The police have been having a hard time of it recently. Not only is theirs a physically demanding job but they are also expected to bear having the crudest obscenities hurled at them – by schoolteachers, no less. The total detachment of our police, judges and civil servants is not a given but an ideal. Rules, manuals and training do help but still it must be hard for the police to accept they’re the designated whipping boys at public demonstrations. Having said that, the Hong Kong Police Force is still esteemed by most and relatively well paid. In this respect, they are luckier than their colleagues in imperial China.

Contrary to portrayals in popular novels and television shows, law enforcers who investigated crimes and hunted criminals were on the lowest rungs of both the imperial bureaucracy and society in general. They were often classified together with prostitutes, entertainers and foot soldiers, and the next three generations of their descendants were forbidden from taking the imperial examinations.

They were punished if they failed to solve cases in, usually, three to five days, and were paid meagre wages. It’s therefore unsurprising that many used torture to bring about quick convictions and engaged in crimes such as smuggling and extortion to supplement their incomes – so much so that they were almost universally feared and hated by ordinary people.