The Corner

Renounce Citizenship, Lose Head

I have had lots of legal wonkery directed my way this past few days on the

14th Amendment, and especially the 1898 <a href="http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=169&invol=649#

f2″>case of Wong Kim Ark. Mr. Wong was US born to Chinese parents, and claimed birthright citizenship. You can read up the case for yourselves and decide whether it’s relevant to the current debate over birthright citizenship. What caught my eye was one of the footnotes, which I reproduce in full:

“[Footnote 2] The fundamental laws of China have remained practically

unchanged since the second century before Christ. The statutes have from

time to time undergone modifications, but there does not seem to be any

English or French translation of the Chinese Penal Code later than that by

Staunton, published in 1810. That Code provided: ‘All persons renouncing

their country and allegiance, or devising the means thereof, shall be

beheaded; and in the punishment of this offense, no distinction shall be

made between principals and accessories. The property of all such criminals

shall be confiscated, and their wives and children distributed as slaves to

the great officers of state. … The parents, grandparents, brothers, and

grand-children of such criminals, whether habitually living with them under

the same roof or not, shall be perpetually banished to the distance of 2,000

lee.

“‘All those who purposely conceal and connive at the perpetration of this

crime, shall be strangled. Those who inform against, and bring to justice

criminals of this description, shall be rewarded with the whole of their

property.

“‘Those who are privy to the perpetration of this crime, and yet omit to

give any notice or information thereof to the magistrate, shall be punished

with 100 blows and banished perpetually to the distance of 3,000 lee.

“‘If the crime is contrived, but not executed, the principal shall be

strangled, and all the accessories shall, each of them, be punished with 100

blows, and perpetual banishment to the distance of 3,000 lee. …’

Staunton’s Pen. Code China, 272, 255.

Now there is a country that took citizenship seriously!

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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