An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Wenxing tiaoli 問刑條例

Feb 22, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Wenxing tiaoli 問刑條例 "Clauses and precedent rules for judicial interrogation" is a supplement to and explanation of the Ming Code (Da-Ming lü 大明律). It particularly served to clarify situations not described in the Ming Code or which could not be altered because of Emperor Taizu's 明太祖 (r. 1368-1398) instructions Zuxun 祖訓 which requested the "eternal validity" of the then-current code. In addition to this complexity, there was a wide range of non-codified regulations already existing around 1400 (lü wai you li 律外有例 "outside the Code are precedent rules").

The supplement was the result of a decree of Emperor Xianzong 明憲宗 (r. 1464-1487), who reacted to memorials by several court officials in 1492, among then Li Jinsui 李金遂, requesting the compilation of a handbook of addenda to the law code. In 1500, the first draft was submitted to the throne by Minister of Justice (xingbu shangshu 刑部尚書) Peng Shao 彭韶 (1430-1495). It included 297 sections and was printed after one month of revision, with the imperial request that it might "circulate along with the Code" (lü ling bing xing 律令并行). Half a century later, in 1548, Minister of Justice Yu Maojian 喻茂堅 (1474-1566) suggested to revise the supplement. Two years later, his successor Gu Yingxiang 顧應祥 (1483-1565) presented an enlarged version of 376 sections, the (Chongxiu) Wenxing tiaoli (重修)問刑條例, with a length of 7 juan. In 1555, Minister of Justice He Ao 何鰲 (1497-1559) enlarged it by further nine sections. Minister Shu Hua 舒化 (1539-1589) suggested in 1585 to adapt the supplement to the then-present conditions and to revise and consolidate some sections. The outcome was a version with 382 sections arranged according to that of the Ming Code, and inserted into the editions of the Ming Code, to have a unified version of a legal codex, the Da-Ming lü fu li 大明律附例.

The supplementary code is characterized by several features, namely the tight restriction of the rights of imperial princes, in order to prevent usurpation and rebellion. Another aim was to prevent the phenomenon of peasant refugees (liumin 流民) who might endanger public security and the government's need for public labourers (see corvée) and the tax revenue. The third great objective of the Code and its supplement was the suppression of guilds of entrepreneurs, be them merchants or craftsmen.

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