Desertion and the Militarization of Qing Legal Culture
Gregory, Eugene John
Millward, James A
Benedict, Carol A
I use the adjudication of military campaign deserter cases (congzheng taobing 從征逃兵) from the armies of the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) up through the mid-eighteenth century as a category of analysis to understand the origins of militarizing tendencies in eighteenth-century Qing legal culture. This approach reveals the incorporation into late imperial legal culture of militarized adjudication (yi junfa congshi 以軍法從事), a discipline-focused, autonomous and harsh mode of adjudicating cases during military campaigns that had long-existed within late imperial military culture.Both military and legal cultures existed within the wider social and political cultures yet were further shaped by their respective institutions, associated-persons, activities, and objectives. The most prominent intersection between the two was the emperor, who served as the highest authority within both. Faced with significant military-operational failures during the early frontier campaigns of his reign, the Qianlong emperor (r. 1735-1798) came to identify lack of military victory with military indiscipline and further identified this lack of discipline with the structural leniency that was part of the routine criminal adjudicative process. His solution was to reconfigure the long-standing authority of militarized adjudication as part of the routine adjudicative process for certain “extraordinary (fei xunchang 非尋常)” cases. This resulted in entire categories of criminal cases’ being marked for summary execution, starting primarily with cases that directly affected military operations and occurred on the frontier but later expanding to cases involving public disorder and particularly heineous crimes.Given his imperial vantage point and authority over both military and legal cultures, the emperor’s emphasis on militarized adjudication served as the most significant catalyst working on multiple short and long-term processes that formed the cultural origins of an increase of militarized adjudication during this period. For affected cases, these militarizing tendencies in legal culture resulted in truncated legal analysis and an increased number of summary executions beginning in the mid-eighteenth century.Pursuant to an eighteenth-century adjudicative discourse that recognized the imperial standard (wangmingpai 王命牌) as constructively representing the emperor’s will – his authorization – to execute an offender, summary execution spread from the institutional-military context and frontiers to heinous and public-disorder cases within the interior. Attempts from the center to conform the judgement of adjudicating officials to the imperial will led to codification efforts which further legitimized summary execution. Over time, imperial-standard summary executions were written into the Code as fully legitimate law. Increasingly, adjudicating officials experienced a change in adjudicative mentalité that condoned summary execution in “extraordinary” circumstances. No longer would summarily executing a man without the emperor’s knowledge be taboo. This change in mentalité constituted an important legal-cultural origin for the proliferation of nineteenth-century on-the-spot summary executions (jiudi zhengfa 就地正法). Thus for the first time, this dissertation adds a legal-cultural link between the eighteenth-century and the militarization of nineteenth-century Qing society.
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