Civil Law in Early China: The Law, Ritual, and Family


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Grants to Individuals in East and Southeast Asian Archaeology and Early History Dissertation Fellowships (North America)




This proposal seeks support for dissertation research on civil law in early China, from the Warring States to the Han periods (475 BC – AD 220). Up to now, the topic has not received the amount of scholarly attention that it deserves, mainly because few contemporary sources were available prior to 1970s, aside from fragments preserved in the dynastic histories and commentaries to the Liji. Over the past thirty years, however, four major caches of legal materials have been excavated, from three sites in Hubei (Baoshan, Shuihudi, and Zhangjiashan), and one in Gansu (Xuanquan). Based on new materials, this dissertation aims to rewrite the legal history of early China, arguing that while early Chinese law did not articulate distinctions between civil law and criminal law, the law regulated many civil affairs within and between families. As ritual also regulated family affairs, ritual and legal prescriptions could support or contradict one another, and aggrieved parties could sometimes manipulate the ambiguities to their own advantage.