Writing and Law in Late Imperial China

9780295996004: Hardback
Release Date: 16th July 2015

9780295989136: Paperback
Release Date: 17th February 2009

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 352

Series Asian Law Series

University of Washington Press

Writing and Law in Late Imperial China

Crime, Conflict, and Judgment

Hardback / £74.00
Paperback / £23.99

In this fascinating, multidisciplinary volume, scholars of Chinese history, law, literature, and religions explore the intersections of legal practice with writing in many different social contexts. They consider the overlapping concerns of legal culture and the arts of crafting persuasive texts in a range of documents including crime reports, legislation, novels, prayers, and law suits. Their focus is the late Ming and Qing periods (c. 1550-1911); their documents range from plaints filed at the local level by commoners, through various texts produced by the well-to-do, to the legal opinions penned by China's emperors.

Writing and Law in Late Imperial China explores works of crime-case fiction, judicial handbooks for magistrates and legal secretaries, popular attitudes toward clergy and merchants as reflected in legal plaints, and the belief in a parallel, otherworldly judicial system that supports earthly justice.

Abbreviations and Terminology
Introduction: Writing and the Law / Robert E. Hegel

Part One | Rhetoric and Persuasion
1. Making a Case: Characterizing the Filial Son / Maram Epstein
2. Explaining the Shrew: Narratives of Spousal Violence and the Critique of Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Criminal Cases / Janet Theiss
3. Between Oral and Written Cultures: Buddhist Monks in Qing Legal Plaints / Yasuhiko Karasawa
4. The Art of Persuasian in Literature and Law / Robert E. Hegel

Part Two | Legal Discourse and the Power of the State
5. Filial Felons: Leniency and Legal Reasoning in Qing China / Thomas Buoye
6. The Discourse on Insolvency and Negligence in Eighteenth-Century China / Pengsheng Chiu
7. Poverty Tales and Statutory Politics in Mid-Qing Fraud Cases / Mark McNicholas
8. Indictment Rituals and the Judicial Continuum in Late Imperial China / Paul R. Katz

Part Three | Literature and Legal Procedure
9. Reading Court Cases from the Song and the Ming: Fact and Fiction, Law and Literature / James St. Andre
10. Beyond Bao: Moral Ambiguity and the Law in Late Imperial Chinese Narrative Literature / Daniel M. Youd
11. Genre and Justice in Late Qing China: Wu Woyao's Strange Case of Nine Murders and Its Antecedents / Katherine Carlitz

Part Four | Retrospective
12. Interpretive Communities: Legal Meaning in Qing Law / Jonathan Ocko


Robert E. Hegel is Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. Katherine Carlitz is adjunct professor of Chinese literature at the University of Pittsburgh. Other contributors include Thomas Buoye, Pengsheng Chiu, Maram Epstein, Yasuhio Karasawa, Paul R. Katz, Mark McNicholas, Jonathan Ocko, James St. André, Janet Theiss, and Daniel Youd.

Writing and Law in Late Imperial China makes an important contribution to Chinese legal history. Apart from the original research on which many of the essays are based, its turn to literary methodologies in the study of law yields not only new information about late imperial law in China, but new kinds of knowledge about it.

Teemu Ruskola, American University

[F]resh ways . . . to apprehend both legal writing and the ways in which such writing resonated with both popular cultural conceptions and the ideologically driven imperatives of the state. . . . Scholars using legal writing in their own research need to read this book.

Bradly W. Reed
China Review International

By treating law as literature, several essays bring methods of literary analysis to bear on legal materials and open up new questions for the study of law in China. By demonstrating the importance of narrativity and rhetoric in legal case records, these scholars do not dwell on how just or unjust was the system, but instead move the focus to how different historical actors adopted narrative strategies to pursue what were often divergent interests.

The Historian

I recommend this book in the strongest of terms. It makes an exceptionally important contribution both to the study of law and to the study of literature and their intimate and inextricable relations in late imperial China.

Chinese Literature

Writing and Law in Late Imperial China is a very substantial addition to the revived and now flourishing discourse on law, culture and society in late-imperial China. It cleverly extends our knowledge . . . . [and] points the way for future language and law research on imperial China.

China Quarterly

Will prove valuable and stimulating to the field of Chinese legal studies.

Journal of Asian Studies

The worth of the topic and its coverage here can hardly be over-stated. We are increasingly appreciating the Chinese interest—- literary as well as personally relevant—- in the law over the millennia. Indeed, Chinese fascination seems to transcend that in the West, because for many Chinese, disputes and their litigation begun during life might continue in the hereafter, not toward a remote Judgment Day, but toward concrete justice in an underworld tribunal.

Journal of Asian History