The Judicial psychology of "Five Hearings in Litigation"(Wu Sheng Ting Yu Song)

( Updated : 2019-01-09

The Earliest Application of Psychology in Judicial Domain

The Criminal Psychology of "Five Hearings in Litigation"(Wu Sheng Ting Yu Song)

Today, we are going to talk about the "Five Hearings in Litigation"(Wu Sheng Ting Yu Song) in ancient books, which can also be called as the application of ancient Chinese judicial psychology. As early as the Western Zhou Dynasty, there was a record in the literature discussing the issue of "Five Hearings in Litigation"(Wu Sheng Ting Yu Song), referred to as Five Hearings (Wu Ting), then what are the Five Hearings? This is a kind of observation in ancient judicial trials—a trial method of observing psychological changes of parties or criminals. The Five Hearings in ancient books refer to Ci Ting (Words Hearing), Se Ting (Expression Hearing), Qi Ting (Breath Hearing), Er Ting (Ear Hearing) and MuTing (Eye Hearing). 【"Five Hearings"(Wu Ting): "First is Ci Ting (Words Hearing), Second is Se Ting (Expression Hearing), Third is Qi Ting (Breath Hearing), Fourth is Er Ting (Ear Hearing) and Fifth is MuTing (Eye Hearing)." This is from Rites of Zhou•Officer of Autumn •Little Si Kou(Zhou Li•Qiu Guan•Xiao Si Kou). [Newly added] According to Zheng Xuan’s explanation in Eastern Han Dynasty, "Ci Ting" (Words Hearing) means "observing his words, and if he is not honest, his words would be incoherent and confusing"; "Se Ting" (Expression Hearing) means "observing his facial expression, and if he is not honest, his expression would be abnormal"; "Qi Ting" (Breath Hearing)means "observing his breath, and if he is not honest, his breath would be heavy and gasping"; "Er Ting" (Ear Hearing) means "observing his hearing ability, and if he is not honest, he would pretend to have difficulty in hearing others"; while "MuTing"(Eye Hearing) means "observing his eyes, and if he is not honest, his eyes would stare blankly and not dare to stare the judge in the eye".】

What do the Five Hearings indicate? In the Eastern Han Dynasty, there was a famous scholar in interpreting laws—Zheng Xuan (Picture), who provided an explanation to the Wu Ting (Five Hearings) to help our understanding. According to his explanation, in Ci Ting (Words Hearing), Ci means words, and this Ci Ting means the judge should pay attention to the words of parties, if a party is not honest, his words would be illogical and incoherent; as to Se Ting (Expression Hearing), it refers to observing the facial expression of parties, if a party has something to hide, he would be abnormal in his facial expression. "Nan Ran" means being very abnormal and unnatural. Then what is Qi Ting (Breath Hearing)? It means if a party is telling lies, his breath would be heavy and gasping, not smooth. Er Ting (Ear Hearing) is to observe the parties, if the accused party tells lies or wants to hide something, he would always claim having difficulty in hearing or understanding others. Another one is Mu Ting (Eye Hearing), meaning if a party is telling lies, his eyes would stare blankly, and certainly he would not dare to stare the judge in the eye. That is to say, no matter what kind of observation, fundamentally they are going deep into psychological changes of the parties. During a trial, the judge is supposed to pay attention to the party’s facial expression and to notice if his earsand eyes are sensitive, if his words are clear and logical, etc. To find contradictions from these perspectives, can be said as the oldest psychological observation in China, and also the earliest application of psychology into judicial practice. The trial method of Five Hearings is summarized in the process of a large number of trials, therefore it’s not the subjective idealism of the judges, but psychological observation developed from the accumulation of trial experiences. Today, we might think such a method of interrogation through examining a man's language and observing his countenance is quite simple, but we need to understand: firstly, compared to the God Trial in Xia and Shang Dynasties, this trial method of observation is obviously a big step forward in judicial area. In addition, at that time, there was almost no evidence technology, and under such historical conditions, the Five Hearings are also a kind of advanced trial method. In fact, even today, there is no lack of application of observing psychological changes in trials, and there is still some application value in this trial method.

The polygraph from western countries (image) is also for observing the psychological changes of the person being tested. Therefore, the application of Five Hearings in Litigation (Wu Sheng Ting Yu Song) as early as more than one thousand years ago, indicates that China’s judicial civilization is advanced, and this trial method of Five Hearings has great impacts in later generations for a long time, nearly through the whole ancient society after Zhou Dynasty. In judicial practice, judges always first observe the parties and apply Five Hearings in trials. Of course, with the progress of judicial civilization, the value of evidence has gradually been taken seriously, and if there is lack of evidence, there is a torture system in ancient China. Therefore, seeing from the records of the Western Zhou Dynasty literature, this Five Hearings method is the summary of practical experience. This method takes the observance of psychological changes of the criminals and parties as a basis for further trial, which was an advanced trial method at that time and should not be denied by subjective idealism, and it has far-reaching influences on later generations.