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

( Updated : 2019-01-09


Law interpretation activity (Expository Jurisprudence) in the Qing Dynasty lasted for over a hundred years, the group dedicated to law interpretation was very large, including both the official, governmental officers, and the private, the Legal Advisors without any official position. Among those people, there was two reputable experts, one of whom was Wang Mingde whose major work was the Reading Legal Materials with Xi (Note: the Reading Legal Materials with Xi had eight scrolls in which eight steps of reading legal materials were put forward. The first step was to grasp the main idea, the second to summarize the outline, the third to find the source and reason behind every article, the fourth to compare all the articles critically, the fifth to sentence according to the blood relation, the sixth to explore the subject aspect of a crime, the seventh to form an internal system to comprehend the articles, and the eighth to judge according to the law and without prejudice. It was a book on ways to accurately understand the law and the shortcut to study the law.). The word Xi refers to the awl made from sharp bones to unbutton, therefore the literary meaning of the book, Reading Legal Materials with Xi is that one is able to understand the articles in law with the help of Xi, namely the notes and interpretation, as much as one can release a button with the help of the awl.

The other expert was called Shen Zhiqi, whose law interpretation was the Notes on the Law of Qing Dynasty (Note: the Notes on the Law of Qing Dynasty was a book written by Shen zhiqi to interpret the Law of Qing Dynasty, and was later collated and proofread by modern researchers on law interpretation. The distinct feature of this book was that it not only collected and absorbed research achievement which was regarded as authoritative opinions at that time, but also had his own unique ideas. And this made it a widely read legal masterpiece at that time and in later generations, and also an indispensable works for us to research on laws and interpretations in the Qing Dynasty). Both works by Wang and Shen were highly regarded by the public, even the emperor, because law interpretation could be used to guide judicial work. The question was whether those interpretations could be actually applied to case trials? Some local cases could not be explained by the law, thus some of the views in law interpretations were allowed, though not encouraged, to explain and resolve the case. Sometimes officials of Justice Department debated and argued intensely in the trial of doubtful cases, and they often referred to views of legal scholars to support their arguments. This indicated that the views of the legal scholars who interpreted law entered legislation field, and some were adopted directly by authority in legislation. Therefore, the Expository Jurisprudence in the Qing Dynasty was a discipline of law interpretation, making great achievement in the criminal law, litigation law, and historical law.

Representative works of criminal law in the Qing Dynasty: the Reading Legal Materials with Xi by Wang Mingde, the Notes on the Law of Qing Dynasty by Shen Zhiqi, and the Collections of Laws and Cases of Qing Dynasty by Wan Han.

Representative works of litigation law in the Qing Dynasty: the Collections of Criminal Cases by Zhu Qingqi, the Sequel to the Collections of Criminal Cases by He Xiyan, and the New addition to the Collections of Criminal Cases by Pan Wenfang and Xu Jianquan.

Representative works of historical jurisprudence in the Qing Dynasty: the Records of Laws and Cases of Qing Dynasty by Wu Tan, the Source of Laws and Cases of Qing Dynasty by Wu Kunxiu, the Research and Questions on Laws by Xue Yunsheng, and etc..

The reason why the rulers of the Qing Dynasty promoted law interpretation was to make the officials understand the specific provisions, to comprehend the legislative purposes of the laws and cases of Qing Dynasty, so as to achieve the unified and accurate application of the law. Jurisprudence in the Qing Dynasty can be said to meet such a request of the rulers, and the Expository Jurisprudence in the Qing Dynasty occupies a certain position in Chinese legal culture.

Whether the legal culture was in the Spring-Autumn and Warring States, the Han Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, each has its own feature of the era, which is a brand imprinted by specific era on legal culture, a brand of the times.