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Sunday, November 15, 2015

[Dissertation] Writing Chinese Laws: The Form and Function of Statutes in Qin Legal Culture

Author:
Caldwell, Perry Ernest

School:
The University of Chicago

Advisor:
Edward L. Shaughnessy

Department:
East Asian Languages and Civilizations

Year:
2014

Abstract:

The legal institutions of the short-lived Qin dynasty (221 BCE-207 BCE) have been vilified by history as harsh and draconian. Yet ironically, many Qin institutional features, such as written statutory law, were readily adopted by subsequent dynasties as the primary means for maintaining administrative and social control. How did the influential Qin legal institutions based on written law develop? This dissertation will utilize both traditional received texts and archeologically excavated legal materials in an attempt to ascertain first, what socio-political conditions provided the rationale for the production of law in written form in the kingdom of Qin; and second to consider how the intended function of written law influenced the linguistic composition of legal statutes, as well as their physical construction.

From amidst the endemic warfare of the aptly named Warring States Period (481-221 BCE) one kingdom, the Qin, rose to successfully consolidate its authority over the other kingdoms through military conquest. In so doing, it established the first imperial dynasty of China administered by a centralized, impersonal bureaucratic government. The success of this consolidation depended upon the effective implementation of government policies, whose origins predate the unification of 221 BCE, that were to replace the increasingly defunct systems of aristocratic political order based primarily on the reciprocal obligations defined through lineage affiliation. Over time, such lineage affiliations weakened, and resulted in the rise of powerful ministerial families capable of directly challenging the authority of the ruler and sometimes leading to rulers being deposed or even assassinated. The new order envisioned by the Qin would be headed by a central government represented in and connected to the periphery through an impersonal bureaucracy of officials with legally defined jurisdictions. 

The establishment of various socio-political institutions of the Qin, such as universal standards for all regions (e.g., axle widths, weights, written script), were also vital to the effort of creating a level of institutional homogeneity and administrative predictability within geographic boundaries formerly governed by disparate institutions. This grand- scale restructuring over such a large territory required a high level of social and administrative control. This was secured through a legal framework in which bureaucratic and social existence came to be defined and judged according to written legal statutes.


Yet how did writing come to be used for the purpose of composing and transmitting law? And how were laws composed so as to maximize their efficacy in attaining the desired goals of the legislative drafters? This dissertation seeks to answer these two questions by applying a function and form approach to the study of excavated legal manuscripts from Qin. To understand the function ascribed to law by the Qin, I draw upon theories from Law and Society literature to illustrate the ways in which social and political changes influence legal changes, and also how responsive legal reforms can be directed to elicit targeted social or political change. The received philosophical literature and traditional Chinese histories recording the socio-political milieu of Qin provide evidence with which we can reconstruct certain elements of these socio-legal processes. The addition of enewf sources of Qin law in the form of archeologically excavated legal manuscripts over the past seventy years allows us to further refine such reconstructions. 

With a clearer understanding of the role of law in Qin culture, I then turn my attention to the form of written laws by applying legal-linguistic methods to a codicological and linguistic analysis of a corpus of legal documents from the tomb of a county-level Qin official discovered by archeologists in the 1975. Such an approach allows me to demonstrate how the envisioned function of legal statutes directly influenced the linguistic composition and physical production of such legal texts. In this way, this dissertation elucidates the role of writing in the conceptualization and composition of written law in Qin.


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