Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Magistrates and the Law: Judicial Authority and Capital Cases in the Yongzheng Era, 1722-1735
Authors: Siemon, Katherine Alexis
Advisors: Naquin, Susan
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Capital Punishment
Chinese law
Judicial Discretion
Subjects: Asian history
Asian studies
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation studies the judicial authority of magistrates in Qing China between 1720-1740 in cases of homicide and other violent crimes carrying death sentences. County magistrates in eighteenth century China presided over a range of legal cases, but in capital punishment cases, their judgments were reviewed and confirmed at multiple levels of the Qing administration. Magistrates who did not adhere to strict sentencing guidelines faced censure, impeachment, and criminal charges. This study explores the ways in which magistrates navigated legal and administrative constraints to find verdicts that could satisfy both their bureaucratic superiors and local residents. Drawing on Qing legal codes and commentaries and archival records of homicide and corruption cases, I examine magistrates’ options and possible influences on their judgments, placing their actions within the context of Qing law, administration, and society during the reign of the Yongzheng emperor (1723-1735). Magistrates’ control over the flow of information between the county and the higher levels of government, allowed them to shape the narrative of each case. Although they invoked Confucian morality and sympathy to support their judgments, I argue that magistrates’ use of narrative was a rhetorical tool, rather than an indication of their actual priorities. I also show how the administrative context of southern frontier regions gave magistrates in Taiwan and Yunnan both additional authority and closer scrutiny as a result of their presumed local knowledge and connections. Throughout the dissertation, I examine the ways that imperial concerns about corruption placed additional pressure on magistrates to present themselves as honest, diligent, and sympathetic in their rulings, regardless of their personal inclinations or actions in office. I also discuss the structural pressures on magistrates that made bribery difficult to avoid. Rather than viewing magistrates’ actions in moral terms, as lenient or corrupt, we can understand them as pragmatic responses to the structures of Qing law and administration. This study argues for a reconsideration of the county magistrate as a significant actor in the Qing justice system.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

Files in This Item:
There are no files associated with this item.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.