Everyday Justice as Seen in Qing First-Person Casebooks

February 1, 2018 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Room 626, Sixth Floor, Kaneff Tower
4700 Keele St
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

Talk by Pierre-Étienne Will (Collège de France)

Abstract: Most casebooks by individual authors in Qing dynasty China (1644-1911) are collections of “judgments” that faithfully reproduce the reports written by the official who investigated the cases and drew legal conclusions. Such judgments are clearly constrained by the rules of administrative writing, and limit themselves to facts and findings directly bearing upon the judicial decision delivered at the end. In contrast, in what I call “first-person casebooks” the author/official freely recounts the cases he solved, speaking not as “this official” (a bureaucrat reporting to his superiors), but as “I” (an author addressing his audience). His actions, reflections, and exchanges with all the people involved form the heart of the narrative. Details on the social and material environment abound, as do notations on how local society interacted with state justice. As the examples adduced will show, first-person casebooks are of unique interest to the historian.

Bio: Pierre-Étienne Will retired in 2014 from the chair of History of Modern China at the Collège de France, which he had held since 1992 concurrently with a position of Directeur d’études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He specializes in the socio-economic and political history of late-imperial and early republican China. He has published Bureaucracy and Famine in Eighteenth-Century China (Stan¬ford, 1990; original French edition Paris, 1980; Korean translation, 1995; Chinese translation, 2002), Nourish the People: The State Civilian Granary System in China, 1650-1850 (Ann Arbor, 1991, with R. Bin Wong), several edited volumes, including China, Democracy, and Law: A Historical and Contemporary Approach (Leiden, 2012, with Mireille Delmas-Marty; original French edition Paris, 2007), and numerous articles on Chinese economy, society, politics, bureaucracy, law, water management, and more. He is currently completing Official Handbooks and Anthologies of Imperial China: A Descriptive and Critical Bibliography (Leiden, forthcoming in 2018). He has been co-editor of the journal T’oung Pao from 1992 to 2016.

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