Guest Author - Michelle Lee
In the old days, if a person or couple was caught for committing an adultery, the adulter and adulteress would be put into a pig’s cage, and drowned in the river. Although the law in China never sanctified this style of execution, it was a widespread practice especially among the lower socio-economic group.
Since this was an extrajudicial execution, not authorized by law, there was no proper process of deliberation. Generally, when a person was accused of committing adultery, the accused would be brought to the village’s community center. At the center, the Head of the Village and its elders would hear testimonies of the accused and witnesses and deliberate a verdict. The accused would be forced to identify his or her partner, who would also be brought to the center to face the elders and receive punishment.
The adulter and adulteress will be bound with rope to limit their mobility, and then placed into strong bamboo-woven cages. These cylindrical cages were called pig’s cages because they were used to transport pigs. The villagers would carry the couple to the river and cast them into the river. After a considerable lapse of time, the villagers would retrieve the bodies and bury them. In some occasions, if a husband caught his wife in bed with another man, it would have been innocuous for the husband to carry out the execution on his own.
In China the punishment for adultery seems to have been more secular than religious. Therefore the severity of the punishment for adultery changed with the view of its people. In more liberal era, adultery was treated with disdain and not worthy of any attention. While in other era, it was abhorred and was seen as a severe crime.
These pig-cage drowning executions were prevalent only in secluded villages around the 19th century to the early 20th century. It was a modified version of a form of official torture used to punish and execute criminals, similar to dunking in the West. The pig-cage drowning punishment was only applicable to married women and women engaged to be married and their adulters. Improper sexual conducts that involved unmarried women and widows, even if their partners were married men, were flouted upon, but would not be considered a punishable offence.
Post Chinese Revolution, the Chinese government reformed the polygamous sexual double standard of the pre-socialist China and treated adultery of both gender equally. In modern China, adultery is no longer a crime but may constitute a ground for divorce.