Law and Order in Pre-Modern China

Sophomore and above—Spring

This course will offer a three-part approach to the study of law in pre-modern China, focusing on legal theory, institutions and practices, and the relationship between law and popular culture. The first part of the course will provide an overview of the philosophical basis of law, the state’s development of civil and penal law codes, and its creation of courts and judicial institutions. The second part of the course will look more closely at the implementation of the law code and its application to criminal cases in the medieval period. Here we will study case books and judicial judgments, precedent texts, magistrates’ manuals, forensic guidelines, and journal accounts. Topics that we will examine include: the role and function of local judges, the processes by which penal cases were judged and punishments determined, and the rights and obligations of the various parties in a legal suit. The third part of the course will use religious tracts, folktales, and popular fiction to examine the ways in which the judicial system both influenced and was influenced by popular culture. Topics include the ways in which the court system shaped popular notions of justice and revenge and contributed to increasingly complicated notions of heaven and hell, the intersection of Buddhist notions of karma and Confucian concepts of retribution with the legal system, and the rise of popular fiction centered on the courtroom and the wise judge.