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4 From Oral Testimony to Written Records in Qing Legal Cases

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Chapter Summary

This chapter examines one kind of document that was essential to the record of criminal cases in the Qing dynasty. These are the written records of oral testimony taken from defendants and key witnesses, which were written down separately based on the notes taken at their depositions, and then woven into the case reports composed to explain the case and justify the magistrate's verdict. Using material from the Beijing Board of Punishments, the chapter shows how a legitimate legal case record of testimony was constructed, involving linguistic manipulation with the help of narrative devices derived from the written culture in the Qing. Qing legal procedure is characterized by its well-organized system of obligatory reviews. All legal cases, great and small, were first heard at the county office where the magistrate served as judge. The obligatory review system served to check any errors in the judgment of the crime.

Keywords: Beijing Board of Punishments; obligatory review system; oral testimony; Qing legal procedure; written records



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