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18 - Homicide and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century China

from Part IV - The State, Punishment and Justice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Robert Antony
Affiliation:
Guangzhou University
Stuart Carroll
Affiliation:
University of York
Caroline Dodds Pennock
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

The eighteenth century has been considered a flourishing era during the Qing dynasty, but the century also witnessed an upsurge in interpersonal violence that triggered a protracted crackdown on crime. Part of a broader ‘legislative turn’, Qing rulers responded with legislation that fine-tuned existing laws, created new offences, restricted pardons and expanded the use of the death penalty. By embracing a strategy that deployed the presumed deterrent power of capital punishment, eighteenth-century emperors presented staggering practical and ideological challenges that threatened to overwhelm the judicial bureaucracy. Violent crime exposed fissures in the social order that endangered bedrock principles such as ties of filiation, patriarchal privilege, social hierarchy and female chastity. Evidence gleaned from homicide reports illustrates incidents of horrendous violence that were inextricably linked to macro-economic and demographic changes. The rural poor engaged in survival strategies that were desperate, pathetic and horrifically violent. Unfortunately, the crackdown on crime alone could not adequately address the inequities of eighteenth-century economic and demographic change that undermined social and economic norms, vitiated conventional concepts of justice, and disrupted the ideological consensus of Chinese civilisation.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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