Traditional Chinese law

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Traditional Chinese law refers to the laws, regulations and rules used in China up to 1911, when the last imperial dynasty fell. It has undergone continuous development since at least the 11th century BC. This legal tradition is distinct from the common law and civil law traditions of the West – as well as Islamic law and classical Hindu law – and to a great extent, is contrary to the concepts of contemporary Chinese law. It incorporates elements of both Legalist and Confucian traditions of social order and governance.

China Country in East Asia

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third- or fourth-largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

Qing dynasty Former empire in Eastern Asia, last imperial regime of China

The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing, was the last imperial dynasty of China and Mongolia. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The Qing multi-cultural empire lasted for almost three centuries and formed the territorial base for modern China. It was the fifth largest empire in world history. The dynasty was founded by the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan in Manchuria. In the late sixteenth century, Nurhaci, originally a Ming Jianzhou Guard vassal, began organizing "Banners", military-social units that included Manchu, Han, and Mongol elements. Nurhaci formed the Manchu clans into a unified entity. By 1636, his son Hong Taiji began driving Ming forces out of the Liaodong Peninsula and declared a new dynasty, the Qing.

Common law Law developed by judges

In law, common law is that body of law derived from judicial decisions of courts and similar tribunals. The defining characteristic of “common law” is that it arises as precedent. In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks to past precedential decisions of relevant courts, and synthesizes the principles of those past cases as applicable to the current facts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases, and legislative statutes are either silent or ambiguous on the question, judges have the authority and duty to resolve the issue. The court states an opinion that gives reasons for the decision, and those reasons agglomerate with past decisions as precedent to bind future judges and litigants. Common law, as the body of law made by judges, stands in contrast to and on equal footing with statutes which are adopted through the legislative process, and regulations which are promulgated by the executive branch. Stare decisis, the principle that cases should be decided according to consistent principled rules so that similar facts will yield similar results, lies at the heart of all common law systems.


To Westerners, perhaps the most striking feature of the traditional Chinese criminal procedure is that it was an inquisitorial system where the judge, usually the district magistrate, conducts a public investigation of a crime, rather than an adversarial system where the judge decides between attorneys representing the prosecution and defense. "The Chinese traditionally despised the role of advocate and saw such people as parasites who attempted to profit from the difficulties of others. The magistrate saw himself as someone seeking the truth, not a partisan for either side." [1]

Criminal procedure is the adjudication process of the criminal law. While criminal procedure differs dramatically by jurisdiction, the process generally begins with a formal criminal charge with the person on trial either being free on bail or incarcerated, and results in the conviction or acquittal of the defendant. Criminal procedure can be either in form of inquisitorial or adversarial criminal procedure.

An inquisitorial system is a legal system where the court or a part of the court is actively involved in investigating the facts of the case, as opposed to an adversarial system where the role of the court is primarily that of an impartial referee between the prosecution and the defense. Inquisitorial systems are used primarily in countries with civil legal systems as opposed to common law systems. Countries using common law, including the United States, may use an inquisitorial system for summary hearings in the case of misdemeanors such as minor traffic violations. The distinction between an adversarial and inquisitorial system is theoretically unrelated to the distinction between a civil legal and common law system. Some legal scholars consider inquisitorial misleading, and prefer the word nonadversarial. The function is often vested in the office of the public procurator, as in China, Japan, Germany, and Scotland.

The adversarial system or adversary system is a legal system used in the common law countries where two advocates represent their parties' case or position before an impartial person or group of people, usually a jury or judge, who attempt to determine the truth and pass judgment accordingly. It is in contrast to the inquisitorial system used in some civil law systems where a judge investigates the case.

Two traditional Chinese terms approximate "law" in the modern Western sense. The first, ( ), means primarily "norm" or "model". The second, ( ), is usually rendered as "statute".


Early development

Laws were developed by government officials to regulate ancient Chinese society. The laws of the aristocratic societies of early China put substantial emphasis on maintaining distinct ranks and orders amongst the nobles, in addition to controlling the populace. As a result, (禮), meaning "ritual" ot "etiquette," governed the conduct of the nobles, whilst xíng (刑), the rules of punishment, governed the commoners and slaves.

The early rulers of the Zhou dynasty issued or enforced laws that already exemplified the values of a primogeniture regime, most notable of which is filial piety. The earliest document on the law in China that is generally regarded as authentic is the Kang Gao (康誥), a set of instructions issued by King Wu of Zhou to a younger prince for the government of a fief. The Kang Gao is a chapter of the Book of Documents.

Zhou dynasty Chinese dynasty

The Zhou dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang dynasty and preceded the Qin dynasty. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history. The military control of China by the royal house, surnamed Ji, lasted initially from 1046 until 771 BC for a period known as the Western Zhou and the political sphere of influence it created continued well into Eastern Zhou for another 500 years.

Filial piety Virtue and practice in Chinese classics and Chinese society at large

In Confucian, Chinese Buddhist and Taoist ethics, filial piety is a virtue of respect for one's parents, elders, and ancestors. The Confucian Classic of Filial Piety, thought to be written around the Qin-Han period, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of filial piety. The book, a purported dialogue between Confucius and his student Tseng Tzu, is about how to set up a good society using the principle of filial piety. Filial piety is central to Confucian role ethics.

King Wu of Zhou was the first king of the Zhou dynasty of ancient China. The chronology of his reign is disputed but is generally thought to have begun around 1046 BC and ended three years later in 1043 BC.

During the 6th century BC, several of the independent states into which the Zhou kingdom had fragmented codified their penal laws and inscribed them on bronze cauldrons. For example, at least two codifications from the state of Zheng survive, from 536 BC and 504 BC – the first on cauldrons and the second on bamboo. Additionally, other notable codes include the codes of Wei, drafted by Li Kui. Such codification was part of the process by which rulers attempted to make the central administration of the state more effective. However, they attracted criticism from orthodox statesmen, including Confucius, on the basis that they eroded the distinction between the "noble" and the "base."

Zheng (state) ancient state in China

Zheng was a vassal state in China during the Zhou Dynasty located in the centre of ancient China in modern-day Henan Province on the North China Plain about 75 miles (121 km) east of the royal capital at Luoyang. It was the most powerful of the vassal states at the beginning of the Eastern Zhou, and was the first state to clearly establish a code of law in its late period of 543 BCE. Its ruling house had the surname Ji (姬), making them a branch of the Zhou royal house, who were given the rank of Bo (伯), corresponding roughly to being a Count.

Wei (state) ancient Chinese state during the Warring States period

Wei was one of the seven major states during the Warring States period of ancient China. It was created from the three-way Partition of Jin, together with Han and Zhao. Its territory lay between the states of Qin and Qi and included parts of modern-day Henan, Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong. After its capital was moved from Anyi to Daliang during the reign of King Hui, Wei was also called Liang.

Li Kui (legalist) Chinese philosopher

Li Kui was a Chinese hydraulic engineer, philosopher, and politician. He served as government minister and court advisor to Marquis Wen in the state of Wei. In 407 BC, he wrote the Book of Law, which was the basis for the codified laws of the Qin and Han dynasties.

The Five Punishments dated from this time.

Legalism and Qin

In 221 BC, the state of Qin finally obtained supremacy over its rivals and thus the Qin dynasty was founded. One of the reasons for its success was the adoption, on the advice of Lord Shang Yang, of far-reaching penal and administrative codes in the 4th century BC. The laws imposed severe punishments for failure to comply with duties imposed by the state and on the whole punished all alike. During this stage, law was marked by a purely Legalist spirit, hostile to the moral values advocated by the Confucian school of thought.

Qin (state) Chinese feudal state

Qin was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. Traditionally dated to 897 B.C., it took its origin in a reconquest of western lands previously lost to the Rong; its position at the western edge of Chinese civilization permitted expansion and development that was unavailable to its rivals in the North China Plain. Following extensive "Legalist" reform in the 3rd century BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States and unified China in 221 BC under Qin Shi Huang. The empire it established was short-lived but greatly influential on later Chinese history.

Qin dynasty Dynasty that ruled in China from 221 to 206 BC

The Qin dynasty was the first dynasty of Imperial China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC. Named for its heartland in Qin state, the dynasty was founded by Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of Qin. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the Legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the fourth century BC, during the Warring States period. In the mid and late third century BC, the Qin state carried out a series of swift conquests, first ending the powerless Zhou dynasty, and eventually conquering the other six of the Seven Warring States. Its 15 years was the shortest major dynasty in Chinese history, consisting of only two emperors, but inaugurated an imperial system that lasted from 221 BC, with interruption and adaptation, until 1912 CE.

Shang Yang statesman of the Qin state

Shang Yang, also known as Wei Yang and originally surnamed Gongsun, was a Chinese philosopher and politician. He was a prominent legalist scholar. Born in Wey, Zhou Kingdom, he was a statesman and reformer of the State of Qin during the Warring States period of ancient China. His policies laid the administrative and political foundations that would enable Qin to conquer all of China, uniting the country for the first time and ushering in the Qin dynasty. He and his followers contributed to the Book of Lord Shang, a foundational work of what has modernly been termed Chinese Legalism.

The Legalist school, as represented by such thinkers as Han Fei Zi, insisted that the ruler must always rely on penal law and the imposition of heavy punishments as the main instrument of the government. At the same time, moral considerations and social standing should be rigorously excluded. Another hallmark of Legalist thinking was that equality should be before the law. On the question of legislative technique, the Legalists stressed that the rules enacted by the ruler for punishment of offences should be clear and intelligible to the ordinary people, and they should be properly communicated to the populace.

Multiple corporal punishments were implemented by the Qin, such as death by boiling, chariots, beating, and permanent mutilation in the form of tattooing and castration. [2] [3] [4] People who committed crimes were also sentenced to hard labor for the state. [5]

Legalism survived in a diluted form after the Han dynasty succeeded the Qin. It was recognised that there was a need for complex penal and administrative codes that enabled the emperor to govern the country through a hierarchy of ministers and officials, all ultimately responsible to him. Imperial legal systems all retained the original Legalist insistence that the powers of officials be defined in detail and that punishments be prescribed for transgressions, whether inadvertent or not. Han lawmakers took account of Confucian values and introduced rules designed to implement them.

By 167 BC the law had changed so that castration itself was not used to punish, instead, it became an optional replacement for execution. [6]

Tang Code

This process continued throughout the Han and later dynasties, culminating in the Tang dynasty. Ch'ü T'ung-tsu has shown that the "Confucianisation" of Chinese law was a slow process and that the amalgamation of the Confucian views of society with the law codes was completed only in the great Tang Code of CE 624. The code is regarded as a model of precision and clarity in terms of drafting and structure.

The original Tang Code was promulgated in 624, by the founding Emperor (Gaozu) of the Tang Dynasty. It would become in modern times the earliest fully preserved legal code in the history of Chinese law. It was endowed with a commentary, known as Tanglu Shuyi, incorporated in 653, the fourth year of the reign of Perpetual Splendour, as part of the Tang Code of Perpetual Splendour.

The Tang Code was based on the Code of Northern Zhou (Bei Zhou Lu, 557-581), promulgated 89 years earlier in 564, which was in turn based on the earlier, less comprehensive and less elaborate Code of Cao Wei (Cao Wei Lu, 220-265) and the Code of Western Jin (Xi Jin Lu, 265-317) promulgated almost four centuries earlier in 268.

Confucian attitudes place low reliance on law and punishment for maintaining social order. Evidence of this can be found in the Aspiration (Zhi) section of the 200-volume Old Book on Tang (Jiu Tang Shu), a magnum opus of Tang historiography. The history classic was compiled under official supervision in 945 during the Late Jin Dynasty (Hou Jin, 936-946) of the era of Five Generations (Wudai, 907-960), some three centuries after the actual events. A single chapter on Punishment and Law (Xingfa) is placed last after seven chapters on Rites (Liyi), after which come four chapters on Music (Yinyue), three chapters on the Calendar (Li), two on Astronomy and Astrology (Tianwen), one on Physics (Wuheng), four on Geography (Dili), three on Hierarchy of Office (Zhiguan), one on Carriages and Costume (Yufu), two on Sutras and Books (Jingji), two on Commodities (Chihuo) and finally one single chapter on Punishment and Law, in that order.

The Confucian Code of Rites (Liji), not law, is expected to be the controlling document on civilised behaviour. In the Confucian world view, rule of law is applied only to those who have fallen beyond the bounds of civilised behaviour. Civilised people are expected to observe proper rites. Only social outcasts are expected to have their actions controlled by law. Thus the rule of law is considered a state of barbaric primitiveness, prior to achieving the civilised state of voluntary observation of proper rites. What is legal is not necessarily moral or just.

Under the supervision of Tang Confucian minister Fang Xuanling, 500 sections of ancient laws were compiled into 12 volumes in the Tang Code, titled:

Vol 1: Term and es (Mingle)
Vol 2: Security and Forbiddance (Weijin)
Vol 3: Office and Hierarchy (Zhizhi)
Vol 4: Domestic Matters and Marriage (Huhun)
Vol 5: Stables and Storage (Jiuku)
Vol 6: Impeachment and Promotion (Shanxing)
Vol 7: Thievery and Robbery (Zeidao)
Vol 8: Contest and Litigation (Dousong)
Vol 9: Deceit and Falsehood (Zhawei)
Vol 10: Miscellaneous Regulation (Zalu)
Vol 11: Arrest and Escape (Buwang)
Vol 12: Judgment and Imprisonment (Duanyu)

The Tang Code lists the five forms of corporal punishment for serfs as:

  1. Flogging (Chinese :; pinyin :chī)
  2. Caning (Chinese :; pinyin :zhàng)
  3. Imprisonment (Chinese :; pinyin :)
  4. Exile (Chinese :; pinyin :liú)
  5. Death (Chinese :; pinyin :)

Leniency is applied according to the Eight Deliberations:

  1. Blood relation
  2. Motive for the crime
  3. Virtue of the culprit
  4. Ability of the culprit
  5. Past merits
  6. Nobility status
  7. Friendship
  8. Diligent character

Confucianism in its revised form (Neo-Confucianism) continued to be the state orthodoxy under the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. This ensured that the Confucian foundations of the Tang code were retained, and in some respects they were even strengthened. By the time of the Qing dynasty however, the mass of legislation had increased to such an extent that it was doubtful whether even officials could adequately master the complex distinctions it came to contain.

Varieties of law

Traditional Chinese law can be divided into the "official" law and "unofficial law". The "official law" emanates from the authority of the emperor. The doctrine of separation of powers was unknown in China until the 20th century. In particular, judicial and administrative functions were performed by magistrates rather than by separate persons. The emperor delegated many of his administrative and judicial powers to his officials while reserving for himself the legislative function.

Official law may itself be divided into two main components: penal law and administrative law. The former prescribed punishments for certain behaviour, and the latter defined the duties of the officials.

By contrast, "unofficial" law was the customary law of the people, rules that developed in localities or in merchant guilds for the handling of matters of common concern. Neither of the standard words for law – fa (法) or (律) – was ever applied to rules of this kind.

Of these varieties only penal law has been systematically studied by Western scholars. The complexity of the Chinese administrative system has made it difficult for Western students to acquire a general familiarity with the legal principles that govern it. The study of unofficial law has also been limited due in part to the fact that the data are contained in such a variety of source materials, most extremely difficult to access. The lack of access to source material gave earlier scholars, both Chinese and Western, the mistaken impression that Imperial China did not have a system of civil law.

Penal law

The centrepiece of the penal law is the "code of punishments" issued by each dynasty at its inception. Although fragments of laws survive from the Qin and Han, the first surviving complete code was the Kaihuang Code developed during the Sui dynasty and adopted by later dynasties including the Tang in 653. This code provided the model for all the later traditional penal codes through its definition of the Five Punishments and Ten Abominations. Only the Mongol Yuan dynasty failed to issue a penal code, but the collections of legal materials from that dynasty still show the strong influence of the Tang code.

The penal codes contain only rules that prescribe punishments for specific offences, rules that define generally the allocation of punishment, or those that establish principles of interpretation. Each offence was allocated a specific punishment. The task of the magistrate was to identify the proper name of the offence disclosed by the facts. Determination of the correct punishment automatically followed.

The penal code was seen as indispensable part of government rules, yet punishments were still to be humane. The mutilating punishments that had characterised earlier law were no longer used by the 8th century. The five regular punishments established by the Tang code were, in descending order of severity: death, life exile, penal servitude (forced labour), beating with a heavy stick, or beating with a light stick. They remained the regular punishments until the closing years of the Qing.

The penal codes were divided into a "General Principles" and a "Specific Offences" section. Each dynasty retained the same basic content, though the Ming and Qing codes introduced some variation in the classification of offences. The Tang and Song codes consisted of a number of articles (律), many of which were adopted, sometimes without alteration, by the Ming and Qing codes. Once the articles of the code had been established at the beginning of the dynasty, there was a reluctance on the part of the founding emperor or his successors to change them.

Consequently, to deal with the problem of changing circumstances, the Ming started the practice of adding substatutes (例) to the code. The practice grew extensively under the Qing, with the result that, by the end of the 19th century, the penal code had lost something of its internal coherence and become an unwieldy instrument. Substatutes tended to be more specific and detailed than articles. Explanatory commentaries were added to the penal codes. The most authoritative were those approved by the throne for inclusion in the code. These often themselves contained rules not found in the articles or substatutes. In cases where no ambiguous article or substatute could be invoked, previous decisions by the Board of Punishments might function as "precedents".

Some rules in the penal codes, especially those relating to civil matters, were obsolete or not enforced. Jean Escarra, has suggested that the penal law as a whole was intended to function as a guide to model conduct and not as a set of enforceable rules. Whilst this view has largely been rejected, it is clear that many of the enforced rules on family relationships were retained on account of their symbolic value.

After the Han period, all rules of a code which were not were called ling (ordinances) and ge (rulings), sometimes shi (models), and often zhi (decrees).

Administrative law

Administrative law was well developed in China very early; most of its basic framework being laid by the Zhou Dynasty. In the administrative structure, the emperor was supreme and hence above the law. He could make the law, override existing laws, and upset administrative decisions taken in his name. Yet, although autocratic, the very existence of the complex bureaucratic machinery constituted a check on his arbitrary exercise of power.

On occasion he might modify a capital sentence referred to him by the central judicial agencies for his approval, but he always did so with reference to the facts of the particular case and explained in his edict the reasons for the change he had made. Sometimes he would even accept a remonstrance by his officials that the change was not proper and accept that he had to act in conformity with the existing law.

Civil law

Customary law, dealt with what in the West is termed private law or civil law. In particular, it comprises rules governing matters of contract and property. In contrast with Western systems in which civil law preceded criminal law, in traditional Chinese law, the reverse was true. From the provisions of the penal code, magistrates could either derive principles of civil law either directly, if a matter was in stated in the penal code such as matters regarding such as that regarding debt and usury, dealings with land, the borrowing and pledging of property, and the sale of goods in markets, or indirectly reading into a criminal statute a basis for a private civil suit.

Although the stereotypical view of Chinese magistrates was that they were reluctant to intervene as arbiters in any kind of civil dispute, more recent studies have argued that most of a magistrate's work involved the settlement of civil disputes. In this view, the reluctance of magistrates to take on case work had to do largely with the fact that the Chinese civil administration was small, and that the workload on magistrates was very large. Moreover, scholars in the early 21st century, such as Philip Huang (黃宗智), have argued that the traditional Chinese system of justice was fair, efficient, and frequently used in the settlement of disputes.

Use of property was divided into topsoil ( tianpi ) and subsoil ( tiangu ) rights. Landlords with subsoil rights had a permanent claim to the property if they paid taxes and received official seals from the government, but did not have rights to actively use the land. Instead, those with topsoil rights paid the subsoil landlord a fixed rent (or part of the proceeds of what was produced on the land) for not only the right to farm and live on the land, but the right to independently sell or lease the topsoil rights to another party. So as long as another party held topsoil rights, the party holding subsoil did not have right to actively use the land or evict the topsoil owner. Land, like other forms of property, was seen as being held collectively by the family and not individuals within the family. Another concept in imperial Chinese property rights was dianmai (典賣/典卖), more commonly known as huomai (活賣/活卖), or conditional sales of property [7] that allowed the seller (i.e., his family) to buy back the land at the original price (without interest). The assumption was that land, having been held by a family for generations, should stay with the same family. From the Sui dynasty onwards, women could not hold property directly and, for land to stay in the same family, it had to pass between male heirs following the rule of primogeniture. [8]


Suspects and criminals were arrested by the county police or the posthouse chiefs who were subordinate to the county chief of police. One important principle of traditional Chinese law was that a person could not be convicted of a crime without a confession. Because a confession was required for a conviction and sentence the use of torture was often used to elicit such a confession. A common tool was the bastinado, applied to the buttocks and thighs.

During the Qin and Han, local magistrates were fully authorised to apply the full scale of punishments, including the death penalty.

In principle all criminal cases, whatever their gravity, were heard first in the court of the district in which the facts occurred. The magistrate investigated the facts, determined guilt or innocence, and then proposed the sentence for the offence as prescribed by the code. Whenever a sentence of greater severity than a beating was applicable, it was necessary to forward the case to the next superior court in the hierarchy, that of the prefect, for rehearing. The prefect's decision was final only in cases of penal servitude. Cases of exile or death were automatically reviewed by the provincial governor. All homicide cases and all cases attracting the death sentence were sent to the capital for review by the highest judicial tribunal, the Board of Punishments. No sentence of death could be implemented, except in extreme circumstances, without express approval from the emperor himself.

Moral values and the law

In contrast to the Legalists, the Confucian view of law was always centred on morality. Xun Zi, an early Confucian thinker, saw the necessity for legislation, but emphasised equally the importance of virtue on the part of the legislator and judiciary. There was a conviction that maintenance of the Confucian moral prescriptions through the apparatus of the state was essential for the preservation of a civilised society. Encouragement of the virtue of filial piety helped to strengthen the related duty of respect and submission to imperial authority.

The codes signal their moral orientation by placing right at the beginning of the "General Principles" section a description of the offences known as the "Ten Abominations". These offences were regarded as the most abhorrent. As the official commentary of the Qing code states: "persons guilty of any of the Ten Abominations destroy human bonds (倫), rebel against Heaven (天), go against reason (理), and violate justice (義)."

Where a new piece of legislation was being considered, care would be taken to assess its relationship to the existing law. Laws were made through the Government Officials then shown to the Emperor to get laws changed and made for people to obey.

General characteristics

Equality before law was never officially accepted as a legal principle and as a legal practice. For example, the system of exemption of eight categories or persons from criminal prosecution (ba yi) and the system of exemption from punishment by giving up official positions (guandang) are formally recognised legal device.

Unlike in the West, where secular and religious powers co-existed and fostered a tradition of pluralism, the traditional Chinese legal system, as a tool of the sovereign, has never encountered strong counterparts, and therefore never tolerated the existence of any alien powers and legal rules other than those of the emperor. From a socio-cultural standpoint, in the West, individuals have typically been intrinsically seen as linked to a single religious tradition (that is, a strong division traditionally existed between rival denominations, or between Christianity and Judaism), in Chinese culture, people have been able to simultaneously be adherents of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, or some combination of these.

In contrast to many other peoples, the Chinese never attributed their laws to a divine lawgiver. The same is true for the rule which governed the whole of life, and which therefore might legitimately be called "laws"; no divine origin is found for li (rules of correct behaviour) either.

See also

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The grand chancellor, also translated as counselor-in-chief, chancellor, chief councillor, chief minister, imperial chancellor, lieutenant chancellor and prime minister, was the highest-ranking executive official in the imperial Chinese government. The term was known by many different names throughout Chinese history, and the exact extent of the powers associated with the position fluctuated greatly, even during a particular dynasty.

The Great Qing Legal Code, also known as the Qing Code or, in Hong Kong law, as the Ta Tsing Leu Lee (大清律例), was the legal code of the Qing empire (1644–1912). The code was based on the Ming legal code, the Great Ming Code, which was kept largely intact. Compared to the Ming code which had no more than several hundred statutes and sub-statutes, the Qing code contained 1,907 statutes from over 30 times of revisions between 1644 and 1912. One of the first of these revisions was in 1660, completed by Wei Zhouzuo and Bahana.

The Kaihuang Code was a series of laws formulated in China at the time of Sui dynasty Emperor Wen of Sui. Containing twelve chapters with 500 provisions, the code reconfirmed the legal institutions of the Five Punishments, Eight Deliberations and Ten Abominations. The legal codes of later Chinese dynasties were based on the Kaihuang Code which is of strategic significance in the history of Traditional Chinese law.

Huang–Lao or Huanglao was the most influential Chinese school of thought in the early 2nd-century BCE Han dynasty, having its origins in a broader political-philosophical drive looking for solutions to strengthen the feudal order as depicted in Zhou propaganda. Not systematically explained by historiographer Sima Qian, it is generally interpreted as a school of syncretism, developing into a major religion - the beginnings of religious Taoism.

New Text Confucianism is a school of thought in Confucianism that was based on Confucian classics recompiled in the early Han dynasty by Confucians who survived the burning of books and burying of scholars during the Qin dynasty. The survivors wrote the classics in the contemporary characters of their time, and these texts were later dubbed as "New Text". New Text school attained prominence in the Western Han dynasty and became the official interpretation for Confucianism, which was adopted as the official ideology by Emperor Wu of Han. Represented by Confucians such as Dong Zhongshu, this school advocated a holistic interpretation of Confucian classics and viewed Confucius as a charismatic, visionary prophet, a sage who deserved the Mandate of Heaven but did not attain kingship due to circumstances. The school competed with Old Text Confucianism in the later Han dynasty and its dominance waned as the latter became the new orthodoxy. The school fell into obscurity during the chaotic period after the fall of the Han dynasty and remained so until late Ming dynasty in the 17th century.

The nine familial exterminations or nine kinship exterminations was the most serious punishment for a capital offense in Ancient China. A collective punishment typically associated with offenses such as treason, the punishment involved the execution of all relatives of an individual, which were categorized into nine groups. Nine exterminations were often done by slow slicing. The occurrence of this punishment was somewhat rare, with relatively few sentences recorded throughout history. There were also variants of the punishment found in ancient Korea and Vietnam.

County magistrate Public office in imperial China

County magistrate sometimes called local magistrate, in imperial China was the official in charge of the xian, or county, the lowest level of central government. The magistrate was the official who had face-to-face relations with the people and administered all aspects of government on behalf of the emperor. Because he was expected to rule in a disciplined but caring way and because the people were expected to obey, the county magistrate was informally known as the Fumu Guan, the "Father and Mother" or "parental" official.


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Further reading

Early Chinese law