Different versions of the book exist, but the earliest existing version was published during the Yuan Dynasty, containing fifty-three chapters in five volumes. The first volume describes the imperial decree issued by Song Dynasty on the inspection of bodies and injuries. The second volume contains notes and methods on post-mortem examinations. The third, fourth, and fifth volumes detail the appearances of corpses from various causes of death and methods of treatments to certain injuries.
In the book, Song Ci said:
“A forensic medical doctor must be serious, conscientious, and highly responsible, and must also personally examine each dead body or that of a wounded person. The particulars of each case must be recorded in the doctor’s own handwriting. No one else is allow to write his autopsy report. A coroner must not avoid performing an autopsy because he detests the stench of corpses. A coroner must refrain from sitting comfortably behind a curtain of incense that mask the stench, let his subordinates do the autopsy unsupervised, or allow a petty official to write his autopsy report, leaving all the inaccuracies unchecked and uncorrected.”
He also said:
“Should there be any inaccuracy in an autopsy report, injustice would remain with the deceased as well as the living. A wrongful death sentence without justice may claim one or more additional lives, which would in turn result in , prolonging the tragedy. In order to avoid any miscarriage of justice, the coroner must immediately examine the case personally.”
Importance to the history of forensic entomology
In ''The Washing Away of Wrongs'', the first documented forensic entomology case is reported. In 1235 A.D., a stabbing occurred in a Chinese village. After further questioning, the investigator had all villagers bring their sickles and lay them out before the crowd. were attracted to a single sickle because of invisible remnants of blood and tissue still adhered to it. The owner of the alleged sickle later broke down and confessed the crime. In other areas of the text, the author demonstrates knowledge of blow fly activity on bodies relative to those orifices infested, the time of infestation, and the effect of trauma on attractiveness of tissue to such insects.
Brian McKnight describes the murder case involving the sickle as thus:
A local peasant from a Chinese village was found murdered, hacked to death by a hand sickle. The use of a sickle, a tool used by peasants to cut the rice at harvest time, suggested that another local peasant worker had committed the murder. The local magistrate began the investigation by calling all the local peasants who could be suspects into the village square. Each was to carry their hand sickles to the town square with them. Once assembled, the magistrate ordered the ten-or-so suspects to place their hand sickles on the ground in front of them and then step back a few yards. The afternoon sun was warm and as the villagers, suspects, and magistrates waited, bright shiny metallic green flies began to buzz around them in the village square. The shiny metallic colored flies then began to focus in on one of the hand sickles lying on the ground. Within just a few minutes many had landed on the hand sickle and were crawling over it with interest. None of the other hand sickles had attracted any of these pretty flies. The owner of the tool became very nervous, and it was only a few more moments before all those in the village knew who the murderer was. With head hung in shame and pleading for mercy, the magistrate led the murderer away. The witnesses of the murder were the brightly metallic colored flies known as the blow flies which had been attracted to the remaining bits of soft tissue, blood, bone and hair which had stuck to the hand sickle after the murder was committed. The knowledge of the village magistrate as to a specific insect group's behavior regarding their attraction to dead human tissue was the key to solving this violent act and justice was served in ancient China.
*In 1855 Dr. Harland published the ''Records of Washing away of Injuries'' in Hong Kong
* In 1924 sinologist H.A. Giles published ''The Hsi Yuan Lu, or Instructions to Coroners''.
* In 1981 D. Brian E. McKnight published ''The Washing Away of Wrongs: Forensic Medicine in Thirteenth-Century China''.