Why abduction and trafficking of human beings continued despite repeated prohibitions in the Han Dynasty: only because it was common for rich families to keep slaves

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In ancient China, kidnapping and trafficking in human beings was called “slight selling”. Since the Han Dynasty, the law has clearly stated that this is a great crime. However, because there is a great profit, although the king’s law is like a furnace, this kind of trading has been done for thousands of years.

In ancient times, especially in the Han Dynasty, where slavery was prevalent, the main purpose of abducting and selling boys was to be slaves, just as abducting and selling mentally handicapped people into black brick kilns, so as to extract benefits from slave workers to the greatest extent. The abduction and trafficking of girls is mainly to sell them to large families as slaves or to those “prostitutes” for training. When they grow up, they can let them go to brothels to make profits for their adopted mothers.

In the laws written on paper in successive dynasties, the punishment of “selling people slightly” is quite serious. In the Han Dynasty, abduction and trafficking were brought up together with major crimes such as mass theft, murder and wounding, and theft of graves, and the punishment of “zhe” was imposed. The legislation of later dynasties basically followed such provisions, but the punishment was different.

For example, according to the different results of human trafficking, the law of the Tang Dynasty criminalizes traffickers: those who abduct others as slaves, or sell others to other families as slaves, shall be sentenced to hanging; Those who are part of a series (a social stratum between slaves and lovers) shall be sentenced to 3000 li of exile; Those who are wives, concubines or descendants shall be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. According to the history of the Yuan Dynasty and the annals of criminal law, officials and civilians “committed forced theft, counterfeiting treasure notes, selling people, setting fire to graves, committing rape and other crimes of death”, all of them were handed over to the Department for disposal. Selling people in Yuan Dynasty was as big a crime as making counterfeit money, digging tombs and setting fires.

In ancient China, personal rights were unequal, and there were differences due to their status. Therefore, the status of abductees was different, and the punishment for traffickers was different. In the eyes of the government, abducting and selling other people’s slaves is different from stealing and selling other people’s property. If you abduct and sell a “good man” to serve as a servant, you will be relegated and lose your freedom. The punishment will be especially serious. For example, the law of the Ming Dynasty stipulates that those who abduct and sell are other people’s slaves and maidservants, which are lighter than those who abduct and sell loved ones.

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