally, drew a Sarah Palin-sized targetsurveyors’ symbol on Kotoku’s back.

So, when police uncovered an apparent plot by other radicals to off Emperor Meiji, and opportunistically used it to sweep up as fellow-travelers a nationwide “conspiracy” of twenty-plus alleged plotters, Kotoku was naturally one of the bad apples they were pleased to indict.**

The twelve ultimately doomed to death were slated to receive their judicially appointed sanctions on this occasion, just six days after conviction. (The rest of the anarchist movement was harshly suppressed in the years ahead.)

Among the most noteworthy of these Japanese Saccos and Vanzettis:

The first eleven (all men) took so long that the twelfth doomed soul, Suga Kanno — Kotoku’s lover and a genuine bomb-plot participant, who enjoys the distinction of being the only woman her country ever hanged for treason — had her execution put off to the 25th for want of daylight.

Though he’s never been officially [judicially] exonerated, Kotoku’s native Nakamura voted in 2000 to declare his rehabilitation. A secret letter that surfaced only in 2010 appears to support that position.

* Shusui Kotoku in turn greatly influenced Chinese anarchism.

Some of Kotoku’s writing is available online in Japanese here.

** George Elison translated a Kotoku Shusui letter denying any interest in the anarchist assassination racket. It appears as “Discussion of Violent Revolution, From a Jail Cell,” in the Vol. 22, No. 3/4 (1967) Monumenta Nipponica.

How is the anarchist revolution to be brought about if not by bomb-throwing attempts upon the life of the sovereign? The Japanese word for “revolution” — kakumei — is Chinese in origin. In China, the term was used to describe the process in which the emperor of dynasty A, receiving the Mandate of Heaven, replaced the emperor of dynasty B; so it signified mainly the change of emperors, the change of sovereigns. Our “revolution” has quite a different meaning. We do not place much value upon the mere transfer of power between potentates; we do not use the word “revolution” except to mean a fundamental change in the governmental system and in the organization of society.

… they who for the sake of universal peace and liberty participate in this revolution must endeavor as best they can to avoid violence, to avoid producing victims to the revolution. For it seems that the great revolutions of the past were accompanied by much violence and required a great number of victims … I only hope for the disappearance of the misconception that the anarchist revolution has as its objective the assassination of the sovereign …

the prosecution and the examiners first put the title “Violent Revolution” to what I had said and contrived the stern-sounding phrase “death-defying band,” with other similar phrases. And I believe they condemned us under this syllogism: “The anarchist revolution is concerned with the destruction of the Imperial Family. But Kotoku’s plan was to carry out a revolution by violence. Therefore, all who were party to this plot planned to commit the crime of High Treason.” So the fact that these people used to discuss such things as direct action and the revolutionary movement has now served to get them into trouble! This I deeply regret.

On the other hand, Kotoku openly celebrated the assassination of Ito Hirobumi by a Korean nationalist.

Part of the Daily Double: The High Treason Incident.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Japan,Martyrs,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1911: Ah Q

Add comment November 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1911, the fictional title character of Lu Xun’s The True Story of Ah Q was shot in “Weichuang village,” China.

Ah Q wins another victory. Image from the Marxist Internet Archive.

A modern masterpiece that remains standard reading in China, The True Story of Ah Q was also one of the first literary pieces in the vernacular. Published in 1921 and set in the events of the Xinhai Revolution ten years prior, the novella/short story acidly satirizes China through the biography of the absurdly hapless Ah Q.

Lu Xun (or Lu Hsun) presents the reader a peasant whose real name is literally unknown — an everyman, and no man at all — and proceeds to characterize this discomfiting allegory: a weakling, a bully, a chauvinist, a fool, whose pluck is all folly born of a bottomless capacity for convincing himself that each new failure and humiliation of his abject life is a victory. (In 1933, the American journalist Edgar Snow asked Lu Xun if there were still manh Ah Qs in China. “It’s worse now,” Lu Xun replied. “Now it’s Ah Qs who are running the country.”)

The second and third chapters detail many such “victories.” Through them, the Chinese tongue gained the phrase “the spirit of Ah Q” to indicate determined self-deception.

This story is well worth reading, which can be done for free here.

Though specific calendar dates are scarcely at all alluded to in the narrative itself, the timing of the “climactic” execution — it is an empty death tragic only in its dearth of tragedy, for a revolution that from the author’s standpoint of hindsight was still struggling with the country’s colonial legacy of weakness and backwardness — can be deduced from the text.

Its action takes place in the confused days immediately following the town’s going over to the revolution, which swept through the Chinese provinces in late October and early November of 1911.*

The robbery that precipitates Ah Q’s execution takes place on a night with “no moon”; according to the year’s lunar chart, there was a new moon on the night of Nov. 20. (The December new moon is much too late to make sense.) In the story, it is “four days later” that Ah Q is arrested at night, then drug out for interrogation the next morning (the 25th); returned to his cell and recalled the morning after (the 26th) to sign a confession;** and after one more night in custody,&dagger hauled to an execution he does not even realize is taking place until the last moment.

Suddenly it occurred to him — “Can I be going to have my head cut off?” Panic seized him and everything turned dark before his eyes, while there was a humming in his ears as if he had fainted. But he did not really faint. Although he felt frightened some of the time, the rest of the time he was quite calm. It seemed to him that in this world probably it was the fate of everybody at some time to have his head cut off.

He still recognized the road and felt rather surprised: why were they not going to the execution ground? He did not know that he was being paraded round the streets as a public example. But if he had known, it would have been the same; he would only have thought that in this world probably it was the fate of everybody at some time to be made a public example of.

Ah Q suddenly became ashamed of his lack of spirit, because he had not sung any lines from an opera. His thoughts revolved like a whirlwind: The Young Widow at Her Husband’s Grave was not heroic enough. The words of “I regret to have killed” in The Battle of Dragon and Tiger were too poor. I’ll thrash you with a steel mace was still the best. But when he wanted to raise his hands, he remembered that they were bound together; so he did not sing I’ll thrash you either.

“In twenty years I shall be another …”‡ In his agitation Ah Q uttered half a saying which he had picked up himself but never used before. The crowd’s roar “Good!!!” sounded like the growl of a wolf.

At that instant his thoughts revolved again like a whirlwind. Four years before, at the foot of the mountain, he had met a hungry wolf which had followed him at a set distance, wanting to eat him. He had nearly died of fright, but luckily he happened to have an axe in his hand, which gave him the courage to get back to Weichuang. He had never forgotten that wolf’s eyes, fierce yet cowardly, gleaming like two will-o’-the-wisps, as if boring into him from a distance. Now he saw eyes more terrible even than the wolf’s: dull yet penetrating eyes that, having devoured his words, still seemed eager to devour something beyond his flesh and blood. And these eyes kept following him at a set distance.

These eyes seemed to have merged into one, biting into his soul.

“Help, help!”

But Ah Q never uttered these words. All had turned black before his eyes, there was a buzzing in his ears, and he felt as if his whole body were being scattered like so much light dust.

As for any discussion of the event, no question was raised in Weichuang. Naturally all agreed that Ah Q had been a bad man, the proof being that he had been shot; for if he had not been bad, how could he have been shot? But the consensus of opinion in town was unfavourable. Most people were dissatisfied, because a shooting was not such a fine spectacle as a decapitation; and what a ridiculous culprit he had been too, to pass through so many streets without singing a single line from an opera. They had followed him for nothing.

* According to this footnote, it can be more specifically dated to the fall of Shaoxing, which would have been early November.

** Ah Q has no idea he is signing a confession; an illiterate, he makes his mark with a circle — fixated only on making it a perfect circle, at which endeavor he naturally fails “victoriously.”

† During Ah Q’s last night on earth, the scene cuts to two local officials arguing about the prisoner’s fate, where the man’s life is forfeit in some other mean contest of the municipal pecking order — “Punish one to awe one hundred! See now, I have been a member of the revolutionary party for less than twenty days, but there have been a dozen cases of robbery, none of them solved yet; and think how badly that reflects on me. Now this one has been solved, you come and argue like a pedant. It won’t do!”

‡ According to this footnote, “‘In twenty years I shall be another stout young fellow’ was a phrase often used by criminals before execution, to show their scorn of death.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,Fictional,Known But To God,Political Expedience,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Shot,Summary Executions,Theft,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1911: Several revolutionaries on Double Ten Day

16 comments October 10th, 2008 Headsman

On the tenth day of the tenth month — Double Ten Day, as it has since been remembered in China and the Chinese diaspora — the quick execution of a few revolutionaries signaled the surprising end of China’s 2,000-year-old imperial government.

Actually, the collapse of imperial rule wasn’t such a surprise: China’s last dynasty had foundered in the face of the 19th century challenges of European colonialism; driven by multitudinous grievances, popular revolts and reform movements had buffeted China in recent years, most seriously the turn-of-the-century Boxer Rebellion.

The Qing Dynasty was a tinderbox. But one never knows what spark will set the flame.

On October 9, 1911, revolutionaries in the central China town of Wuchang — today merged with neighboring towns into the city of Wuhan — lit the fuse literally when a bomb they were building for a planned insurrection accidentally went off.

In the ensuing scramble, police raided the joint and found incriminating lists of thousands of revolutionary recruits. Arrests followed fast, and several (three*) of the arrested were summarily put to death on the morning of the tenth.

But the plot’s apparent misfortune actually turned out to be its spur to victory.
Realizing that their identities were exposed to the authorities, and that they were in danger of immediate execution, the revolutionaries … revolted.

Their military forces mounted a successful municipal coup d’etat.

While the central government dilated, insurrectionary Wuchang appealed to the provinces for solidarity, and within weeks the Wuchang Uprising had blossomed into full-fledged revolution: the Xinhai Revolution, to be exact. By the following February, China’s last child-emperor had been forced to abdicate.

For the first time in millennia, the fallen dynasty was not succeeded by another dynasty. Though the new state was itself heir to the myriad contradictions and weaknesses that dogged the Qing, it was a definitive turning point: China became Asia’s first democratic republic, the polity that today is Taiwan.

* The names Peng Chufan, Liu Yaocheng and Yang Hongsheng are proposed in this history.

Update: This excellent History Today article for the Double Ten centennial also specifies three executions, and even includes this outstanding public domain image from the Francis Stafford collection.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Known But To God,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Revolutionaries,Strangled,Summary Executions,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

September 2018
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • Kevin Sullivan: Richard, I’m responding to this not because i have to respond, but simply to let the facts...
  • Petrut: Or maybe he just had enough with you… You don’t like him and what he has to say, then stop...
  • Richard Duffus: On September 9 in the group “The Many Faces of Ted Bundy” I responded to an invitation...
  • Harry: Typically the product of the immediate post-WWII context with a desperado youth. In the West he would probably...
  • Johan Louis de Jong: Cixi was an incredibly gifted woman. She had mastered the Chinese classics, very difficult and...