[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 . . .
True Crimes in Eighteenth-Century China: Twenty Case Historiesby Robert E. Hegel
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
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.
University of Washington Press
A top-notch book. . . . Hegel has judiciously selected these cases to allow the reader access to 'glimpses of lived experienceboth 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.
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.
There are rich rewards for someone who reads it looking for evidence about women.
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.
Hegel’s compilation and translations are of great value in challenging existing and still very strong stereotypes and misunderstandings of Chinese legal history….Hegel’s emphasis on the actual writing of these documents and the rhetorical styles employed by magistrates is an important contribution to understanding the relationship between literature, law, and writing in China….[A] critically important primary-source collection to supplement growing scholarship and interest on law and literature in pre-modern China.
What People are Saying About This
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.
Meet the Author
Robert E. Hegel is Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature and professor of Chinese, Washington University, St. Louis.
University of Washington Press
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