Great Qing Legal Code - The Last Legal Code of Imperial China
The Great Qing Legal Code or Qing Code (Chinese: 大清律例) was the legal code of Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The code was based on the Ming legal system, which was kept largely intact. Compared to the Ming code which had no more than several hundred statutes and sub-statutes, the Qing code contained 1,907 statutes from over 30 times of revisions between 1644 and 1912.
The Qing code was the last legal code of imperial China. By the end of Qing dynasty, it was the only legal code enforced in China for nearly 270 years. Even with the fall of imperial Qing in 1912, the Confucian philosophy of social control enshrined in the Qing code remain influential in the German-based system of the Republic of China, and later, the Soviet-based system of the People's Republic of China.
The traditional Chinese law was largely in place by Qing dynasty. The process of amalgamation of Confucian views and law codes was considered complete by the Tang Code of CE 624. The code was regarded as a model of precision and clarity in terms of drafting and structure. Confucianism in revised form (Neo-Confucianism) continued to be the state orthodoxy under the Song, Ming and Qing Dynasty. Throughout the centuries the Confucian foundations of the Tang Code were retained with even some aspects strengthened.
During the Qing dynasty, criminal justice was based on an extremely detailed criminal code. One element of the traditional Chinese criminal justice system is the notion that criminal law has a moral purpose, one of which is to get the convicted to repent and see the error of his ways. In the traditional Chinese legal system, a person could not be convicted of a crime unless he has confessed. This often led to the use of torture, in order to extract the necessary confession. These elements still influence modern Chinese views toward law. All capital offenses were reported to the capital and required the personal approval of the emperor.
There was no civil code separate from the criminal code, which led to the now discredited belief that traditional Chinese law had no civil law. More recent studies have demonstrated that most of the magistrates' legal work was in civil disputes, and that there was an elaborate system of civil law which used the criminal code to establish torts.
The Qing Code was in form exclusively a criminal code. Its statutes throughout stated as prohibitions and restrictions, and the violation of which was subjected to a range of punishments by a legalist state. In practice, however, large sections of the code and its sub-statutes dealt with matters that would properly be characterised as civil law. The populace made extensive use (perhaps a third of all cases) of the local magistrate courts to bring suits or threaten to sue on a whole range of civil disputes, characterized as "minor matters" in the Qing Code. Moreover, in practice, magistrates frequently tempered the application of the code by taking prevalent local custom into account in their decisions. Filed complaints were often settled among the parties before they received a formal court hearing, sometimes under the influence of probable action by the court.