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Monday, April 18, 2016

Chinese Legalism

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Chinese Legalism

"'The Legalist view of punishment is actually that crimes committed among kin were judged to be more severe than crimes that were actually committed by strangers, and that is very interesting because that touches perhaps on some Confucian ideas of the family unit or the family as a sanctioning, a sanctioning unit...

If as a father, you know, you decided for some reason to beat your son to death, that wouldn't be a punishable crime. If a son denounced his father, that would be punishable. Or if a son denounced his grandparents that would be a severe, a severe crime. And the ways in which people implemented punishment and the physical nature of it was also graded. And so these punishments, they graded, they were graded from the most physically mutilating punishments, which meant the chopping off the nose, chopping off limbs, tattooing the face and mutilating visual parts of the body. Shaving of the beard and shaving of the hair was one of the lighter punishments. It was an insult to somebody's manhood if you want. To obviously the most severe punishments: boiling people alive, quartering them and so on and so on. One was able to redeem oneself from one's crimes by buying oneself out of some of the more severe punishments. And specifically officials were able to do that. Not by paying cash but by handing over shields and armour, so there was a very military kind of nature about the redemption of punishment there.'

'How does this differ from a reign of terror?'

'For the people on the ground, I assume, it doesn't... terror is seen as in one way a binding mechanism that guarantees the institution of rulership is seen as absolute'...

'In times of peace... taxation and surplus of revenue was meant to be spent on military affairs, to keep people busy. To keep them trained. In times of peace, farming is not simply about producing agricultural produce but farming is about controlling the population. And in essence, warfare and farming are two skills that are transferable... the way you work the fields, the way you fight the soil... the cooperative units of farmers on the fields create bonds that are easily transferable in a military context. So if every citizen, adult male doubles up as a farmer and a military conscript, you are creating a formidable military machine'...

It became villified because one of the great laws in Dynastic history in China is that you also always should villify your immediate predecessors...

[The First Emperor] physically he's described in the most extraordinary kind of animal-like terms. The face of a wolf and the breast of a chicken and all sorts of things like that. And it is... to do with justifying the Mandate of Heaven. That the Han has been appointed by Heaven, as it were, to overthrow this evil beast... he is really one of the strongest kind of hate figures in Chinese history"
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