True Crimes in Eighteenth-Century China: Twenty Case Histories

Paperback | March 5, 2009

byRobert E. Hegel

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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.

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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...

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

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:312 pages, 8.98 × 5.97 × 0.75 inPublished:March 5, 2009Publisher:University Of Washington PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0295989076

ISBN - 13:9780295989075

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Table of Contents

Preface and AcknowledgmentsTranslator's NotesIntroduction

Part I Judicial ProceduresCase 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 TechniquesCase 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 ViolenceCase 9: Luo Zhongyi: Kidnapping (Guangdong, 1728)Case 10: Wang Azhen: Murder for Extortion (Guangdong, 1779)Part IV The Failure of "Confucian" Family Values 122Case 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 IndividualsCase 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 CrimeCase 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 OrganizationsAppendix 2. Popular Religious MovementsAppendix 3. Cases Listed by Social ConflictChinese Character GlossaryBibliography of Studies in EnglishIndex

Editorial Reviews

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.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