Of Arsenic And Old Laws: Looking Anew At Criminal Justice in Late Imperial China

Date Published:

Dec 1, 1984


The Chinese have a long–standing tradition of using history to comment upon contemporary events. This article attempts to advance our understanding of the formal criminal justice process in late imperial China by reconstructing from archival materials and analyzing one of the most celebrated criminal cases in Chinese history — that of Yang Nai–wu and Hsiao–pai–ts'ai. It is a sign of the state of our explorations of the Chinese legal tradition that no Western scholar has ever written about the case, that no Chinese scholar has produced a definitive account of it and its overall significance, and that no scholar, Chinese or foreign, has yet charted in meaningful and explicated detail the full course of any imperial Chinese case that traversed the entire formal criminal justice system from the level of the district magistrate to the highest reaches of the imperial government...In addition, fluid had started to seep into the corpse's eyes and ears, further complicating the autopsy laid out in Hsi-yuan lu, the classic Chinese coroner's manual... In his memorial, Pien Pao-ch'uan did not restrict his criticism to Yang Ch'ang-chun and Hu Jui-Ian...


Last updated on 04/23/2015