Law and Community in Early Imperial China: Historiographical Rhetoric and Social Practice
1: The Harmonization of Li 禮 and Fa 法 under the Han: Ritual, Myth, and Historiography
Saturday, March 26, 2022
6:00pm – 7:30pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316B
Saint Louis University, United States
Recent scholarship on the documents excavated from Shuihudi and Zhangjiashan has shown the extent to which the transition from the “Legalist” Qin (221 – 206 BCE) to the “Confucian” Han (206 BCE - 220 CE) emphasized in the Standard Histories did not correspond to legal practice. This new evidence in fact helps explain the relationship between the state and its subjects under the two dynasties more in terms of continuity than abrupt change. As for the process Chü T’ung-tsu had dubbed “the Confucianization of Law,” studies on Han private jurisdiction attest to an increasing emphasis on motivations and recourse to “Confucian” moral vocabulary.
This paper, departing from the “canonical” definition of punishments of the “Xingfa zhi” in the Hanshu, documents the rhetorical creation of the Qin/Han dichotomy through an analysis of the historiographical treatment of the relationship between the natural and political orders. By focusing on materials from Mawangdui, the seldom studied “Li Shu” in the Shiji, and its criticism of Emperor Han Wudi’s (r. 141- 87 BCE) cult of astrological/military deities, it reconstructs a fundamental shift in the way the judicial prerogatives of central power were advertised. Whereas a ruler such as Wu envisioned his function as the active embodiment of the creative and punitive power of cosmic forces, his successors would be described as accepting the more passive role of ethical paragons, while partially yielding to the moral and political authority of local aristocratic lineages.