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Tanglü shuyi 唐律疏義, the Tang Code

Aug 22, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Tanglü shuyi 唐律疏義, erroneously written 唐律疏議, is the penal law code of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907), enlarged by commentaries. It is the oldest preserved complete law code in Chinese history. The code has a length of 30 .

At the foundation of the Tang dynasty the so-called Kaihuang Code (Kaihuanglü 開皇律 "Code of the Kaihuang reign") of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) was temporarily adopted, with the name of Wude lü 武德律 "Code of the Wude reign-period", which was issued in 624. In 627 Emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649) ordered Zhangsun Wuji 長孫無忌 (594-659) and Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (579-648) to dicuss an actualization of the code.

In 639 a first proper Tang code was issued, the Zhenguan lü 貞觀律 "Code of the Zhenguan reign-period". In this code some heavy punishments were amended into lighter ones, and the particular paragraphs were rewritten to a clearer structure.

In 651 a modernized version was issued, the so-called Yonghui lü 永徽律 "Code of the Yonghui reign". This code included 500 paragraphs in 12 chapters. The first chapters had mainly definitory character. The basic patterns were explained, and the terms of the five punishments (wuxing 五刑), the ten evils (shi'e 十惡), the eight disputes (bayi 八議), and other jurisdictional terms (zishou 自首, guoshi 過失, leifan 累犯, gongfan 共犯, or shixiao 時效).

In 652 Emperor Gaozong 唐高宗 (r. 649-683) decreed the compilation of commentaries to the Yonghui lü in the style of answers and questions, to explain how to deal with concrete cases. The result was the code Yonghui lüshu 永徽律疏 "The Yonghui Code with comments", which was issued in 653. During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) the code was given the name Gu Tanglü shuyi 古唐律疏義 "The old Tang code with comments", the word "old" was later dropped from the title.

Later Tang emperors added necessary statutes (ling 令), regulations (ge 格) and ordinances (shi 式) not covered by the Yonghui Code. Johnson (1979: 5-6) writes that the "regulations" (ge) served as a means through which new provisions and rulings could be introduced as supplements to the penal law ( 律) and the administrative statutes (ling 令), while the "ordinances" seem to have been administrative rules concerned with limited areas of law, in contrast to the statutes, which were general. Of all these rules only the Yonghui Code and the administrative law book Tang liudian 唐六典 are preserved. The Tang code served as the base for the law codes of all later dynasties who expanded it according to their needs. But in general the Tang code was already quite comprehensive and covered a wide range of penal and administrative cases. It even served as a model for the code of the Japanese rulers at Nara 奈良, the Taihō ritsuryō 大宝律令.

The oldest surviving print from the Song period is stored in the Shanghai Library (Shanghai Tushuguan 上海圖書館). It is only preserved in fragments. Another Song fragment is stored in the Beijing Library (Beijing Tushuguan 北京圖書館). The Pangxi Studio 滂熹堂 of Wuxian 吳縣 produced a print during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). Another Yuan-period print was produced by the Qinyou Studio 勤有堂 of Yu Zhi'an 余志安 in 1351.

An original fragment from the Tang period was unearthed at Dunhuang 敦煌. Various Japanese museums also keep several manuscripts and prints.

In 1983 the Zhonghua Press 中華書局 published a modern edition, based on the edition of the series Hanfenlou congshu 涵芬樓叢書 (see Hanfenlou miji 涵芬樓秘笈). The Shanghai Guji Press 上海古籍出版社 also published a Tanglü version without the comment.

The Tang Code with commentaries was translated by Wallace Johnson (1979), The Tang Code (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Table 1. Contents of the Tanglü shuyi 唐律疏義
1-6 名例 General Principles 57 articles
7-8 衛禁 Imperial Guard and Prohibitions 34 articles
9-11 職制 Administrative Regulations 59 articles
12-14 户婚 Household and Marriage 46 articles
15 厩庫 Public Stables and Granaries 28 articles
16 擅興 Unauthorized Levies 24 articles
17-20 賊盜 Violence and Robbery 54 articles
21-24 鬬訟 Assaults and Accusations 60 articles
25 詐偽 Fraud and Counterfeit 17 articles
26-27 雑律 Miscellaneous Articles 62 articles
28 捕亡 Arrest and Flight 18 articles
29-30 斷獄 Judgment and Prison 34 articles
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