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Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian 睡虎地秦墓竹簡, the Qin-Period Bamboo Texts of Yunmeng

Feb 1, 2020 © Ulrich Theobald

The bamboo texts found in the village of Shuihudi 睡虎地 close to Yunmeng 雲夢 (therefore also known as Yunmeng Qinjian 雲夢秦簡), Hubei, were discovered in one of 12 tombs (no. 11) dated from the late Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) to the Qin period 秦 (221-206 BCE). They consist of 1,155 complete and 80 fragmentary slips of bamboo inscribed with texts of different type.

The texts were found inside the inner coffin (guan 棺) of the tomb owner, whose name was Xi 喜, and who held high positions under the Qin dynasty, namely scribe (yushi 御史), then clerk (lingshi 令史) of Anlu 安陸, then of Yan 鄢, and finally prison officer (yuli 獄吏).

The slips belonged to ten different texts, the titles of four of which (Yushu 語書, Xiaolü 效律, Fengzhenshi 封診式, and Rishu 日書 version B) were written on the slips. The others are usually called according to their content.

Table 1. The Texts of the Qin-Period Bamboo Texts of Shuihudi 睡虎地/Yunmeng 雲夢
編年記 Biannian ji Chronicle
語書 (南郡守騰文書) Yushu (Nanshou shou Teng wenshu) Letter of Governor Teng of Nanjun
秦律十八種 Qinlü shiba zhong Eighteen kinds of Qin statutes
田律 Tian lü Statutes on agriculture
廄苑律 Jiuyuan lü Statutes on stables and parks
倉律 Cang lü Statutes on granaries
金布律 Jinbu lü Statutes on currencies
關市[律] Guanshi [] Statutes on passes and markets
工律 Gong lü Statutes on artisans
工人程[律] Gongren cheng [] Statutes on norms for artisans
均工[律] Jungong [] Statutes on equalizing artisans
徭律 Yao lü Statutes on statute labour
司空[律] Sikong [] Statutes concerning the Overseer of Works
軍爵律 Junjue lü Statutes concerning aristocratic rank bestowed for military action
置吏律 Zhili lü Statutes concerning the appointment of officials
效[律] Xiao [] Statutes concerning checks and controls
傳食律 Chuanshi lü Statutes concerning rations for holders of passports
行書[律] Xingshu [] Statutes concerning the forwarding of documents
內史雜[律] Neishi za[] Miscellaneous statutes concerning the Minister of Finance
尉雜[律] Wei za[] Miscellaneous statutes concerning the commandant
屬邦[律] Shubang [] Statutes concerning the dependent states
效律 Xiaolü Statutes concerning checking
秦律雜抄 Qinlü zachao Miscellaneous excerpts from Qin statutes
除吏律 Chuli lü Statute concerning dismissed officials
游士律 Youshi lü Statute concerning itinerant functionaries
除弟子律 Chu dizi lü Statue concerning dismissed retainers
中勞律 Zhonglao lü Statute concerning mid-level (?) service
藏律 Cang lü Statute concerning storing
公車司馬獵律 Gongche sima lie lü Statute concerning the hunting of the commander of public carriages
牛羊課 Niuyang ke [Statute] concerning the tribute from husbandry
傅律 Fu lü Statute concerning registration
敦表律 Dunbiao lü Statute concerning the performance of duties in garrisons
捕盗律 Budao lü Statute concerning the arrest of bandits
戍律 Shu lü Statute concerning garrison service
法律答問 Falü wenda Answers to questions concerning standards and statutes
封診式 (治獄程式) Fengzhen shi (Zhiyu chengshi) Models for sealing and investigating
爲吏之道 Wei li zhi dao How to be a good officer
日書 (甲種, 乙種) Rishu Jia, Yi Daily prognostications A and B

The text Biannianji 編年記 is a kind of chronicle covering the years 306 (first nominal year of King Zhaoxiang 秦昭襄王, r. 307-251) to 217 (reign of the First Emperor Qin Shihuang 秦始皇, r. 246-210). While the first part of the chronicle mains described the warfare of Qin against the other regional states, the part covering the reign of the First Emperor describes the personal affairs of Xi and his family.

The texts Yushu and Wei li zhi dao belong to the type of "admonitions to officials" (guanzhen 官箴). The first one reproduces orders sent by a certain Teng 騰, governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Nanjun to district magistrates and "husbanders" or bailiffs (dao sefu 道嗇夫), and reflects the conflict between civilian and military administration under the early years of the empire. The latter is indeed a text including suggestions to local administrators, and explains ways to tell apart "good functionaries" (liangli 良吏) from bad ones (eli 惡吏). The text includes two statutes, one on households (Hu lü 戶律), and one on the duty of military service (Benming lü 奔命律). It shows the influence of Confucian thinking.

The two Rishu "Daybooks" are divination manuals, with some parts containing diagrams.

All other texts deal with judicial matters. The most important of them are the "eighteen laws of the Qin" (Qinlü shiba zhong 秦律十八種) which include regulations for a wide range of affairs, from the organisation of agricultural work to the feeding of government-owned horses, storage of grain, public order, organization of corvée, money, markets, artisans, military, appointment of officials, annual revisions of local governance, to the forwarding of messages and contact between central and local government.

Quotation 1. From the chapter on statute labour (corvée) (Yaolü 徭律)
御中發徵,乏弗行,貲二甲。失期三日到五日,誶;六日到旬,貲一盾;過旬,貲一甲。 When a levy is raised for the Court, to be remiss and not to carry it out is fined two suits of armour; to miss the term by three to five days [results] in a reprimand; from six days to a decade the fine is one shield; beyond a decade the fine is one suit of armour.
其得殹(=也),及詣。水雨,除興。 When [the men] have been obtained, [the levy] quickly proceeds; if it rains, the levy is cancelled.
興徒以為邑中之紅(=功)者,令𥿍(=嫴)堵卒歲。未卒堵壞,司空將紅(=功)及君子主堵者有罪。 When levying conscripts for work inside a settlement, order is given to guarantee the earth walls for a full year. In case the walls collapse before [the year] is over, the Controller of Works who had directed the work, as well as the Master in charge of the wall [building] will have committed a crime.
令其徒復垣之,勿計為䌛(=徭)。 The conscripts concerned will be ordered to build it again: [this work] must not be accounted as statute labour.
Text from Hulsewé 1985a: 63. Image from Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian zhengli xiaozu 1990.

The collection Xiaolü mainly deals with the process of evaluation of efficiency and checking the financial and physical inventory of local governments, including weapons and the analysis of weights and measures. A set of articles called Xiao is also part of the Eighteen Statues, but the Xiaolü section is covering the whole range of checking and controlling and might have had the status of a separate code.

Of the laws quoted in the except text (Qinlü zachao), the titles are not provided. They touch matters of appointment and dismissal, the restriction of the use of "itinerant functionaries" recruited in an ad-hoc modus, the public use of sons and younger brothers of functionaries, the acquisition of military merits related to ranks of honour (see Ershideng jue 二十等爵), arsenals and granaries, penalties for officers who were dismissed because of hunting, the registering of state-owned herds, household registration for the recruitment of troops (fuji zhidu 傅籍制度), military service and rewards, as well as service in garrisons.

The collection Fengzhenshi consists of 25 paragraphs, the first two of which (Zhiyu治獄 and Xunyu 訊獄) deal with the organisation of prisons. The others, consisting of precedent cases, deal with investigations, interviewing and constating guilt.

The find of the Shuihudi law text added substantial information the knowledge about Qin-period law. While historiography holds that the Qin law consisted of four different types of laws, namely xxx 律、令、制、詔, the Yunmeng texts also includes the types of "questions and answers" (wenda 答問), xxx (shi 式), and precedent cases (li 例).

The question-and-answer type can be seen as a supplement to formal laws (), yet with full jurisdictional rights. In later ages, this type transformed into "commentaries" (lüshu 律疏). The shi type fixes procedures of investigation. The fields covered by the Qin legal texts ranges from penal law to administration, economy, policy, and civilian law suits. Even if the penal law knew nearly 200 different types of crimes, the suppression of banditry seems to have been the focus of local judicial administration. There was a clear distinction between intention and accidental crime, the offense of persuading other to do crimes, multiple crime, collective punishment for gangs, and mitigation of punishment for those surrendering to the police.

It can be seen that around 200 BCE, the comprehension of "law" was much deeper than two hundred years earlier, as in the codes Fajing 法經 of Li Kui 李悝 (455-395 BCE) and the (supposed) Qin Code Qinlü 秦律 of Shang Yang 商鞅 (390-338 BCE).

Excerpts of the legal texts were first published by Ji Xun 季勛 (1976), "Yunmeng Shuihudi Qinjian gaishu 雲夢睡虎地秦簡概述", Wenwu 文物, 1975 (5). The issues 6-8 in Wenwu presented all texts apart from the two Rishu parts. The complete texts were published in 1978 by the Wenwu Press 文物出版社 with the title Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian 睡虎地秦墓竹簡. This publication presents photographs of each slip, transcriptions of the texts, annotations, a translation into modern Chinese, and an index. A downscaled version, including all texts plus additional texts found in other Shuihudi tombs was published in 1981 with the title Yunmeng Shuihudi Qinmu 雲夢睡虎地秦墓.

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