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The Case in the Vase: What Can a Ming Novel Tell Us about Traditional Chinese Legal Culture?

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The more than thirty legal disputes and cases mentioned in The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jinpingmei) make this late Ming novel an invaluable source for the study of law and legal culture in premodern China. This lecture illustrates that the cases in the novel describe in considerable detail each of the formal steps in the Ming process of legal adjudication. But the work also conveys the message that despite the formal process, the legal system does not deliver justice. However, an alternative system of justice that is mostly implicit in the text, the justice of a disinterested and moral Heaven, ultimately prevails. Finally, the contemporary implications of this traditional understanding of law and justice are explored.

Affiliations: 1: Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA


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