Tang Code

The Tang Code (Chinese: 唐律; pinyin: Táng lǜ) was a penal code that was established and used during the Tang Dynasty in China. Supplemented by civil statutes and regulations, it became the basis for later dynastic codes not only in China but elsewhere in East Asia. The Code synthesized Legalist and Confucian interpretations of law. It is composed of 12 sections that contain a total of more than 500 articles.[1] It was created in 624, modified in 627 and 637, and enhanced with a commentary (the Tánglǜ shūyì 唐律疏議) in 653.[2] Considered as one of the greatest achievements of traditional Chinese law, the Tang Code is also the earliest Chinese Code to have been transmitted to the present in its complete form.[2]

Origin and context

The Tang code took its roots in the code of the Northern Zhou (564) dynasty, which was itself based on the earlier codes of the Cao-Wei and Western Jin (268).[2] Aiming to smooth the earlier laws and reduce physical punishments (such as mutilations) in order to appease social tensions in the newly pacified Tang territories, it was created in AD 624 at the request of Emperor Gaozu of Tang. After further revisions in 627 and 637 under Emperor Taizong, the code was completed by commentaries in 653, under Gaozong.[2]

Organization and system of punishments

Tang Code[3]
Section Name
I General definitions and rules
II Laws relating to passing into or through forbidden places
(imperial palaces, town gates, walls, frontier posts)
III Offences committed by officials in the exercise of their functions
IV Laws concerning peasant families (lands, taxes, marriages)
V Laws related to state stud-farms and storehouses
VI Laws relating to the raising of troops
VII Offences against the person and against property
VIII Offences committed in the course of brawls
IX Forgery and counterfeiting
X Various laws of a special character
XI Laws concerning the apprehension of guilty persons
XII Laws relating to the administration of justice

French historian and sinologist Jacques Gernet has called the Tang Code "an admirable composition of faultless logic in spite of its size and complexity."[2] The American sinologists Wallace Johnson and Denis C. Twitchett described it as "a very rational system of justice" in which "both the accuser and the officials involved had to be careful lest they themselves face punishment".[4] The Tang Code contained more than 500 articles divided into twelve large sections (see right-side table).

The penalty for an offence was determined according to two factors:[1]

The local magistrate acted as examiner and sometimes as investigator, but his final role in legal cases was to determine the proper penalty for the offense that had been committed: he had to fix the nature of the offense as defined by the code, and to increase or reduce the associated penalty depending on the social relation between offender and victim.[1]

The historically famous wuting 五聽 "five hearings" was a Chinese technique for eliciting the facts of a case. While questioning a witness, the magistrate would look closely for five kinds of behavior: "the person's statements, expression, breathing, reaction to the words of the judge, and eyes. Through careful observation, it was thought that the experienced magistrate could arrive at a knowledge of whether the person was, in fact, telling the truth."[5]

If a magistrate was unable to decide a case on the basis of evidence and witness testimony, he could seek the permission of higher officials to use judicial torture. The accused could be beaten no more than 200 blows in up to three interrogations held at least twenty days apart. But when the accused was able to withstand the full amount of torture without making a confession, the magistrate would use the same torture on the accuser. If the tortured accuser admitted making a false accusation, he would receive the same punishment that would have been inflicted upon the accused had this latter been convicted.[6]

The offence modulated according to the degree of social relation determined the final penalty which could range from flagellation using a rattan and bastinado with a bamboo stick, to penal labour, exile with penal labour, and death by strangulation (garrote) or decapitation.[1]

Interesting facts

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gernet (1996), 245.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Gernet (1996), 244.
  3. Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization, p. 245.
  4. Johnson and Twitchett (1993), 135.
  5. Johnson and Twitchett (1993), 125-126.
  6. Johnson and Twitchett (1993), 128-129.
  7. Francesca Bray; Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann; Georges Métailié, eds. (2007), Graphics and Text in the Production of Technical Knowledge in China: the Warp and the Weft, BRILL, p. 23, ISBN 9789004160637
  8. The Tang Code translated by Wallace Johnson volume II, article 482
  9. Johnson and Twitchett (1993), 128.


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.