China and Inner Asia
This interdisciplinary panel explores the dialogical relationship between law and culture in China between the 16th and 20th centuries. It makes the case that law and justice must be understood through a broader perspective of "legal culture." "Law" was conceptualized not only by legal professionals as codes and the judicial process, but also by a wide cross-section of society through a variety of cultural narratives. Examining literary, moral, legal, and political texts, the four papers consider how law affected popular perceptions of justice, and conversely, how popular discourses, rhetoric, political ideologies, and modern technologies contributed to ideas of law and justice.
Zhao discusses the dramatic tensions between the popular perceptions of morality and the standardized legal praxis on illicit sex in Ming court case stories of the sixteenth century. Qian explores the use of rhetoric in legal decision-making in the Ming to assert deep-seated values that supplemented the formal dictates of the law with moral and emotional considerations. Wang examines the relationship between women and forensic knowledge in late imperial Chinese literature, suggesting that while women's esoteric knowledge was recognized as integral to forensics, their expertise became associated with illicit sexual desire, and hence stigmatized. Peng compares Republican forensic appraisals with detective fiction, arguing that detective stories challenge the exclusive epistemological authority of the experts and envision a new agent of justice in modern China. Jointly, these papers highlight how debates on jurisdiction, identity, and modernity contributed to a rich and evolving legal culture in late imperial and modern China.
Paper Presenter: Mengdie Zhao – Harvard University
Paper Presenter: Tony D. Qian – Seoul National University
Paper Presenter: Guojun Wang – Vanderbilt University
Paper Presenter: Wei Peng – New York University Shanghai