Ancilla Iuris

Lagen des Rechts
Constellations of Law


The Vernacularization and Localization of Civil Law in China

Ancilla Iuris 2021
Special Issue: Trajectories of Chinese Law

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Traditionally, civil law has been viewed as remaining a mere outline or even totally absent in early Chinese law. In this view, civil law constitutes a specifically modern and Western product inappropriate for analyzing the law of ancient Chinese dynasties. This point of view lives on in most contemporary legal history textbooks. However, already at the turn to the 20th century, some late Imperial and early Republican scholars and practitioners drew on the civil–criminal distinction in order to propose legal reforms, thus initiating the vernacularization of civil law in China. Recently, excavated bamboo slips containing ancient Chinese legal texts cast even more doubt on the supposed lack and scarcity of early Chinese civil law. Zhang Chaoyang’s book The Construction of Early Chinese Civil Law offers methodical tools to theorize these insights and to overcome the flaws of contemporary descriptions of early Chinese civil law: Zhang’s new method of localization analyzes the Chinese vernacularization of civil law by situating this civil law in China’s own ancient legal history, identifying both the substantive principles and formal features of the early legal system. This essay critically discusses Zhang’s thesis and investigates in what respect the ‘early Chinese civil law’ can indeed be called civil and law. It thereby arrives at some methodological guidelines and caveats for the modern researcher of early Chinese civil law.

How to quote this article
Zhiping Liang , The Vernacularization and Localization of Civil Law in China, in: Ancilla Iuris ( 2021, 189-205.


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