Respect for the elderly has a long history and tradition in China. It occupies a very important position in the ancient ritual society. Filial piety is regarded as the most important virtue.
With the average life expectancy of people in the Han Dynasty being only 50 years old, it was not easy to live to 70. The Han Dynasty treated the elderly very generously. People received a sceptre with a handle shaped like a dove (鳩鳥) from the Emperor when they turned 70. This dove sceptre (鳩杖) was also called Emperor sceptre (王杖). The privileges of the owner of a dove sceptre can be summarized as follows:
- Even if he violated the criminal law, as long as he was not the first offender, he could be exempted from prosecution (非首殺傷人, 毋告劾也).
- Free access to the government offices (得出入官府節第) (without kneeling 不須下跪).
- Permission to use an imperial road (the road dedicated to the emperor) (行馳道中)
- To be exempt from rent and taxation in various commercial operations (列肆賈市, 毋租) and to be permitted to sell alcoholic drinks in market (沽酒醪列肆).
- To enjoy the same treatment as officials receiving the wage of six hundred Shí 石 (待遇與比六百石官吏)(1 Shí is equivalent to about 30 kg).
- No need to walk in small steps to enter the court (入官府不趨, i.e. 不用小步疾走)
- Anyone including officials who abused, beat or insulted the owner of a sceptre should be punished with ‘Qi Shi 棄市’, literally meaning ‘abandon the market’. This abandonment of the market was not to throw the transgressors into the market, but to execute them in public. (The corpse was exposed in the market for three days.)
In the 1950s and 1980s, two batches of wooden slips were unearthed in the Mozuizi Han Tomb (磨嘴子漢墓) in Zuoshan Village, Wuwei, Gansu Province (甘肅武威纏山村). In 1959, the first batch of 10 wooden slips (also known as ‘Ten Slips of the King’s Sceptre’ 王杖十簡) were unearthed. The content involves the two imperial edicts of Emperor Xiaocheng (孝成皇帝)(reigned from 32 BCE to 7 BCE) of the Western Han Dynasty regarding the gift of the Emperor’s sceptres to the elderly, and the judgments of criminals who insulted the elderly with the sceptre. The last slip was dated the fifteenth year of Yongping (永平十五)(72 CE).
In 1981, the second batch of wooden slips was unearthed, with a total of 26 slips (there were originally 27 slips and one was lost). The slips are 23.2 to 23.7 cm long and 0.9 to 1.1 cm wide. The official script on this second batch has clearer handwriting than the first batch unearthed in the 1950s. The last slip has the words ‘Wangzhang Zhaoshu Ling’ (王杖詔書令). The 26 slips were collected in an album called ‘Wangzhang Zhaoshu Ling Ce’ (王杖詔書令册). The album records edicts on respecting the elderly, caring for the widowed (鰥寡), lonely (孤獨) and disabled (such as 侏儒), giving sceptres to the elderly, and executing criminals who humiliate and injure them. An earlier edict was dated the first year of Jianshi (建始元年)(32 BCE). A later edict was dated the third year of Yuanyan (元延三年)(10 BCE). The dates at which some of the slips were not mentioned. Wangzhang Zhaoshu Ling Ce (王杖詔書令册) is believed to be more ancient than ‘Ten Slips of the King’s Sceptre’ (王杖十簡).
The 26 Slips of Wangzhang Zhaoling Ce (王杖詔書令册)
The text of Wangzhang Zhaoling Ce is as follows :
Details of Slips 18 and 19 showing the beauty of the brush strokes in ink
My copy is as follows:
Images of the sceptre
The dove was regarded as a harbinger of spring (報春鳥), a symbol of life and kindness.
‘ 鳩 dove’ and ‘久 long’ have the same Mandarin pronunciation. The elderly man walking with a dove stick is healthy and enjoys a long life. The dove is the bird that does not choke (不噎之鳥). All this might be the reasons that the handle of the sceptre was shaped as a dove.
https://twgreatdaily.com/zh-hans/61jf5G4BMH2_cNUgrint.html “汉简”不敬老者死——《王杖诏书令》good images of han jian
http://www.faxueyanjiu.net/Admin/UploadFile/publish_article/1999/2/19990212.pdf 《王杖十简》与《王杖 诏书令册》法律思想研究 ——兼及“不道”罪考辨 崔 永 东
Ouyang Z S, W C Fong, Y F Wang (2008) Chinese Calligraphy, Yale University, ISBN 978-0-300-12107-0