The Legal Code System as Seen in the Qin and Han Bamboo Slips

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.1, 2021


The Legal Code System as Seen in the Qin and Han Bamboo Slips



Chen Wei


The recently unearthed Han bamboo slips from Shuihudi and Hujia Caochang show that the Western Han legal code had a categorized and stratified structure, with the laws on the “system of defining crimes” (zuiming zhi zhi) and an “implementation in accord with the law,” for buildings, stables, border markets, etc., categorized as “Law” and “Side Law” respectively. This particular pattern of organization of laws can also be observed in the “Second Year Law” of Empress Dowager Lü’s regency and the categorized laws from the Eastern Han dynasty recorded in the wooden tablets unearthed in Gurendi, but it is not seen in the Qin laws unearthed in Shuihudi. It is possible that the “Law” was formulated under the auspices of Xiao He, or was an extension of the Nine Chapter Law. The “Side Law” was a subsequent law. Sustained emendation of the laws, active court debates, and standardized adjudication procedures enabled the content of the Qin and Han legal codes to remain relatively stable and their implementation to be uniform, while leaving the final interpretation in the hands of the central legislature.