Project presentation

Legalizing space in China: the shaping of the imperial territory through a layered legal system

This project is endowed with a fund by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche of France, related to the program "Space and Territory", and it will run from January 2011 to December 2014.

The project basically consists of a translation of the Ming and Qing "Statutes and Sub-statutes (lüli 律例), that is mainly the tiaoli, or precedents that were codified from the 15th to the late 19th century.

- This translation is intended to be “juridical” (or “conceptual”), thanks to the compilation of a glossary of basic legal terms, with English and French equivalents, which should become a full-fledged dictionary of Chinese law.
- It is intended to be “contextual”, thanks to the connection of the codified laws to a selection of materials providing the reader with insights on how the codified laws were applied on the spot.
- The “spatial” dimension of law naturally ensues from the attention to its context: taking into account the relation of Ming-Qing code with laws and regulations for, say, the Mongolian or Tibetan peoples, or the articulation between State central law with provincial and local rules, should result into a mapping of the various legal rules in force on the Chinese imperial territory.
The project website will provide for:

  • a data-basis of all the materials needed to develop the project, with related documentation (bibliography, articles in PDF).
  • a layout of the Chinese legislation, showing the place and roles of the texts (lüli 律例, huidian 會典, shengli 省例…) with electronic links between them.
  • Maps representing the administrative boundaries of the Ming and Qing empire, and the normative regions evidenced by research
  • works in progress: translations, glossary, research articles, diary of the research teams, etc.

Ours is a research project: the translation is a leading thread in the survey of all issues related to the making and enforcement of law in the late imperial China, which will be the matter for separated publications.


Project Argument

China has been a World-empire for two millenniums, and this imperial dimension remains a key for understanding modern China, as well as the surrounding East-Asian countries: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. East-Asia can be accurately defined as the extension area of Chinese law. East-Asian countries still share a common conception of law, which constitutes the originality of this region and explains much of its evolution.

           The Chinese territory is in itself a skilled legal construct. For centuries, its administrative structure combined fundamental laws of general application, with regulations particular to provinces, or local areas of variable sizes. Under the Qing, the Chinese 18 provinces were but a part of a broader ensemble, including the Manchurian, Mongolian, Turkistan, and Tibetan areas. Each of them was governed according to its own rules, under the supervision of a bureaucratic service whose main function was to ensure connection with the general legal system.

         Our project is to understand space as a major dimension of the Chinese and Pan-Chinese legal order. How did this original conception of law articulate the global— “all under heaven”— and the local, the narrowly Han-Chinese with the broader margins ethnic extensions? How did legal and administrative divisions of the Chinese and East-Asian space give birth to local or national identities?

          We intend to put online the main texts of the Chinese legal tradition, starting with various editions of the Ming and Qing imperial codes. We plan to organize links that will allow us to understand how this dynastic code interrelated with normative texts ruling particular areas, and to translate a selection of these legal texts, administrative practices, legal decisions that ensured law and order at the various levels of the Chinese imperial space.


Last update on Saturday 20 February 2016 (03:24) by  Frédéric Constant