Friday, November 9

Reading:  The Laws of Qin

The collapse of the Qin dynasty after only thirteen years seems, on the face of it, one of the great anomalies of history -- after all, the Qin had redrawn China's social, political, and cultural map; how could so powerful a dynasty have been brushed aside with such suddenness and apparent ease within two years of the death of its founder? 

The usual explanation for this puzzle is the tyrannical character of Qin government, particularly its harsh, merciless law code.  In fact, only in recent years have we come to know anything concrete about the law code.  Prior to the 1970s, all our information was in the form of formulaic policy statements in Legalist texts, such as The Book of Lord Shang, a late Warring States or early Han era text attributed to Shang Yang.  But archaeology has now recovered a large group of legal documents from the period of the late pre-conquest Qin state, and we're able better to learn precisely what these laws looked like.  Your reading for today presents you with a collection of the provisions recorded in these legal texts.  For the second portion of class, I would like to address these texts and ask you to consider the four Study Questions that appear at the close of the reading (and below) -- please come to class with these questions in mind, and try to have some responses ready to contribute in class, as we do some close reading.

1. List the general principles that seem to guide the laws concerning theft. How “enlightened” would you say the laws of Qin were with respect to properly assigning criminal responsibility for theft and meting out measured sanctions?

 2. In considering laws that pertain to family relationships, to what degree is the male householder licensed to exercise coercive power over wife, children, and servants?

 3. In the section on bearing witness, how does the Qin code encourage “responsible” reports of legal violations and discourage bearing false witness?

 4. What features of this code conform to your expectations about Qin Legalism, derived from historical accounts, and what features seem surprising?