Lai Junchen - First Stint As Secret Police Official

First Stint As Secret Police Official

It was said that Lai Junchen personally retained a staff of several hundred men who were previously thugs, with the intent to have them make reports. If he decided to falsely implicate someone in a crime, then he had the men submit false reports that corroborate each other. Lai and his assistant Wan Guojun (萬國俊) even authored a text known as the Classic of Accusation (羅織經), teaching their subordinates how to accuse people of crimes and how to create details that make the alleged plot appear logical and likely. Lai and the other secret police officials were also said to have created a number of torture methods and equipments to get the accused to confess, and further, each time he knew that a general pardon was set to be issued, he had the jailers kill important prisoners first before the general pardon would be declared. Lai's authorities continued to grow, particularly after Empress Dowager Wu herself took the throne in 690 as "emperor" of a new Zhou Dynasty, interrupting Tang and reducing Emperor Ruizong to the rank of crown prince.

In 691, the official Liu Xinggan (劉行感) was accused of treason. Wu Zetian had the chancellor Shi Wuzi investigate along with Lai. After Liu Xinggan and his brothers were executed for treason, Lai further reported to Wu Zetian that Shi had good relations with Liu Xinggan and had tried to hide evidence of Liu Xinggan's guilt. Wu Zetian had Lai investigate Shi as well and Shi, in fear, committed suicide.

That year, a famous incident involving Lai and fellow secret police official Zhou Xing occurred. Earlier that year, the general Qiu Shenji (丘神勣) had been accused of crime and executed, and subsequently, there were secret reports that Zhou was involved with Qiu's crimes. Wu Zetian had Lai investigate, without Zhou's knowledge. One day, Lai and Zhou sat down to lunch, and Lai asked Zhou the question of, "Many of the accused are not willing to confess. Do you have an idea on how to get them to confess?" Zhou responded, "That is easy. Take a big urn and set a fire under it. Put the accused in it, and surely he will confess everything." Lai had a big urn brought and a fire set underneath, in accordance with Zhou's instructions, and then rose and stated to Zhou, "I had received secret instructions from Her Imperial Majesty with regard to you, my brother. Please enter the urn." Zhou, in fear, knelt and confessed. Wu Zetian did not execute Zhou but exiled him, and on the way to his place of exile, Zhou was killed by his enemies. (This incident inspired the Chinese proverb "invite the gentleman into the urn" (請君入甕, qing jun ru weng), now used for the concept of putting a person into a trap that he himself or she herself had set.)

Later that year, when investigating the general Zhang Qianxu (張虔勗), Lai interrogated Zhang and tortured him severely. Zhang, unable to stand the torture, yelled out to another official in charge of investigations, Xu Yougong (徐有功), who was known for being merciful. Angry that Zhang was yelling out to Xu, Lai had his guards slash Zhang to death with their swords and then beheaded him. When he subsequently investigated the prefect Yun Hongsi (雲弘嗣), he did not bother interrogating Yun -- he just beheaded Yun and then forged a confession from Yun.

Yet later that year, the chancellors Cen Changqian and Ge Fuyuan offended Wu Zetian by strenuously opposing the proposal to elevate her powerful nephew Wu Chengsi to be crown prince, and she had them arrested. Lai coerced Cen's son Cen Lingyuan (岑靈原) into implicating another chancellor, Ouyang Tong, whom Lai subsequently arrested and tortured. However, he was unable to get Ouyang to admit to treason, and so he forged a confession from Ouyang. Cen, Ge, and Ouyang were all executed. Lai also killed the general Li Anjing (李安靜).

In 692, Lai falsely accused the chancellors Ren Zhigu, Di Renjie, and Pei Xingben, along with other officials Cui Xuanli (崔宣禮), Lu Xian (盧獻), Wei Yuanzhong, and Li Sizhen (李嗣真) of treason. Lai tried to induce them to confess by citing an imperial edict that stated that those who confessed would be spared their lives, and Di confessed and was not tortured. He then wrote a petition on his blanket and hid it inside cotton clothes, and then had his family members take the clothes home to be changed into summer clothes. Wu Zetian thereafter became suspicious and inquired with Lai, who responded by forging, in the names of Di and the other officials, submissions thanking Wu Zetian for preparing to execute them. However, the young son of another chancellor who had been executed, Le Sihui, who was seized to be a servant at the ministry of agriculture, made a petition to Wu Zetian and told her that Lai was so skillful at manufacturing charges that even the most honest and faithful individuals would be forced into confessions by Lai. Wu Zetian thereafter summoned the seven accused officials and personally interrogated them, and after they disavowed the forged confessions, released but exiled them. Later that year, Lai demanded a bribe from the general Quan Xiancheng (泉獻誠), the grandson of the former Goguryeo regent Yeon Gaesomun and, when Quan refused, falsely accused Quan of treason and had him strangled.

In 693, the officials Pei Feigong (裴匪躬) and Fan Yunxian (范雲仙) were accused of secretly meeting with the crown prince Li Dan (the former emperor), and when Fan tried to speak on his own behalf, Lai had his tongue cut off, and then had Pei and Fan both executed by being cut in half at the waist. Wu Zetian decreed that officials would not be allowed to meet with Li Dan. When, subsequently, there were secret accusations that Li Dan was plotting to overthrow her, she had Lai investigate Li Dan's associates, whom Lai arrested and tortured. One of them, An Jinzang, proclaimed Li Dan's innocence and cut his own abdomen, causing the organs to fall out. When Wu Zetian heard this, she was touched, and she had the imperial physicians treat An, barely saving his life, and on account of An's assurance that Li Dan was not plotting against her, ordered Lai to end his investigations against Li Dan. Meanwhile, Lai falsely accused the minister of public works, Su Gan (蘇幹), of having been a co-conspirator of Li Chong's, and had him executed.

Either in 693 or 694, Lai was accused by the imperial censor JI Lüzhong (紀履忠) of five crimes, including corruption, and initially, Lai was sentenced to death, but Wu Zetian, believing him to have accomplished much for her, spared his life and reduced him to commoner rank -- and soon thereafter reinstated him as secretary general of palace affairs (殿中丞, Dianzhong Cheng). Lai was, however, thereafter again accused of corruption, and he was demoted to be a military officer at Tong Prefecture (同州, roughly modern Weinan, Shaanxi), interrupting his career as a secret police official.

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