[Footnote: Dr. D. J. Macgowan, in Medical Reports of China. 1881.]

Two writers in Nature, both having for their theme "Skin-furrows on the Hand," solicit information on the subject from China.[1] As the subject is considered to have a bearing on medical jurisprudence and ethnology as well, this report is a suitable vehicle for responding to the demand.

[Footnote 1: Henry Faulds, Tzukiyi Hospital, Tokio, Japan. W. J. Herschel, Oxford, England.--Nature, 28th October and 25th November, 1880.]

Dr. Faulds' observations on the finger-tips of the Japanese have an ethnic bearing and relate to the subject of heredity. Mr. Herschel considers the subject as an agent of Government, he having charge for twenty years of registration offices in India, where he employed finger marks as sign manuals, the object being to prevent personation and repudiation. Doolittle, in his "Social Life of the Chinese," describes the custom. I cannot now refer to native works where the practice of employing digital rugae as a sign manual is alluded to. I doubt if its employment in the courts is of ancient date. Well-informed natives think that it came into vogue subsequent to the Han period; if so, it is in Egypt that earliest evidence of the practice is to be found. Just as the Chinese courts now require criminals to sign confessions by impressing thereto the whorls of their thumb-tips--the right thumb in the case of women, the left in the case of men--so the ancient Egyptians, it is represented, required confessions to be sealed with their thumbnails--most likely the tip of the digit, as in China. Great importance is attached in the courts to this digital form of signature, "finger form." Without a confession no criminal can be legally executed, and the confession to be valid must be attested by the thumb-print of the prisoner.

No direct coercion is employed to secure this; a contumacious culprit may, however, be tortured until he performs the act which is a prerequisite to his execution. Digital signatures are sometimes required in the army to prevent personation; the general in command at Wenchow enforces it on all his troops. A document thus attested can no more be forged or repudiated than a photograph--not so easily, for while the period of half a lifetime effects great changes in the physiognomy, the rugae of the fingers present the same appearance from the cradle to the grave; time writes no wrinkles there. In the army everywhere, when the description of a person is written down, the relative number of volutes and coniferous finger-tips is noted. It is called taking the "whelk striae," the fusiform being called "rice baskets," and the volutes "peck measures." A person unable to write, the form of signature which defies personation or repudiation is required in certain domestic cases, as in the sale of children or women.

Often when a child is sold the parents affix their finger marks to the bill of sale; when a husband puts away his wife, giving her a bill of divorce, he marks the document with his entire palm; and when a wife is sold, the purchaser requires the seller to stamp the paper with hands and feet, the four organs duly smeared with ink. Professional fortune tellers in China take into account almost the entire system of the person whose future they attempt to forecast, and of course they include palmistry, but the rugae of the finger-ends do not receive much attention. Amateur fortune-tellers, however, discourse as glibly on them as phrenologists do of "bumps"--it is so easy. In children the relative number of volute and conical striae indicate their future. "If there are nine volutes," says a proverb, "to one conical, the boy will attain distinction without toil."

Regarded from an ethnological point of view, I can discover merely that the rugae of Chinamen's fingers differ from Europeans', but there is so little uniformity observable that they form no basis for distinction, and while the striae may be noteworthy points in certain medico-legal questions, heredity is not one of them.