An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Da-Qing lüli 大清律例, the Qing Code

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Da-Qing lüli 大清律例 "Laws and precedents of the Great Qing", Manchu title Daicing gurun i fafun i bithe kooli, is the law code of the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911). After the conquest of the Ming empire 明 (1368-1644), the new rulers of the Qing for a few years still made use of the old Ming law code, the Da-Ming lü 大明律. But already in 1646 a new Qing code was issued with the lengthy title of Da-Qing lü jijie fu li 大清律集解附例 "Laws of the Great Qing with collected commentaries and appended precedents". Ten years later a Manchu version was published. In 1689 recent cases were added, and in 1738 again new precedents were incorporated in the code. In 1740 the code was renamed Da-Qing lüli, or short, Da-Qing lü 大清律 "The Qing Code". The last actualization of the code was undertaken in 1910.

The Qing code has a length of 40 juan. The core of the code were laws ( 律) that often followed examples of older codexes like that of the Ming or even the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) code Tanglü shuyi 唐律疏義. The head chapter (shoupian 首篇) serves to define punishments, delicts, sentences and criteria for judgments, like intentional or non-intentional crimes, official and private cases, first crimes or having previous records.

Table 1. Names and general rules (Ming lilü 名例律)
The Five Punishments (wuxing 五刑)
笞刑 strokes with the light bamboo, in degrees of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50
杖刑 strokes with the heavy bamboo, in degrees of 60,70 80, 90, 100
徒刑 penal servitude, in degrees of 1 year (+60 strokes with the heavy bamboo), 1.5 years (70), 2 (80), 2.5 (90), 3 (100)
流刑 exile, in degrees of 2.000 li (+ 100 strokes with the heavy bamboo), 2.500 (100), and 3.000 (100)
死刑 death penalty, either strangulation (jiao 絞), or beheading (zhan 斬)
The ten abominations (shi'e 十惡)
謀反 plotting rebellion, i.e. injuring the altars of earth and grain, or the dynasty
謀大逆 plotting high treason, i.e. injuring the ancestral temples, or the emperor
謀叛 plotting treason, i.e. defection to the enemy
惡逆 gross unfilialness, i.e. patricide
不道 acting not in accordance with the Way, i.e. multiple murder, dismembering or mutilating someone
大不敬 great lack of respect, i.e. stealing sacred objects, conterfeiting of imperial seals, or otherwise harm the emperor
不孝 lack of filial piety, i.e. bringing a suit against, cursing, or not supporting parents or grand-parents
不睦 discord, plotting the killing or selling of distant relatives, or bringing suits against close relatives
不義 failure to fulfill one' duty, i.e. killing of local officials or superiors
內亂 internal disorder, i.e. incest
The eight [categories of persons whose cases are to be especially] considered (bayi 八議)
議親 relatives [of the emperor of the degree of mourning called danmian 袒免 and above]
議故 old [servants of the emperor]
議功 persons of great merit
議賢 persons of great virtue
議能 high officials of great ability
議勤 high officials who are industrious in official business
議貴 persons of high rank (first degree of hereditary nobility, third rank and above of officials on active duty, second rank and above of officials without assignments)
議賓 persons regarded as guests (i.e. descendants of former dynasties)
Quotation 1. Names and general rules (Ming lilü 名例律)
4.應議者犯罪 The commission of offences by those [who are entitled to have their cases especially] considered
凡八議者犯罪(開具所犯事情)實封奏聞取旨,不許擅自勾問。若奉旨推問者,開具所犯(罪名)及應議之狀先奏請議議定,(將議過緣由)奏聞,取自上裁。 In all cases where members of the eight [categories of persons who are entitled to have their cases especially] considered, commit offences (prepare [a memorial] setting out the circumstances of the offence), send it sealed to the Emperor and await the rescript in reply. It is not permitted to decide to bring [the alleged offender] in for interrogation without authority. If a rescript is received directing that the interrogation be carried out, set out the offence that was committed (the name of the offence), and the nature of the circumstances that require consideration, in a memorial requesting [that the matter be] considered. First memorialize requesting consideration. When the consideration is concluded, (then the bases for the offence that was considered) are to be set forth in a report [to the Emperor]. The final decision in the case will be received from the Emperor.
其犯十惡者(實封奏聞依律議擬) 。不用此律(惡或專主謀反叛逆,言非也。蓋十惡之人,悖倫逆天,蔑理賊義,乃王法所必誅,故特表之以嚴其禁)。 If one of [the persons entitled to have his case especially considered] commits one of the Ten Abominations, (memorialize the facts of the matter to the Emperor under seal and consider and propose a provisional sentence in accordance with the law). This article in not used. (As for the Ten Abominations, some assert that it is only plotting treason, rebellion, or high treason that are meant, but this is not the case. A person who commits one of the Ten Abominations violates the five human relationships and offends against Heaven. He despises reason and violates duty. Now [these offences are] something that must be destroyed by the law of the Empire. Therefore, they are especially provided for in order strictly to prohibit them.)
Jones 1994: 38.

Following the Ming code, all laws are arranged under the ministry under which jurisdiction each law case had to be judged. Below the six ministerial categories, laws are arranged in 30 different topics, like offices, households, land, marriages, granaries, taxes, markets, offerings and sacrifices, military cases, pastures, passes and fords, postal stations, robbery and banditry, bribery, violence, slandery etc., resulting in 436 articles (tiao 條) in total.

Behind the law and the commentary text follow precedents (li 例), i.e. actual law cases, including the emperor's decision how to judge the case or to solve a problem. This decision had the paradigmatic character of a precedent was had to be adhered to in similar law cases. Unlike laws, precedents could be altered in the course of time and according to circumstances.

A judge, in most cases a district governor or a prefectural magistrate, had always to follow the newest precedents. The importance of precedents in daily business of the Qing law courts was thus far greater than that of the actual laws, and in many cases precedents might be contradictory to laws that had been issued a hundred years before.

Quotation 2. Laws relating to the Ministry of Revenue – Households and Services (Hulü huyi 戶律•戶役)
75 脫漏戶口 Omission of households or members of a household
凡一(家曰)戶全不附籍,(若)有(田應出)賦役者,家長杖一百,(若係)無(田不應出)賦役者,杖八十,(准)附籍(有賦照賦無賦照丁)當差。 In the case of every household (that is to say, family) which is completely unregistered, (if) there is (land which must contribute to) land taxes and services (i.e. corvée labour), the head of the household will receive 100 strokes of the heavy bamboo. (If there is) no land tax (the land is not subject to tax) and there is no liability for services, he will receive 80 strokes of the heavy bamboo. (It is permitted) that the registration be accomplished. (If there is a land tax, then the tax will be paid accordingly. If none,) then services will be performed (according to [the number of] adult males [between 16 and 60 sui]).
Jones 1994: 103.
Table 2. Contents of the Da-Qing lüli 大清律例
1 律目 Index of laws
2 諸圖 Charts
3 服制 Official robes
4-5 名例律 Terminology of precedents and laws
6 吏律職制 Ministry of Personnel: Structure of state offices
7 吏律公式 Ministry of Personnel: Formulas
8 戶律戶役 Ministry of Revenue: Households and corvée service
9 戶律田宅 Ministry of Revenue: Real estate
10 戶律婚姻 Ministry of Revenue: Marriage
11-12 戶律倉庫 Ministry of Revenue: Granaries
13 戶律課程 Ministry of Revenue: Tax assessment
14 戶律錢債 Ministry of Revenue: Money and debts
15 戶律市廛 Ministry of Revenue: Markets and booths
16 禮律祭祀 Ministry of Rites: State offerings
17 禮律儀制 Ministry of Rites: Structure of etiquette
18 兵律宮衛 Ministry of War: Garrisons and command posts
19 兵律軍政 Ministry of War: Military administration
20 兵律關津 Ministry of War: Passes and fords
21 兵律廐牧 Ministry of War: Stables and pastures
22 兵律郵驛 Ministry of War: Courier service
23-25 刑律賊盜 Ministry of Justice: Bandits and robbers
26 刑律人命 Ministry of Justice: Murder
27-28 刑律鬬毆 Ministry of Justice: Brawls
29 刑律罵詈 Ministry of Justice: Scold
30 刑律訴訟 Ministry of Justice: Lawsuits
31 刑律受贓 Ministry of Justice: Corruption
32 刑律詐偽 Ministry of Justice: Deception
33 刑律犯姦 Ministry of Justice: Treason
34 刑律雜犯 Ministry of Justice: Miscellaneous offences
35 刑律捕亡 Ministry of Justice: Arrestation of escaped prisoners
36-37 刑律斷獄 Ministry of Justice: Verdicts
38 工律營造 Ministry of Works: Construction
39 工律河防 Ministry of Works: Water conservation
40-46 總類 Universal regulations
47 比引律條 Comparative use of laws
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