Chinese legal culture in the long history on legal culture in ancient China

( Updated : 2019-01-09


After "morality given priority over penalty" was then established as the ideology of legal system construction in the Han Dynasty, it experienced further development in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In that period, a famous code, the Discussions on the Laws of Tang Dynasty (Tang Lv Shu Yi) (Note: the Discussions on the Laws of Tang Dynasty, first named Discussions on the Laws, also called Discussions on the Laws Enacted in the Year of Yong Hui, also an extremely important code revised by well-known officials, such as Zhangsun Wuji, Li Ji and etc., on the basis of the Laws Enacted in the Year of Zhen Guan (Zhen GuanLv), and was also one of earliest statute law in East Asia, was published. It was the codification of criminal laws and its sparse notes in the Tang Dynasty, and was currently the most ancient and the most complete feudal code in China, with 30 volumes, 12 chapters and 500 articles. In addition, it had a significant impact on legislation in ancient Japan, North Korea, Vietnam and other countries whose codes were mostly the imitation of the Laws in the Tang Dynasty (Tang Lv). It was one of the oldest and the best-preserved codes. And in this code, the relationship between morality and law was further enriched. The code proposed that, "in administrating the country, virtue and morality were the basic, while penalty and sanction were auxiliary". This made clear of the relationship between the two as the end and means. Moreover, thinkers and politicians in the Tang Dynasty compared this relationship to that of "Hun Xiao Yang Qiu". “Hun” refers to dusk, “Xiao” refers to dawn, and “Yang Qiu” refers to the changes of four seasons. That is to say the everlasting relationship between morality and punishment was unchangeable and irrevocable as that between the day and night as well as the four seasons, which further indicated that thinkers and politicians in the Tang Dynasty had put so much emphasis on such relationship.

When it came to the Ming(1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties, the last two dynasties in late Chinese feudal society, the Expository Jurisprudence, which then interpreted the major laws enacted by the state, rose as the prevailing legal theory and the legal culture in this period (Note: the Expository Jurisprudence was an important manifestation of legal studies in ancient China, mainly including criminal law and procedural law. In the pre-Qin period, Chinese law was mainly demonstrated in jurisprudence, which was represented by the Legalists who argued the emergence, nature, function, value and influence of law, etc. After entering the Han Dynasty, the Expository Jurisprudence became the main form of ancient law. Therefore, it is against historical practice to say that there is no law in ancient China.). The Expository Jurisprudence was a discipline to interpret the major laws enacted by the state. In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, in order to improve the efficiency of justice, the authority attached great attention to the interpretation of the representative codes, so they encouraged private interpretation, which is to say non-governmental interpretation of the law (Private Interpretations on the Law: During the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the right to interpret law was exclusive to state officials, and private interpreting were strictly prohibited. Until the Western Han Dynasty, private interpretations on existing laws were allowed. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, in order to understand the relationship between laws of various origins and to avoid contradictions between them, and finally to achieve the unified application of laws, private law interpreting became popular. Some renowned families in the Eastern Han Dynasty, such as three generations of Guo of Yingchuan, Chen in Pei, and Wu of Henan, dedicated to studying and interpreting laws from grandfather to grandson and held important official positions with outstanding political achievements). At that time, the principal officials of the Justice Department and other officials all encouraged to interpret laws, so the laws were interpreted by both legislators and judicial staff. In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, apart from the judicial officials who were in charge of the interpretation of law, a group of "Legal Advisors", assistants who helped officials with judicial work, especially criminal affairs, also interpreted law by leveraging their accumulated experience over the years [Note: Legal Advisors (Xing Ming Mu You) was a special group in the Qing Dynasty. They had no official position but certain power in the local institutions and often intervened in the judicial activities, or even manipulated judicial trials with their own legal expertise, hence imposing a profound impact on the judicial activities in the Qing Dynasty.]. Even some literate some people who did not enter officialdom interpreted law. As a result, a large group of scholars were dedicated to interpreting law in the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, especially in the Qing Dynasty when both the official and the private interpreted the law, the Law of Qing Dynasty. Many officials and the Legal Advisors participated in the interpretation, and the legal interpretation lasted for a long time, nearly a hundred years, so different types of interpretation of the law were formed during that time. Some specifically explained a word in the text of the Law, and some explained the basis of the Law. Some were short introductions written in the form of lyrics or words formula, and others were graphic works, while all these facilitated the judiciary to study the law and apply the law. Therefore, legal culture was represented by the Expository Jurisprudence in the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty.