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Legal systems seem to be so integral part of a civilization, that it seems hard to imagine how else societies, ethics and justice could be organized. Nevertheless, here is a Chinese perspective:
The rule of law has been touted frequently by Western scholars as a central aspect of modernity. According to that measure of periodization, since the rule of law was the basis of the first unification of China in the 2nd century BC, modernity occurred 23 centuries ago in China.

Researchers have pointed out that at the end of the 17th century, while the Chinese empire often appeared in English literature as a metaphor for "tyranny", [it] was also at times praised for its legal code long established on ideals of order, morality, and good government. [Michel] Foucault's analytical approach to history highlights the limitations of European efforts to comprehend China's moral, juridical and legal structures.

The promulgation of a new edition of law, known as the Tang Code of Perpetual Splendor (Tang Yonghui Lu), [in] AD 653, was in reality just an update effort, based on the original Tang Code (Tang Lu), which in turn was based on the Sui Code (Sui Lu), which had initially been compiled 73 years earlier by the late founding Civil Emperor (Wendi) of the preceding Sui Dynasty and updated ever since by every succeeding sovereign. But the Tang Code of Perpetual Splendor is singled out by history, mostly because of its definitive comprehensiveness.

[Western] perception on the alleged underdevelopment of law in Chinese civilization is based on both factual ignorance and cultural bias. Chinese dismissal of the rule of law is not a rejection of modernity, but a rejection of primitiveness. Confucian attitude places 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 [...] A single chapter on Punishment and Law (Xingfa) places last after seven chapters on Rites (Liyi), after which come four chapters on Music (Yinyue), three chapters on 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 comes a single chapter Punishment and Law, in that order.

The Confucian Code of Rites (Liji) is expected to be the controlling document on civilized behavior, not law. In the Confucian world view, rule of law is applied only to those who have fallen beyond the bounds of civilized behavior. Civilized 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 civilized 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 Examples (Mingli)
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 five forms of corporal punishment:
1. Flogging (Chi)
2. Caning (Zhang)
3. Imprisonment (Tu)
4. Exile (Liu)
5. Death (Si)

Leniency is applied to Eight Considerations (Bayi):
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

Only social outcasts are expected to have their actions controlled by law... Interesting.

by das monde on Tue Nov 13th, 2007 at 07:41:37 AM EST

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