Thomas Buoye: On the cutting edge of Chinese legal history -
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Thomas Buoye: On the cutting edge of Chinese legal history

Associate Professor of History Thomas Buoye recently published the following: “Editor’s Note,” Frontiers of Law in China, 15.1 (2020), pp. 1-3 (Buoye served as guest editor); “Ideology and the Legislative Turn in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Criminal Justice,” Frontiers of Law in China, 15.1 (2020), pp. 20-37; and “Homicide and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century China,” in The Cambridge World History of Violence, Vol. 3, 1500-1800 CE, edited by Robert Antony, Stuart Carroll, and Caroline Dodds Pennock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Man in a grey blazer sitting at a conference tableBuoye also continues work on his book manuscript: Capital Punishment, “Confucian Clemency,” and the Legislative Turn in Eighteenth-century Qing Rule, which combines a close reading of cases of capital crime, criminal legislation and a survey of archival sources to reconstruct, analyze and explain the crisis in eighteenth-century Qing criminal justice. Underlying this crisis was the interplay between population expansion and economic commercialization that created a more prosperous, but decidedly more contentious, society. The locus of violence within the family and lineage, the presumed mainstays of social order, clearly threatened bedrock values, such as filiality, patriarchal privilege, social hierarchy, and female chastity, which were enshrined in Confucian-inspired Qing criminal law.

Cover of a book with Chinese writing and Chinese landscape illustration
“Jing yīng lǐxiǎng yǔ mǎnzú wēiquán: Qīng dài xíngshì sīfǎ de yìshí xíngtài kùnjìng,” (Elite Ideal and Manchu Authority: The Ideological Dilemma of Criminal Justice in the Qing Dynasty) in Míng Qīng fǎlǜ yǔ shèhuì biànqiān, Edited by Chiu Peng-sheng and He Zhihui (Beijing: Law Press, 2019)

Over the course of the eighteenth century there was an unprecedented “legislative turn” that streamlined judicial procedures, revised conditions for pardons, expanded the use of the death penalty on violent and non-violent crimes, and created a new category of criminal, the notorious “bare stick” (光棍). A far-reaching and concerted effort to reform criminal justice and simultaneously crack down on violence, the legislative turn in criminal justice conflicted with deeply rooted Confucian principles and the lenient ethos historically embedded in Chinese law. Without an increase in administrative resources, the proliferation of death penalty eligible crimes threatened to overwhelm the judicial bureaucracy and created a crisis in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the harsh crackdown on crime posed direct political challenges to the alien Qing dynasty, which faced the dilemma of balancing its Neo-Confucian bona fides with the maintenance of ethnic sovereignty.

A small group of men at a conference tableFinally, Buoye is co-editor (with Guo Weiting, Simon Fraser University) of the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Chinese Legal History. A major new reference work, this volume is intended to provide an overview of the field and its history, a sense of the development of the field, and some guidance on promising areas for future research. With contributions by an international cast of noted specialists and scholars in the field, this volume will define the growing and important field of Chinese legal history and will influence its research agenda for years to come.