The work can be described as a commentary of the code produced by the offices of the Ministry of Justice. Huang Entong (himself an official of the Ministry for fifteen years, including ten years as supervisor of the Bureau of the Code 律例館提調) explains in the preface that despite their rich qualities the treatises published in the Ming and Qing—he cites the Fajia pouji and the Dulü peixi (qq.vv.)—are either partial or far-fetched, whereas the anthologies of judgments—e.g. the Zheyu guijian or Minggong shupan (qq.vv.)—concentrate on court proceedings or value literary quality; in other words, they are of interest to legalists (fajia) but do not concern the “science of the Code” (lüxue). In the process of adding or removing substatutes (tiaoli) the present dynasty has consistently dwelt on the Xingbu officials’ careful consideration of the proposals sent by the provinces, guided by a concern for humaneness based on equity (以中正為體以仁恕為用); hence—in Huang’s rosy appreciation—the fact that for two hundred years there have been no cases stranded in the courts (公庭無滯獄) and no people unjustly imprisoned (囹圄無冤民). The present work is based on a manuscript compilation called Jin’an 謹按 held at the Ministry—up till then a “secret treatise of the official bureaus” (官閣秘本) of which only a few incomplete manuscript copies circulated—to which officials in charge of composing substatutes, like Huang himself, would refer whenever they had doubts about a law and needed to trace the discussions that had accompanied its elaboration (每于法有疑得參末議沿流溯源必稽求謹按一書以為準繩) in order to understand the “intent” of the law-makers (立法之意). It includes archives on memorials sent in response (覆奏檔案)—that is, excerpts from these memorials—since the Yongzheng period and is described by Huang as an anthology of materials on the creation of law (其于立法之意擇精語詳). Pan Deshe, who had a complete copy of it in his “trunk”, decided to print it in the Haishan xianguan congshu. Huang notes that although “the law belongs in common to the government and people” (惟法者國與民共之者也), its text contains many subtleties that can be taken into account only if one is able to understand the genealogy of the laws (詳其沿革) and see their connectedness (觀其會通). In this way, by making everything immediately clear (無不昭若發矇瞭如指掌) the Anyu can considerably help beginners who are at a loss at court and do not know how to adduce the correct law in difficult cases. According to Huang, the work should make the consultation of the previous treatises largely useless.
Concretely, the work is divided by reigns, viz. Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Daoguang. Within each reign it quotes the statutes (both original and revised as the case may be) in the order of the Code, followed by the substatutes and by their later revisions or replacements. (Only for the Daoguang period is the arrangment by years, namely 1799, 1804, 1809 and 1814 [probably years for “small revisions”].) The more or less extended commentaries, introduced by the words 臣等謹按, follow the text of the statute or substatute to which they apply; they make the meaning of the text more explicit and its area of application clearer, and occasionally make suggestions for a better placement of a substatute within the Code. In this way the work is not unlike the later Duli cunyi 讀例存疑 by Xue Yusheng 薛允升.