China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This interdisciplinary panel explores the dialogical relationship between law and culture in China from the 16th to the 20th century. It makes the case that law and justice must be understood through a broader perspective of "legal culture." "Law" was conceptualized not only by legal professionals as codes and the judicial process, but also by a wide cross-section of society through a variety of cultural narratives. Examining literary, moral, legal, and political texts, the four papers consider how law affected popular perceptions of justice, and conversely, how popular discourses, political ideologies, and modern technologies contributed to ideas of law and justice.
Zhao discusses the dramatic tensions between the popular perceptions of morality and the standardized legal praxis on illicit sex in Ming court case stories of the sixteenth century. Guo examines the Qing emperor’s policy of summary execution, showing how officials and local elites negotiated the formation of a new legal category and responded to court interference in the judicial process. Tracing discourses on fingerprinting, Asen reconsiders how the technique was tied to emerging concepts of modernity and progress that informed the transformation of China’s criminal justice system beginning in the late nineteenth century. Peng compares Republican forensic appraisals with detective fiction, arguing that detective stories challenge the exclusive epistemological authority of the experts and envision a new agent of justice in modern China. Jointly, these papers highlight how debates on jurisdiction, identity, and modernity contributed to a rich and evolving legal culture in late imperial and modern China.