Nine Familial Exterminations
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Nine Familial Exterminations

The nine familial exterminations or nine kinship exterminations (simplified Chinese: ?; traditional Chinese: ?; pinyin: zh? lián ji? zú; Vietnamese: tru di c?u t?c; lit.: 'guilt by association of nine of a group/clan'; also known as zú zh? (), literally "family execution" and miè zú (/), literally "family extermination" or "execution of nine relations") was the most serious punishment for a capital offense in Ancient China, Korea and Vietnam.[1][2][3] A collective punishment typically associated with offenses such as treason, the punishment involved the execution of all relatives of an individual, which were categorized into nine groups. Nine exterminations were often done by slow slicing. The occurrence of this punishment was somewhat rare, with relatively few sentences recorded throughout history.


The punishment by nine exterminations is usually associated with the tyrannical rulers throughout Chinese history who were prone to use inhumane methods of asserting control (such as slow slicing, or "death by ten thousand cuts"). The first written account of the concept is in the Classic of History, a historical account of the Shang (1600 BC - 1046 BC) and Zhou (1045 BC - 256 BC) Dynasties, where it is recorded that prior to a military battle, officers would threaten their subordinates that they would exterminate their families if they refused to obey orders.[4]

From the Spring and Autumn period (770BC-403BC), there are records of exterminations of "three clans"[2] (Chinese: ). A notable case was under the State of Qin in 338 BC: lawmaker Shang Yang's entire family was killed by order of King Huiwen of Qin,[5] while Shang Yang himself was sentenced to death by being drawn and quartered. This was an ironic occurrence as it was Shang Yang who formulated such a punishment into Qin law in the first place, being commonly recorded as a lawmaker who used excessive punishments.[6][7]

During the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC), punishments became even more rigorous under the first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC - 210 BC). In order to uphold his rule, strict laws were enforced,[8] where deception, libel, and the study of banned books became punishable by familial extermination.[1] This increase in tyranny only helped to speed up the overthrow of the Qin Dynasty.[4] The Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), although it inherited the concept of family execution, was more moderate in inflicting such severe punishments. In many cases, the Han Emperor would retract the sentence, and so family executions were much rarer than under the Qin Dynasty.[9] During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the family punishment was not abolished, but it was only applied to those who plotted against the rule of the Emperor. By this time, the penalty had become more regulated and different; from the Tang Code, the sentence involved the death of parents, children over the age of sixteen, and other close kindred, and was only applied to the offenses of treason and rebellion.[1][10]

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties, the breadth of family extermination was increased. Under the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368 - 98), those committing rebellion and treason were punished by having their parents, grandparents, brethren (by birth, as well as "sworn brothers"), children, grandchildren, those living with the criminal regardless of surname, uncles and the children of brethren put to death, as well as death for the rebels themselves by slow slicing or lingchi.[11][12] The number of sentences during the Ming were higher than that of the Tang,[13][14] due to the policy of "showing mercy beneath the sword" (Chinese: ?), while females were given the choice to become slaves rather than be killed. A rare case was Fang Xiaoru (1357-1402), whose students and friends were also executed as the 10th family by the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402 - 1424), the only case where "ten exterminations" was officially sentenced and carried out. The punishment by family extermination during the Qing Dynasty was a direct imitation of the regulation under the Ming.[15]

Punishment by nine exterminations was abolished near the end of the Qing Dynasty, officially repealed by the imperial government in 1905.

There were various ethical judgements regarding group punishment in ancient times. It was typically seen as tyrannical method of rule, unjustly punishing innocent family members for the crime of a relative. However, the punishment was justified by the ancient Confucian cultural tradition that the actions of each member bring shame or honor to the whole family, which therefore should bear the burden of punishment for high crimes. Like all forms of collective punishment, it was also intended as a dreadful deterrent for the worst crimes, rather than merely as a form of revenge.

In ancient Korea, this punishment was applied during the reign of King Jinpyeong of Silla (579-632) when conspirator Ichan Chilsuk ( ) and his entire family and relatives to ninth degree were put to death.[16][17][18] In ancient Vietnam, the most prominent example being the execution of most of the family members of Nguy?n Trãi (1380-1442), an official who was wrongly accused of killing the King. He had his entire family executed.[19]


The punishment involved the execution of close and extended family members.[3][20] These included:

  • The criminal's living parents
  • The criminal's living grandparents
  • Any children the criminal may have, over a certain age (varying over different eras, children below that age becoming slaves) and--if married--their spouses.
  • Any grandchildren the criminal may have, over a certain age (again with enslavement for the underage) and--if married--their spouses.
  • Siblings and siblings-in-law (the siblings of the criminal and that of his or her spouse, in the case where he or she is married)
  • Uncles and aunts of the criminal, as well as their spouses
  • The criminal's cousins (in case of Korea, this includes up to second and third cousins)
  • The criminal's spouse
  • The criminal's spouse's parents
  • The criminal himself

Confucian principles also played a major role in the extent of the punishment. The killing of children was disapproved under Mencius' principle that "being offspring is not a sin" (Classical Chinese), so that children under a certain age were often spared execution.

"Nine tribes"

In ancient times, there were nine different relations (or guanxi) in which an individual had with other people, which were referred to as the "family" or "tribe" (Chinese: ?) during that period.[21] These relations, under Confucian principles, were bonded by filial piety. Because members of a family remained strictly loyal to one another, they were considered responsible for crimes committed by any member due to guilt by association. It also provided the argument that the entire family would be responsible in supporting each other in the case of a rebellion against a ruler.

The Chinese character ? can be translated by its original definition of "clan" or "tribe", or it can have the additional meanings of "kinship", "family" (as in ) or "ethnicity" (as in ).

See also


  1. ^ a b c "?" - "The history and evolution of '?' (Nine exterminations)" - Xinhua
  2. ^ a b "". Retrieved 2009. "Ancient Chinese law and judiciary", from the Research Institute of Chinese Culture (?)
  3. ^ a b The Nine Exterminations () Definition of "" at the China Encyclopedia
  4. ^ a b "" "What is 'Mie Zu'?" from the Primary School learning resources network (?)
  5. ^ pg 80 of Classical China, ed. William H. McNeill and Jean W. Sedlar, Oxford University Press, 1970. LCCN: 68-8409
  6. ^ , "Shang Yang - The mighty lawmaker of Qin, digs his own grave" from Chinadaily "Shang Yang learned to read from a young age, and later created a series of reforms, his laws in excess of severity... However, the powerful state of Qin does not comply with the interests of all, bear the brunt of the old aristocracy. In the cancellation of privileges, they become the sworn enemy of Shang Yang."
  7. ^ ?"" "Shang Yang's mistakes and the reasons behind his merciless laws" - Phoenix TV report
  8. ^ :? "Qin system a millennium of red mornings" - China Report Weekly
  9. ^ ?()(?) "Thousand worries of the extermination of a family (Western Han)" from the Chinese Civilisation network of the Chinese economic net (?----)
  10. ^ :"?" "History of Familial Extermination" from Hubei Normal College II ()
  11. ^ --? "Examination of China's death penalty - torture from the Ming" - Chinamonitor
  12. ^ , , ?, 2006 (Google Books)
  13. ^ () "Letters of Ming" from "The Archive Domain" ( ?)
  14. ^ ?()(?) "Notable compilation 14 - Punishment" from Secondary school resources ()
  15. ^ Tianting Zheng, (Google Books)
  16. ^ Pankaj Mohan (2005). "The Uses of Buddhist and Shamanistic Symbolism in the Empowerment of Queen S?nd?k". International Association for Buddhist Thought and Culture. 5-8: 133. The hostility of the aristocracy manifested itself in a conspiracy against the throne hatched by Yichan Chilsuk and Achan S?kpum. The plot was revealed in 631, and Chilsuk's entire family and relatives to the ninth degree were executed.
  17. ^ "Samjok ( )" (in Korean). Doosan Encyclopedia. In ancient China and Korea, when someone committed a big crime, the three sets of relatives were annihilated for the principle of guilt by association which was referred to as 'samjok myeolmun jihwa', · ? ? '()' ()? .
  18. ^ "Chilsuk's Rebellion ( ?)". Samguk Sagi (in Korean). Korea Culture & Content Agency. In May Summer, Chilsuk the Inchan officer plotted to rise in rebellion along with Seokpum the Achan officer. As the king (of Silla) knew this, he captured and beheaded Chilsuk at the Eastern Market and then annihilated his nine sets of relatives. (, ?(?)?, , ?, ?, ?)
  19. ^ BIOGRAPHY Nguyen Trai (1380-1442) "A close adviser of two successive kings, he was finally suspected to have plotted for regicide. His family was harmed by traitors to the court. He and entire family were executed."
  20. ^ ?:"?"? "Ancient punishments: The history of the torture of 'Nine Exterminations'"
  21. ^ "ZDIC.NET ". Retrieved 2009. ZDIC definition of "?"

Further reading

  • Ma Zhongqi (), Zhou Liying (). A discussion of historical Chinese culture . Daoshi Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 978-962-397-717-3.

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