Circulating the Code
Print Media and Legal Knowledge in Qing China
- PUBLISHED: April 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, Law, History, Film and Media Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 264 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 8 tables, 7 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295747156
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
Contrary to longtime assumptions about the insular nature of imperial China’s legal system, Circulating the Code demonstrates that in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) most legal books were commercially published and available to anyone who could afford to buy them. Publishers not only extended circulation of the dynastic code and other legal texts but also enhanced the judicial authority of case precedents and unofficial legal commentaries by making them more broadly available in convenient formats. As a result, the laws no longer represented privileged knowledge monopolized by the imperial state and elites. Trade in commercial legal imprints contributed to the formation of a new legal culture that included the free flow of accurate information, the rise of nonofficial legal experts, a large law-savvy population, and a high litigation rate.
Comparing different official and commercial editions of the Qing Code, popular handbooks for amateur legal practitioners, and manuals for community legal lectures, Ting Zhang demonstrates how the dissemination of legal information transformed Chinese law, judicial authority, and popular legal consciousness.
Authors & Contributors
Ting Zhang is assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland.
Circulating the Code is a beautiful combination of legal history and print culture history... Wonderfully detailed, lucidly written, and packed full of fascinating books, this is a must-read for anyone interested in legal history, the history of the book, and in thinking about comparative histories of print culture and commercial publishing.- New Books in Law (NBN)
This lucid and fascinating study will appeal to anyone interested in legal history.- Choice
[A] substantial and highly readable contribution to scholarship on law in early modern China.- Journal of Chinese History
[L]ate imperial historians will be grateful to Ting Zhang for showing how two vital fields of late imperial history, legal studies and book history, can instruct one another inprovocative ways.- Journal of Chinese Studies
[A] solid academic contribution that will have substantial impact on the study of Chinese legal history for many years to come.- East Asian Publishing and Society
[A] must-read for scholars interested in the production and circulation of legal knowledge, popular reading culture, and commercial publishing history in late imperial China. Through the lens of legal culture and book history, Circulating the Code challenges an “orientalist” view on Chinese history and demonstrates that legal consciousness existed and thrived among various groups in late imperial China.- China Review International
Takes recent developments in the field of Chinese legal history to a new level by combining the study of law with the study of book history and print culture.- Li Chen, author of Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes: Sovereignty, Justice and Transcultural Politics
Overturns several stereotypes about Chinese law, most importantly that Chinese people did not know what the law was.- Madeline Zelin, author of The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China
Makes a very important corrective to our understanding of the dissemination of legal information in the late imperial period by defining the ways in which such information was transmitted broadly, even to illiterate commoners. Circulating the Code expands our understanding of the range of works printed during the commercial publishing boom of the late Ming and Qing.- Cynthia Brokaw, author of Commerce in Culture: The Sibao Book Trade in the Qing and Republican Periods