The Implementation of Confucian Principles in the Qing Legal System

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The Implementation of Confucian Principles in the Qing Legal System By altering the sentencing practice of the legal system according to Confucian values of filial piety [xiao] and benevolence [ren], the Qing dynasty reinforced Confucian principles in the law. Although using law as a tool of governing is contrary to the teachings in the Analects. Confucius argued that people became evasive and shameless when law was used as a tool for governing, because law would not be able to prevent all illicit actions, and evil-minded people would always be able to evade the law and avoid the punishments. Therefore, Confucianization of the law, which merged the principles of Confucianism and punishments of the law, became the dominant principle in the Qing legal system. From the two cases discussed in this paper, one can see how the Qing dynasty reinforced Confucian principles in the law, specifically, how the classic philosophical ideas of filial piety [xiao] and benevolence [ren] of Confucianism influenced the sentencing practices of the judicial system. In the eyes of Confucians, even though the family was at the center of the society and crimes committed within the family were sentenced according to the mourning relationship, a web of ethical bonds, the benevolence of the judicial officials and the Emperor also had impacts on the level of penalty. In Qing’s family, the roles and responsibilities of each member were defined and fixed by the individual’s status within the family, defined by gender and age, as well as a set of ethical rules based on filial piety. The younger generations were expected to respect their elders, just as women were expected to be obedient to men. Meanwhile, the elders were encouraged to act in an exemplary manner in order to serve as role models for the younger generations. These relationships played a crucial role in the administration of law under the Qing. Penalties were heavier when junior family members committed crimes against senior relatives within the family hierarchy. Contrastively, crimes committed against those outside of the mourning hierarchy were punished less severely. In the case of Woman Xie, Women Xie killed the attempted rapist Lin Guoheng, who was her father-in law by cutting off his penis. Her subordinate position in the mourning relationship meant that the act of her self-defense was less important than the fact that he had killed a senior relative. The precedent case indicated that when a woman resisted rape and killed the offender, who had no mourning relationship to her, she shall not be prosecuted. But now, because the deceased was her father-in-law, meaning she violated the principle of filial piety to senior family members, the recommended sentence became much more severe. Woman Xie was taken into prison and tried for the murder of her father-in-law. The Autumn Assizes Board Officials recommended to the Emperor: “when a daughter-in-law resists a rape attempt by her father-in-law and kills him, if there is no doubt that the situation was urgent and dangerous and that she had to act immediately and firmly to resist, the daughter-in-law should still be recommended to be punished according to the original statute [immediate decapitation].” However, this was a case in which one’s moral integrity and one’s obligations to senior relatives could not be fulfilled simultaneously under any conditions. If Woman Xie had not resisted the rape attempt vehemently and had accepted the intercourse with her father-in-law, she not only would have lost her chastity but also would have committed incest, which was another capital crime in the Qing dynasty. She had to sacrifice one of two things: her chastity or her obligations. On the other hand, the behavior of Lin Guoheng, the father-in-law violated basic human relationships. In this case, the ill-side of human nature seemed to overwhelm Confucian morality. The ethical rule of filial piety in which the elders...
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