In the three months since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines, about 3,000 people have died as a result of his brutal war on drugs. While many laud the swift justice meted out because they believe due process is no longer effective against the country’s drug scourge, others are appalled by the violence of the extrajudicial killings carried out by vigilantes, which may or may not have been officially sanctioned.
The breakdown of public order and security was an issue in China from 16BC to 9BC, towards the end of the reign of the Western Han dynasty’s Emperor Cheng. In the capital Changan (present-day Xian), gangs of youths roamed the city, murdering for money and maiming people during robberies.
The city’s prefect, Yi Shang, was given special discretionary powers to maintain law and order. He ordered security forces and neighbourhood elders to report “frivolous and ill-disciplined youths, traders and artisans who were not registered residents, and people donning suspicious clothing and armour and carrying weapons”.
Several hundred people were rounded up and buried alive in underground chambers. A hundred days later, their families were ordered to collect the corpses.
Yi’s terror tactics seemed to have worked for there was an immediate reduction of criminal violence in Changan. But among the hundreds who died, many would have been innocent victims of mistaken identity and personal vendettas.