Join Date: Dec 2004
judicial decapitation in China
For an explanation of the rationale behind punishment in pre-revolutionary Chinese judicial theory, and a description of the capital sentences, I would recommend Derk Bodde/Clarence Morris, LAW IN IMPERIAL CHINA, EXEMPLIFIED BY 190 CH'ING DYNASTY CASES, WITH HISTORICIAL, SOCIAL, AND JURIDICAL COMMENTARIES, (Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1971). For anyone with the slightest interest in law in traditional, non-Western societies, this is highly recommended. It's written in a style that even laymen can follow.
Regarding the implement used for decapitation, it was generally a saber or falchion (curved, single edged), not a sword as was the case in Europe. The cut was generally on a vertical plane (the Vietnamese seemed to have used both vertical and horizontal cuts, as seen in iconographic depictions).
Contrary to the case in the Germanic countries, there was apparently no one standard blade designed strictly for beheading in China. Historical illustrations (including those done before the age of photography) show the use of various styles of blades, from the commonly used sabers of the military (liuyedao), to the two handed falchions (dadao) also used by militias and civilians for fighting. Any one of those will work just fine for the purpose.
It seems that many Oriental nations didn't have a specialized beheading implement in common use -- the Japanese used their katanas, the Thais their darbs, and so forth. A recent filmclip sent to me by an Israeli friend featured an interview on Israel TV with the Lord High Executioner of the Saudi kingdom -- his favorite swords had standard shamshir blades, one of which was mounted in a hilt with a D knuckeguard.