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Unless otherwise specified, the descriptions of sources in this section are extracted from Pierre-Etienne Will and collaborators,Official Handbooks and Anthologies of Imperial China: A Descriptive and Critical Bibliography (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming).
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TitleMingfa zhizhang 名法指掌, 2 j. [A Guide on Penal Law]
Topic1. Code and commentaries
Historical periodEarly Qing (1644-1796)
Reprint (year of)1900
AuthorShen Xintian 沈辛田
Publication typeWoodblock

This first version of Shen Xintian’s highly successful arrangement of the Penal Code in the form of synoptic tables does not seem to have survived. It was soon superseded by Shen’s own new version, the Mingfa zhizhang zengding (q.v.) of 1743. Shen’s preface, reproduced in the latter, recalls how he started the composition of the tables in 1734 while he was travelling to join the cabinet of Yunnan Provincial Judge Yao 姚. The 1740 edition could be engraved thanks to the generosity of the prefect of Guangnan, Chen Shunsi 陳順思 [or Chen Kefu 克復, see his preface in Mingfa zhizhang zengding], whom Shen met on his trip back home; the engraving was made in Shen’s native Wucheng [i.e. Huzhou, Zhejiang] after a further round of checking and editing with the help of his brother, resulting in some thirty new tables being added to the hundredsome already composed by Shen Xintian. The aim was to make up for the insufficiencies of Dong Gongzhen’s Qiangu xingming bianlan (q.v.), published in 1734, in the field of law. While Dong’s work was concentrating on sanctions (chufen) and the official’s evaluation (kaocheng), in Shen’s perpective law and justice (xingming) was dealing with the people’s lives and involved a much more complex set of regulations and tasks: what he essentially did, in effect, was to introduce the Penal Code into the tables. Li Xiqin’s preface to the Mingfa zhizhang zending indicates that when he was appointed Guangxi provincial judge in 1741 and hired Shen as a private secretary, Shen showed to him his Mingfa zhizhang; and it was under him that Shen was able to revise it so as to take into account the new Penal Code promulgated in 1740—and this was to be the Mingfa zhizhang zengding.   


  Shen’s Mingfa zhizhang of 1740 was followed by a series of works that aimed at improving it and, above all, updating its contents. The basic design remained the same, however, viz. a set of tables easy to consult (zhizhang tu 指掌圖), making it possible to see at a glance the denominations, circumstances and punishments for the various sorts of crime (xingming 刑名, or zuiming 罪名), and the sanctions applying in case of maladministration (chufen 處分); in the words of a later editor, “The work of Mr. Shen focused on providing a method for establishing [what] crime [has been committed] and determining its denomination; where administrative punishments would apply at the same time, they were to be seen as an addition inside each table” (沈氏著書專為定罪而設名法。有兼處分者,附見各圖) (see Mingfa zhizhang tu, fanli). The different types of crime were distributed among broad categories arranged in a convenient order more or less following that of the Code. In this way inexperienced officials would be able to make informed decisions rapidly without getting lost in the maze of statutes and substatutes, and to avoid errors due to excessive haste. One may note, however, that in his fanli of 1824 Niu Dawei (see below) insisted that the tables only give clues (yinxian 引線) and that it is important to go back to the complete text of the code and to the approved leading cases (cheng’an); a similar remark was made by Xu Hao (see below) in 1870; and in fact, Shen Xintian himself apologized for the probable omissions in his tables and urged his readers to check with the code.

     The posterity of the Mingfa zhizhang includes (1) the above-mentioned Mingfa zhizhang zengding, first published in 1743 by Shen Xintian and with later updated editions; (2) the Mingfa zhizhang xinli zengding in 4 j., published in Canton in 1824 under the editorship of Niu Dawei, republished in 1860; (3) the Mingfa zhizhang xinzuan, published in Sichuan in 1830 under the editorship of Huang Luxi; (4) the Dufa tucun, compiled in 1836 by Shao Shengqing under the supervision of Huang Luxi; and (5) the Chongxiu Mingfa zhizhang tu, edited in 1870 by Xu Hao

KeywordPenal code; chart; Qing code
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