Skip to main content

Compensation of Injuries and Homicide in Ming and Qing Law

  • Frédéric Constant

Assessment and awarding of compensation to victims of injury and loss are among the main duties performed by courts in many different legal systems. In Western law, it constitutes a central purpose of tort law, which in itself is one of the fundamental branches of law. Did Chinese law have a specific approach to the question of compensation, which singularizes it from other legal systems? From the points of view both of statute law and judicial practice, my primary concern is to investigate whether compensation was granted to victims of injury or death under the Ming and Qing laws.

Corresponding author
Hide All

His primary research interests are in Chinese law and comparative legal history, with emphasis on interactions between Chinese law and legal institutions and those of other Asian countries. He is currently focusing on ancient Chinese jurisprudence. He is the author of Le droit chinois (2013).

Hide All

1. Hall, Jerome, “Interrelations of Criminal Law and Torts: I,” Columbia Law Review 43 (1943): 753–79; and Interrelations of Criminal Law and Torts: II,” Columbia Law Review 43–7 (1943): 9671001 .

2. Malone, Wex S., “The Genesis of Wrongful Death,” Stanford Law Review 17 (1965): 1043–76.

3. Shihong, Xu 徐世虹, “Zhangjiashan Ernian lüling jian zhong de sunhai peichang zhi guiding 張家山二年律令簡中的損害賠償之規定”, [Regulations about Compensation for Damage as Seen in the Slips of Bamboo of the Legal Texts from Zhangjiashan Tomb] Huaxue 華學 6 (2003): 135–46.

4. Ernian lüling 二年律令 [Laws and Ordinances of the Second Year], slips 6–8, in Zhangjiashan Han mu zhujian [Ersiqi hao mu] 張家山漢墓竹簡[二四七號墓] [Slips of Bamboo on the Legal Texts from Zhangjiashan Tomb No. 247], ed. Zhangjiashan ersiqi hao Han mu zhujian zhengli xiaozu 張家山二四七 號漢墓竹簡整理小組 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2001), 134. For a translation of the statute into English, see Barbieri-Low, Anthony J. and Yates, Robin D.S., Law, State and Society in Early Imperial China: a Study with Critical Edition and translation of the Legal Texts from Zhangjiashan Tomb no. 247 (Leiden: Boston, Brill, 2015), 392–93.

5. The numbering of statutes in the Tang code follows Wallace, Johnson, The T'ang Code. I–II. General principles, Specific Articles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979–1997). Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 276, 513.

6. See, for example, the Tang code, art. 327 and 328, Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 364–66. The exemption was not absolute and depended on the nature of the relationship between the killer and the victim. The more dissymmetric the relationship between the assailant and the victim, the lesser the punishment served by the superior. Thus, killing a younger brother by beating was punished by 3 years of penal servitude whereas beating to death a younger relative of the fifth, fourth, or third degrees of mourning was subject to the death penalty.

7. Art. 307. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 333.

8. Zhenhong, Tian 田振洪, Zhongguo chuantong falü de sunhai peichang zhidu yanjiu 中國傳統法律的損害賠償制度研究 [Research on the Compensation for Damage in Chinese Traditional Law] (Beijing: Falü chubanshe, 2014), 139–46.

9. Art. 306., The T'ang Code II, 331. For a presentation of the concept of “intentional homicide” in Chinese law, see Meijer, Marinus Johan, “The Concept of ‘Ku-sha’ in the Ch'ing Code,” in Il diritto in Cina: teoria e applicazioni durante le dinastie imperiali e problematica del diritto cinese contemporaneo, ed. Lanciotti, Lionello (Firenze: L.S. Olschki, 1978), 85114 .

10. Art. 256. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 252.

11. Art. 306. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 331.

12. Art. 336. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 378.

13. Art. 338. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 382.

14. Art. 339. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 383.

15. Ordinance on the administration of prisons (yuguan ling 獄官令). See Noboru, Niida 仁井田陞, Tōrei shūi 唐令拾遺 [Remnants of Tang Statutes] (Tōkyō: Tōhō bunka gakuin Tōkyō kenkyūjo, 1933), 792 .

16. Art. 289. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 303 and art. 244. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 235.

17. Art. 207. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 193.

18. Art. 263. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 266.

19. Art. 392. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 459.

20. Art. 423. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 486.

21. Art. 483. Wallace, The T'ang Code II, 553.

22. Art. 11. Wallace, The T'ang Code I, 93.

23. Art. 30. Wallace, The T'ang Code I, 169.

24. The first five statutes of the Tang code, which describe the five legal punishments, all indicate the amount of copper to be paid for redemption.

25. Birge, Bettine, “Law of the Liao, Jin, and Yuan, and its Impact on the Chinese Legal Tradition,” in Zhongguo shi xinlun-falüshi fence 中國史新論—法律史分冊 [New Perspectives on Chinese History—Legal History], ed. Liyan, Liu 柳立言 (Taibei: Lianjing chuban gongsi, 2008): 443503 .

26. Lian, Song 宋濂, Yuan shi 元史 [History of the Yuan] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1976), juan 12, 248.

27. Yuan shi, juan 105, 2674.

28. Ibid.

29. On this term, see Aubin, Françoise, “Some Characteristics of Penal Legislation among the Mongols (13th–21st centuries),” in Central Asian Law: An Historical Overview: A Festschrift for the Ninetieth Birthday of Herbert Franke, ed. Johnson, Wallace and Popova, Irina A. (Topeka: The University of Kansas, 2004), 133 .

30. Yuan shi, juan 105, 2678.

31. Several judgments attest to the implementation of that rule. See Yuan dianzhang 元典章 [Institutes of the Yuan Dynasty], juan 43 (dasi jianfu bu zheng mai yin 打死姦夫不徵埋銀), in Da Yuan shengzheng guochao dianzhang 大元聖政國朝典章 [Institutes on the Imperial Government of the Great Yuan] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1996), 1631 .

32. Yuan dianzhang, juan 43 (sharen changming reng zheng shaomaiyin 殺人償命仍徵燒埋銀), in Da Yuan shengzheng guochao dianzhang, 1623.

33. The origin of this provision remains questionable. In the Yuan legislation, the offender had to pay a fixed amount of money, generally 10 or 20 ingots, and there is no mention of compensation paid depending on the offender's property.

34. The numbering of statutes in the Ming Code follows Jiang Yonglin's translation, The Great Ming Code: Da Ming lü (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005).

35. Xue Yunsheng 薛允升, Du li cun yi 讀例存疑 [Remaining Doubts While Perusing the Substatutes], in Du li cun yi, 5 vols, ed. Jingjia, Huang 黃靜嘉 (Taipei: Chengwen chubanshe, 1970) (hereafter DLCY), juan 37, art. 318-4, 4:945.

36. DLCY, juan 36, art. 317-1, 4:931.

37. In addition to Xue Yunsheng's commentary under the statute, see also Tan, Wu 吳壇, Da Qing lüli tongkao 大清律例通考 [A General Examination of the Great Qing Code], in Da Qing lüli tongkao jiaozhu 大清律例通考校注, ed. Jianshi, Ma 馬建石 and Yang Yutang 楊育棠 (Beijing: Zhongguo zhengfa daxue chubanshe, 1992), 849 .

38. Art. 148. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 99.

39. Two statutes of the Great Ming Code stipulate obligation to give property to the victim: Killing Three Persons from One Household (art. 310. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 171) and Extracting Vitality by Dismembering Living Persons (art. 311. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 172).

40. Killing Others by Making or Keeping Gu Poison (art. 312. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 172).

41. DLCY, juan 33, art. 287-8, 4:820.

42. DLCY, juan 33, art. 287-1, 4:815–16.

43. Art. 359. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 195.

44. Shen Zhiqi 沈之奇, Da Qing lü ji zhu 大清律輯註 (hereafter DQLJZ) [Collected Commentaries on the Great Qing Code], 22/14a. On Xue Yunsheng's view on this statute, see Yunsheng, Xue 薛允升, Tang Ming lü hebian 唐明律合編 [A Joint Edition of the Tang and Ming Codes], juan 18, in Tang Ming lü hebian, ed. Xiaofeng, Huai 懷效鋒 and Min, Li 李鳴 (Beijing: Falü Chubanshe, 1999) (hereafter TMLHB), 644.

45. Yonglin, Jiang, The Mandate of Heaven and the Great Ming Code (Seattle; London: University of Washington press, 2011), 132–41.

46. Da Ming ling 大明令 [The Great Ming Ordinances], in Da Ming lü 大明律 [The Great Ming Code], ed. Xiaofeng, Huai 懷效鋒 (Beijing: Falü chubanshe, 1999), 265 . See also Zhang Lu 張鹵 (comp.), Huang Ming zhishu 皇明制書 [Imperial Edits of the August Ming], 1/47.

47. Shūzō, Shiga, “A basic History of T'ang Legislative Forms,” Asia Major, Third series, Vol.5 part 2 (1992): 110 .

48. TMLHB, juan 18, 491. See also Zhangjian, Huang 黃彰健, Mingdai lüli huibian 明代律例彙編 [A Compilation of The Ming Statutes and Substatutes] (Taibei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, 1979), 812–13.

49. The work quoted is the jijie 集解, attributed by Xue Yunsheng to Yang Jian 楊簡. This work does not exist anymore and its actual content is unknown. Mention of this work can also be found in  the version of the Da Ming lüli fujie 大明律例附解 [The Great Ming Code with Explanations] edited by Chen Sheng 陳省 (postface of 1567).

50. Xue Yunsheng made a similar but less concise statement. Xue Yunsheng, TMLHB, 490.

51. Zhu Qingqi 祝慶祺, Xing'an huilan 刑案匯覽 [A Conspectus of Judicial Cases] (1834) (hereafter XAHL), 31/37a-b.

52. XAHL, 31/39b–41b.

53. XAHL, 31/37b–38a.

54. Bourgon, Jérôme, “‘Sauver la vie'. De la fraude judiciaire en Chine à la fin de l'empire,” Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 133 (2000): 3239 .

55. For example, see Gang Yi 剛毅 (comp.) and Shen Jinxiang 沈晉祥 (postface), Qiuyan jiyao 秋讞輯要 [Essentials on the Autumn Assizes], (1889), 1/18a-b.

56. Art. 18. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 28–29.

57. Substatute no. 292-1 of the Qing code (1740).

58. Art. 319. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 175.

59. Art. 321. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 176.

60. Art. 322. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 176.

61. Art. 437. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 237.

62. Art. 318. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 175.

63. Wang Kentang 王肯堂, Da Ming lü fuli jianshi 大明律附例箋釋 [An Explication of the Great Ming Code with Attached Substatutes], 19/32a.

64. DQLJZ, 19/33b.

65. DLCY, juan 33, art. 289–2, vol. 4, 829.

66. TMLHB, juan 18, 499.

67. Wang Kentang, 19/36b.

68. On this issue, see Guanghui, Zhang 張光輝, “Mingdai de ‘lüshu 明代的’律贖’” [“Redemption According to Statutes” During the Ming Period], Asia yŏn'gu 5 (2009): 269–94.

69. Such a rule was recorded in the Legal treatise of the History of Ming. An edict enacted in 1391 prohibited the benefice of the redemption when the crime was one of the Ten Sacrileges (shi'e 十惡) or homicide. Tingyu, Zhang 張廷玉, Mingshi 明史 [History of the Ming] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974), juan 94, 2309.

70. DQLJZ, juan 1/tu zhu hou 圖註後/10.

71. Art. 315. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 174. This obligation had already been required under law since the beginning of the Ming dynasty. In his Explanation of the Code Discussing Doubtful Points (lüjie bianyi 律解辯疑), He Guang 何廣 confirms this point, even if the version of the code he relied on (probably that of 1374) was not as explicit. Yifan, Yang 楊一凡 and Tao, Tian, 田濤 ed., Zhongguo zhenxi falü dianji xubian 中國珍稀法律典籍續編 [Continuation to the Collection of Rare Works of Chinese Law] (Harbin: Heilongjiang renmin chubanshe, 2002), 4:205.

72. Art. 255. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 145.

73. Art. 319. Jiang, The Great Ming Code, 175.

74. Art. 263, Johnson, 266 and art. 423, Johnson, 486.

75. DLCY, juan 22, art. 222, 3:496.

76. DLCY, juan 44, art. 379-5, 5:1108 or juan 33, art. 289-2, 4 :829.

77. TMLHB, 498.

78. Yao Run 姚潤, Da Qing lüli xing'an zuan jicheng 大清律例刑案新纂集成 [A New Compilation of the Great Qing Code and Penal Cases], 25/111bis-b.

79. Shen Zhiqi confirms this interpretation. DQLJZ, 19/27b–28a.

80. DLCY, juan 34, art. 292-2, 4:850.

81. Yao, juan 2, after the guoshi shashang shoushu tu 過失殺傷收贖圖.

82. Dai Jin 戴金, Huang Ming tiaofa shilei zuan 皇明條法事類纂 [Edition of Regulations and Classified Cases of the August Ming], juan 1, in Zhongguo zhenxi falü dianji jicheng 中國珍稀法律典籍集成 [Collection of Rare Works of Chinese Law], 2nd series, vol. 4, ed. Yifan, Yang 楊一凡 and Liu Hainian 劉海年 (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1994), 9 .

83. The conversion was indicated in an ordinance codified in the Wanli edition of the Itemized Regulations for Pronouncing Judgments. See Huang, Mingdai lüli huibian, 813.

84. The rule was reintroduced into the Qing legislation not before an edict enacted in 1671. Formerly, likely under the influence of Manchu law, the perpetrator of a homicide by negligence was flogged 100 times and had to compensate for the person killed with one of his own dependents. See Dingli quan bian 定例全編 [Complete Edition of the Established Regulations], 34/37b.

85. XAHL, 31/38b–39b.

86. Qin, Zheng 鄭秦, Zhongguo fazhishi 中國法制史 [Chinese Legal History] (Beijing: Zhongguo zhengfa daxue chubanshe, 1999), 9096 .

87. DLCY, juan 4, art. 24-2, 2:98.

88. Collection of the imperially rescripted palace memorials (held in First Historical Archives), document no. 04-01-01-0258-047 (January 15, 1763).

89. For example, a report (bing 稟) confirmed that, according to local headmen, the criminal Ni Wenyu 倪文玉 was too poor to pay compensation, his wife was a beggar, and he did not have any clan to support him. Archives of Shuntian Prefecture (held in First Historical Archives), document no. 28-4-197-047.

90. Shuntianfu quanzong 順天府全宗 [Archives of Shuntian Prefecture] (hereafter STFQZ), 28-4-191-96.

91. STFQZ, 28-4-190-92.

92. STFQZ, 28-4-193-065 (bond of confirmation).

93. For example, STFQZ, 28-4-201-154 or 28-4-197-107.

94. Buoye, Thomas. Manslaughter, Markets, and Moral Economy: Violent Disputes Over Property Rights in Eighteenth-Century China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

95. For example, STFQZ, 28-4-197-043 and 28-4-197-080.

96. STFQZ, 28-04-187-066–28-04-187-099.

97. First Historical Archives, document no. 02-01-07-09624-013.

98. Zengxiang, Fan 樊增祥, Fanshan pipan 樊山批判 [Answers and Judgements of Fan Zengxiang], in Lidai panli pandu 歷代判例判牘 [Historical Collection of Judgments and Judicial Documents], vol. 11, ed. Yifan, Yang 楊一凡 and Xu Lizhi 徐立志  (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2005), 454 .

99. Zengxiang, Fan 樊增祥 (ed. Jiahong, Sun 孫家紅), Fanshan zhengshu 樊山政書,孫家紅 [Administrative Writings of Fan Zengxiang] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2007), 4142 .

100. Shūzō, Shiga 滋賀秀三, Shindai chūgoku no hō to saiban 清代中国の法と裁判 [Law and Judgment in China During the Qing Dynasty] (Tōkyō: Sōbunsha, 1984), 263304 .

101. TMLHB, juan 18, 499.

102. Wang Kentang, 19/36a, 555.

103. Shen Zhiqi, 19/36a.

104. Chŏng Yag-yong丁若鏞, Hŭmhŭm sinsŏ 欽欽新書, [The New Book on Benevolence] 2/10b–11b. Chŏng Yag-yong (1762–1836) was a prominent Korean scholar who authored a very insightful treaty describing Chinese law.

105. Zhang Kentang 張肯堂, Xunci 㽦辭 [Plowing Words], in Lidai panli pandu, 4:406–7 (Xin Sanqiu case).

106. MacCormack, Geoffrey, “Cause, Status and Fault in the Traditional Chinese Law of Homicide,” in Critical Studies in Ancient Law, Comparative Law and Legal History, ed. Cairns, John W. and Robinson, Olivia F. (Oxford, Portland OR: Hart, 2004): 173–82. The author discusses this kind of labiality when a perpetrator does not directly cause a homicide in criminal cases.

107. Su Maoxiang 蘇茂相, Da Ming lüli Linmin baojing 大明律例臨民寶鏡 [The Precious Mirror for Attending to the People, Based on the Great Ming Code], in Lidai panli pandu, 4 :174.

108. Ibid., 175.

109. Zhang, Xunci, 415.

110. Qi Biaojia 祁彪佳, Puyang yandu 莆陽讞牘 [Judgments in Putian], in Lidai panli pandu, 5:84.

111. Su, Da Ming lüli Linmin baojing, 172.

112. Kentang, Xunci, 435.

113. Mao Yilu  毛一鷺, Yunjian yanlüe 雲間讞略 [A Brief Account of Judgments in Songjiang], in Lidai panli pandu, 3:412.

114. Su, Da Ming lüli Linmin baojing, 175.

115. Shilin, Xu 徐士林, Xu Yufeng zhongcheng kanyu 徐雨峰中丞勘語 [Investigations by Vice Censor-in-Chief Xu Shilin], in Ming Qing fazhi shiliao jikan 明清法制史料輯刊 [Collection of Legal Documents of the Ming and Qing Dynasties], first series, comp., Guojia tushuguan chubanshe yingyin shi 國家圖書館出版社影印室 (Beijing: Guojia tushuguan chubanshe, 2008), 11:337–43.

116. Fan, Fanshan pipan, 170–1; 210–1.

117. STFQZ, 28-4-185-051.

118. STFQZ, 28-4-185-006.

119. STFQZ, 28-4-197-166.

120. Xinwei, Peng 彭信威, Zhongguo huobi shi 中國貨幣史 [History of Chinese Currencies] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1988) 566–71.

121. Kishimoto, Mio, “The ‘Seventy-percent Cash (Ch'i-che Ch'ien)’ Custom of the Mid-Ch'ing Period,” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko 49 (1991): 125 .

122. Peng, Zhongguo huobi shi, 566.

123. For example, 100 ligatures were spent in 1879 (Fan, Fanshan pipan, 4:200), and 50 ligatures were spent at the beginning of the twentieth century (Xiong Bin 熊賓, Sanyi zhilüe 三邑治略 [A Brief Account of Governance in Three Counties], in Lidai panli pandu, 12:28).

124. Watson, James L. and Rawski, Evelyn S., ed., Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 14; 114–15.

125. For a general overview on mediation in Qing China, see Yang, Chun 春楊, Wan Qing xiangtu shehui minshi jiufen tiaojie zhidu yanjiu 晚清鄉土社會民事糾紛調解制度研究 [Research on the Conciliation of Civil Disputes in the Late Qing Local Society] (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2009).

126. Many examples of such outcomes can be found in local materials. For example, STFQZ 28-4-197-107, 28-4-199-36, or 28-4-200-126. Similar decisions can be found in the collection of judgments pronounced in the district of Huangyan. The five claims that were related to a fight were all rejected by the magistrate who refused to adjudicate them. See Tao, Tian 田濤, Huangyan susong dangan ji diaocha baogao: chuantong yu xianshi zhi jian: xunfa xiaxiang 黃岩訴訟檔案及調查報告: 傳統與現實之間: 尋法下鄉 [Report and Archives About Lawsuits in Huangyan, Between Tradition and Reality: A Glimpse Over the Countryside] (Beijing: Falü chubanshe, 2004), 60 .

127. dang'anguan, Sichuan sheng 四川省檔案館, ed., Qingdai Baxian dang'an huibian 清代巴縣檔案彙編 [Collected Edition of Archives from the Ba County During the Qing Dynasty] (Beijing: Dang'an chubanshe, 1991), 124–25.

128. Zelin, Madeleine, Ocko, Jonathan K., and Gardella, Robert, ed., Contract and Property in Early Modern China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).

129. Feng, A 阿風, “Ming Qing Huizhou susong wenshu de fenlei 明清徽州訴訟文書的分類” [“Categories of Judicial Documents from Huizhou in the Ming and Qing Periods”],Huixue 徽學, 5 (2008): 252280 .

130. Chun, Wan Qing xiangtu shehui minshi jiufen tiaojie zhidu yanjiu, 92.

131. Routine memorial to the Board of Punishments (Hereinafter XKTB), held in First Historical Archives, documents no. 02-01-07-11892-016 and no. 02-01-07-04766-004.

132. XKTB, no. 02-01-07-07928-010.

133. XKTB, no. 02-01-07-09273-009.

134. Tian, Huangyan susong dangan ji diaocha baogao, 277–78.

135. Fan, Fanshan pipan, 133 and 193.

136. Guangdong sheng diaocha susongshi xiguan diyi ci baogao shu 廣東省調查訴訟事習慣第一次報告書, [The First Report on the Investigation About Judicial Customs in the Guangdong Province] quoted in Zhao Weini 趙娓妮, “Guojia yu xiguan de ‘jiaocuo’: wan Qing Guangdong zhouxian difang dui ming'an de chuli 國家與習慣的 “交錯”: 晚晴廣東州縣地方對命案的處理” [“Overlapping Between the State and the Custom: Administering Homicide Cases in Guangdong Province Local Courts During the Late Qing Period”] Peking University Law Journal 16 (2004): 505–12.

137. Mao Wei 茆巍, “Qingdai ming'an sihe de falü yu quanli 清代命案私和的法律與權力” [“Law and Authority in Private Agreements on Homicide Cases During the Qing Dynasty”], paper read at the occasion of the “The Great Qing Legal Code International Seminar” held in Tsinghua University, June, 27–28, 2015.

His primary research interests are in Chinese law and comparative legal history, with emphasis on interactions between Chinese law and legal institutions and those of other Asian countries. He is currently focusing on ancient Chinese jurisprudence. He is the author of Le droit chinois (2013).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 35 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 171 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 5th September 2017 - 19th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.