Description

True Crimes in Eighteenth-Century China

Twenty Case Histories

Compiled and Translated by Robert E. Hegel

  • Published: March 2009
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies, Law, Literature
  • Bibliographic information: 312 pp., notes, glossary, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: Asian Law Series
  • Contents

The little-examined genre of legal case narratives is represented in this fascinating volume, the first collection translated into English of criminal cases - most involving homicide - from late imperial China. These true stories of crimes of passion, family conflict, neighborhood feuds, gang violence, and sedition are a treasure trove of information about social relations and legal procedure.

Each narrative describes circumstances leading up to a crime and its discovery, the appearance of the crime scene and the body, the apparent cause of death, speculation about motives and premeditation, and whether self-defense was involved. Detailed testimony is included from the accused and from witnesses, family members, and neighbors, as well as summaries and opinions from local magistrates, their coroners, and other officials higher up the chain of judicial review. Officials explain which law in the Qing dynasty legal code was violated, which corresponding punishment was appropriate, and whether the sentence was eligible for reduction.

These records began as reports from magistrates on homicide cases within their jurisdiction that were required by law to be tried first at the county level, then reviewed by judicial officials at the prefectural, provincial, and national levels, with each administrator adding his own observations to the file. Each case was decided finally in Beijing, in the name of the emperor if not by the monarch himself, before sentences could be carried out and the records permanently filed. All of the cases translated here are from the Qing imperial copies, most of which are now housed in the First Historical Archives, Beijing.

Robert E. Hegel is Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature and professor of Chinese, Washington University, St. Louis.

"Contains rich and valuable information that sheds light on a range of legal and social issues. These cases provide unique firsthand illustrations of the everyday struggles of the common people during a period of profound historical change and they illustrate the complex dynamics of the Qing legal system during the late imperial era." - Thomas Buoye, University of Tulsa
Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
Translator's Notes
Introduction

Part I Judicial Procedures
Case 1: Xu Si: A Scuffle over a Debt (Jiangsu, 1792)
Case 2: Li Huaiyu: The Missing Brother (Hunan, 1736)
Case 3: Ms. Guo: Accidental Homicide Concealed (Zhili, 1794)
Case 4: Li Cang: Blackmail and Arsenic (Shanxi, 1803)
Case 5: Cao Ligong: Attempted Rape That Led to Murder (Zhili, 1803)

Part II Interrogation Techniques
Case 6: Du Huailiang: Adultery That Brought Disaster (Shandong, 1696)
Case 7: Rui Meisheng: Manslaughter over an Outhouse (Anhui, 1722)
Case 8: Jia Mingyuan: Accidental Homicide (Fengtian, 1796)

Part III Intent and Premeditated Violence
Case 9: Luo Zhongyi: Kidnapping (Guangdong, 1728)
Case 10: Wang Azhen: Murder for Extortion (Guangdong, 1779)
Part IV The Failure of "Confucian" Family Values 122
Case 11: Li Er and Li San: Two Pecks of Beans (Fengtian, 1738)
Case 12: The Hong Brothers: A Quarrel over Manure (Hunan, 1738)
Case 13: Ms. Wang: Incest and Violent Homicide (Jilin, 1738)
Case 14: Ms. Ma: Disguised Poisoning (Shandong, 1795)
Part V Control of Politically Marginal Groups and Individuals
Case 15: A Village Vendetta and Han Intercession (Guangxi, 1728)
Case 16: Rebellious Religious Sectarians (North China,1791-1814)
Case 17: Ji Yanghua: Secret Society Member (Shanxi, 1814)
Part VI Social Mobility and Crime
Case 18: Jin San: A Spurned Lover (Sichuan, 1728)
Case 19: Luo Fenpeng: A Phony Scholar-Official (Jiangxi, 1763)

Part VII Imperial Intervention
Case 20: Li Yuchang: A Magistrate Murdered for His Integrity (Jiangsu, 1809)

Appendix 1. Banners and Other Social Organizations
Appendix 2. Popular Religious Movements
Appendix 3. Cases Listed by Social Conflict
Chinese Character Glossary
Bibliography of Studies in English
Index
Reviews

"A top-notch book. . . . Hegel has judiciously selected these cases to allow the reader access to 'glimpses of lived experience - both personal and administrative in Qing China. . . . Students will be drawn to its engaging case studies, while scholars of the law will enjoy it for comparative purposes." -Ihor Pidhainy, Canadian Journal of History, vXLVI

"His highly engaging writing style makes this volume easily accessible for non-China specialists interested in Qing law, society, and culture. . . . The book is well suited for classroom use and would appeal to a wide audience." -Lisa Tran, Nan Nu, Vol. 12, 2010

"[T]he material translated . . . consists essentially of initial depositions in the case . . . In this lies their unique value in offering, as does no other source, contemporary accounts of ordinary life . . ." -Geoffrey MacCormack, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 54, 2011

"The book will interest students who will find the tabloid-like content alluring and the Chinese legal issues relevant. . . It will also be valuable for scholars investigating China's criminal justice and administrative systems."-The Historian