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Civil Laws and Civil Justice in Early China


Civil laws and civil justice in early China have not received sufficient scholarly attention, because scholars tend to assume that laws in pre-modern China were merely criminal laws promulgated and enforced to maintain public order. This dissertation challenges that view by analyzing excavated evidence and reexamining transmitted evidence.

Chapter One establishes the existence of civil laws in early China by examining non-criminal case reports preserved in the Juyan strips and by assessing the role of district bailiffs in handling civil disputes. Chapter Two further demonstrates the existence of civil laws and reveals the civil justice system by studying domestic statutes and how two cases of inheritance disputes preserved in the Comprehensive Discussion of Customs (Fengsu tongyi, comp. ca. 200) illustrate the application of these statutes. Chapter Three examines two important civil legal concepts: zhi (a straight account of the facts) and mingfen (title and portion) to reveal the underlining notions that uniformly guided the application of the civil laws. Chapter Four, the concluding chapter, goes beyond the boundaries of civil laws to address larger issues, such as the legal ideal of reforming people's morals to reduce lawsuits, the relationship between rituals and laws, and the Classics as a source of legal authority in litigations.

Overall, I conclude that civil laws and civil justice existed in early China; and that this distinctive body of civil laws, while not systematically codified, were substantial, sophisticated, and empire-wide in application and authority.

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