Penal military service (chongjun 充軍, also called junzui 軍罪, peili 配隸 or peijun 配軍) was one of the punishments in ancient Chinese jurisdiction. It did not belong to the so-called "five punishments" (wuxing 五刑), but was nevertheless a common means of penalty during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods. Delinquents were sent to military garrisons in the borderlands to either work the fields of the garrison (see military agro-colonies tuntian 屯田), to deliver services to troops and officers, or to serve in the ranks of the army. Penal military service was a heavier punishment than exile (liu 流).
Earlier forms of penal military service were found during the Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE) and Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) periods. While the former applied this punishment (zheshu 謫戍, bingzu 兵卒) as a normal penalty, the Han used the penalty of sending delinquents to border garrisons (zuiren xubian 罪人戍邊, xibian 徙邊) as a commutation of the death penalty.
Between the 3rd and the 6th centuries, even women and under-age males were punished with military service. Penal military service, after flogging (bianchi 鞭笞, 100 whips), shaving the hair, and tattooing, and likewise as a reduction of the sentence of capital punishment, was still in use during the Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386~581), and was found in the penal code of the Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577). Unlike exile, penal military service was not divided into grades discerning distances from the home prefecture. Emperor Wen 隋文帝 (r. 581-604) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) unified the two penalties of exile (liu) and penal servitude (tu 徒) to "assignment to defence" (peifang 配防) in the border regions. The Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) combined the penalty of exile with penal service (jia yi liu 加役流).
The legal system of the Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) which introduced the term chongjun required that delinquents serving in the military were registered in the annex of military household registers (fu mingji 傅[=附]軍籍). Another regulation stipulated that delinquents punished with penal servitude (tu) or exile (liu) were particularly observed in the place where they were detained, with the stipulation that the authorities punish them with penal military service along with tattooing (jue ci chongjun 決刺充軍) in case they committed a further crime (see cipei 刺配).
The Ming dynasty discerned between five grades of punishment by military service, namely "vicinity" (fujin 附近), "along the coast" (yanhai 沿海, both 1000 li, ca. 500 km; some authors interprete yanhai fujin as one single grade), in border garrisons (bianwei 邊衛, 2000 li), distant borderland (bianyuan 邊遠, 3000 li), far-away borderland (jibian 極邊), and garrisons in "miasmic regions" (yanzhang 煙瘴, both 4000 li), which means, southwest China. There was a fix number of garrisons where the penal service had to be delivered. In the beginning, military service as a penalty was only applied to military officers, but later on, also to civilian delinquents. It could be applied to individuals, but also to whole families (see collective punishment, lianzuofa 連坐法). Normally, it was a reduction of the death penalty, and combined with 100 blows with the heavy stick (zhang 杖). The authorities discerned between lifelong service (zhongsheng 終身) and "eternal service" (yongyuan 永遠), in which a son or grandson took over the service after the delinquent's death.
This harsh penalty thus ranged above "normal" exile, but was still lighter than the death penalty. The penalty of military service was so common during the Ming period, that the three grades of "normal" exile with three grades of distance (sanliu 三流) were virtually replaced by the chongjun penalty. This tendency intensified the application of harsh penalties in the Ming legal system. The penal code Da-Ming lü 大明律 and the commentary collection Wenxing tiaoli 問刑條例 include many paragraphs on penal military service. It was also part of jurisdictional regulations of individual government institutions and was often applied in individual cases by imperial edict. The Ming code itself comprised 46 paragraphs. Emperor Taizu 明太祖 (r. 1368-1398) promulgated the code Chongjun tiaoli 充軍條例 with 22 paragraphs, and in 1550, a revised version with 213 paragraphs was issued.
The Ming code particularly applied penal military service for the incomplete forgery of seals by using seal-script characters but not the instrument of a seal (miaomo chongjun 描摸充軍, comp. Mingshi 明史 93, Xingfa zhi 刑法志 1). The Qing period scholar Shen Jiaben 沈家本 (1840-1913) criticized the penal military service as the most cruel punishment of the legal system of the Ming dynasty.
The Qing more or less adopted the Ming system, but slightly changed the geographical ranges of penal military service. The "five [penalties of] military [service]" (wujun 五軍) were "vicinity" (fujin 附近, 2000 li), close borderland (jinbian 近邊, 2500 li), distant borderland (yuanbian 邊遠, 3000 li), far-away borderland (jibian 極邊) and "miasmic regions" (yanzhang 煙瘴, both 4000 li). All punishments were initiated by ten blows with the heavy stick. The greatest distance of "normal" exile was 3000 li, which shows that penal military service was under the Qing de facto just an extension of the exile and applied in case of severe misdoings as a transgression of the normal exile (man liu 滿流). Delinquents did therefore not have to deliver military service in the place of exile. The closest distance to the home prefecture was 2000 li under the Qing, which was double then under the Ming.
On the other hand, the Qing did not apply collective punishment in this case. Moreover, the Qing legal system left open the possibility of amnesty (she 赦). The place of service was determined by the Ministry of War (bingbu 兵部) for delinquents from the capital, and by the respective provincial governor (xunfu 巡撫) for other cases. In 1772, a special code was promulgated for penal military service, Wujun daoli biao 五軍道里表, in which the exact distances and procedures of exile for each crime were fixed. It became obsolete with the introduction of the new penal code Da-Qing xin xinglü 大清新刑律 in 1908. This code replaced penal military service by "normal" exile.