Papers on the History of Law

Friday
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room 3

  • Roger Greatrex, “Trafficking in the Fifteenth Century—The Case of Mancang’er”
  • Lara Colangelo, “The Law of the Twelve Tables in China: From the Earliest Descriptions in Late 19th Century Sources to the First Studies on This Legal Code”
  • Ruiping Ye, “A Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics: Legacies from History”
  • Gil Hizi, “’Self-Improvement’ and the Construction of ‘Civilised’ Cities in Contemporary China”

Roger Greatrex, “Trafficking in the Fifteenth Century—The Case of Mancang’er”

The latter half of the fifteenth century saw simultaneously a judicial system in worsening disarray as a result of unclear and often conflicting legislation, and a steady rise in criminality in the capital and the provinces. At the same time, there occurred with ever-increasing frequency and intensity abuses of the judicial system carried out by the officials from the Eastern Depot (Dongchang 東廠), among others. The trafficking of young women to the capital to serve as prostitutes in the city’s brothels was endemic and was repeatedly condemned in memorials. This paper concerns the case of a young woman named Mancang’er 滿倉兒 whose ordeal reached its conclusion in 1496. The case is remarkable for the twists and turns that occurred in it, including the abduction of Mancang’er from a brothel by her mother and brother, the death of the brothel owner as a result of judicial torture, and the intervention of the Eunuch Director of the Eastern Depot in the case, among other unexpected events. What is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the case is that a clerical employee in the Ministry of Justice acted in the way that we today should call being a ‘whistle-blower,’ by revealing the illegal irregularities being perpetrated by officials. The case of Mancang’er raises a number of important legal questions that the paper addresses, foremost of which is the trafficked victim’s right to decide her own future once freed from sexual slavery.

Lara Colangelo, “The Law of the Twelve Tables in China: From the Earliest Descriptions in Late 19th Century Sources to the First Studies on This Legal Code”

Promulgated in the 5th century B.C. and destroyed when the Gauls sacked Rome (387 B.C.), the Law of the Twelve Tables has been for centuries the primary source of Roman Law and since the Humanistic era, Western jurists have constantly attempted to reconstruct the original text. In recent years Chinese academia began to show increasing interest toward this code, which during the 20th century has undergone several translations into Chinese. Although few, yet significant, studies on the history of the reception of the Twelve Tables in China have already been carried out, many aspects of this process still need to be further investigated, especially with regard to how and when information about the Twelve Tables started to circulate in China. In order to shed some light on the initial phase of the introduction of the Romanist legal tradition in China, this paper aims at providing a specific illustration of how written mentions of the Twelve Tables appeared already at the end of the 19th century, decades earlier than what it is generally stated in the studies on this topic. Special attention will be given to some of the earliest descriptions of the Twelve Tables which can be found in late Qing Chinese sources and which seem to be still unknown or too little studied. Moreover, by comparing these documents with more recent ones, this paper is also intended to analyse the evolution of the studies on this legal code in China during the first half of the 20th century.

Ruiping Ye, “A Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics: Legacies from History”

In 1949, the Communist Party of China founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and swiftly abolished all laws of the previous regimes. The Constitution Act 1982 of the PRC declares the PRC to be a “socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship,” and the ruling party resolved to “build a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” in 2014.
This paper looks to history to find out what “Chinese characteristics” may mean. The paper examines the guiding principles of law, the constitutional arrangements and some aspects of the law of the PRC in comparison with historical arrangements in the same areas. Many principles and practices have roots in tradition: the principles of yifa zhiguo (ruling the country according to the law) and yide zhiguo (ruling the country by virtue), the internal checks and balances of different branches of the government and the local governments, the insistence on centralised control, the functions of law enforcement bodies, the regulation of public servants, the system of household registration and restriction on freedom of movement, and the intervention in family affairs for the purpose of the state economy.
This paper argues that the socialist legal system with “Chinese characteristics” is a continuation of the traditional Chinese legal system and culture, with modifications according to contemporary circumstances.

Gil Hizi, “’Self-Improvement’ and the Construction of ‘Civilised’ Cities in Contemporary China”

This paper discusses the relationship between market reforms in China, the Chinese state’s developmentalist ideologies, and privatised projects of self-development carried out by Chinese citizens. Based on an ethnography of workshops for “soft” skills in Jinan and the discourses accentuated by their participants, I consider how person-centred “self-improvement” relates to state-driven urban transformations, namely changes within the project of constructing a “civilized city.” While practitioners of self-improvement perform distinction from state institutions and rarely employ politically charged terms such as “population quality” (renkou suzhi) or “civility” (wenming) to describe their practices, the values that guide self-improvement nonetheless resonate with holistic-moral social transformation presented in state discourses and imagery. Furthermore, practitioners, while at times cynical toward state policies, express optimism about their futures once state-driven breakthroughs seem to appear, such as their city’s 2017 “National Civilized City” award. The analysis presented in this paper ultimately highlights an ideology of self-improvement that overlaps, rather than retreats, from visions of structural and social changes in China. This paper also identifies self-making in China as an endeavour that extends beyond skill acquisition to the cultivation of expansive aesthetic and ecological sensibilities.

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Room 3
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