Chinese legal culture in the long history on legal culture in ancient China

(     Updated : 2019-01-09


Legal culture in ancient China is a kind of social ideology that revolves around the formation, development and evolution of law, legal system and legal institution. Chinese legal culture has undergone long historical development before its formation, therefore it is of historic significance, epochal character and representativeness.To prove this point, I will cite the Chinese legal culture in several historical periods as examples.

During the Spring-Autumn (770-476BC) and Warring States Periods (475-221BC), the Legalists theory was prevailing and Legalists made declarations on the origin, nature, content, form, function and value of law. In particular, Guan Zhong, one of the earliest Legalists, put forward the idea of "ruling a state under the law". As a result, the legal culture, in the Spring-Autumn and Warring States Periods, was characterized by jurisprudence, and is deemed the most representative legal achievement in this period.

In the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), Confucianism was established as the dominant school of thought, and the doctrine on guides and morality in Confucianism, namely the ethical code of "the three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues" (San Gang Wu Chang), was introduced into the law. From then on, the law began to cater to Confucianism, after which, the prominent feature in the law theory was the so called "morality given priority over penalty"(De Zhu Xing Fu) (Note: Dong Zhongshu, a Confucian in the Han Dynasty, established the comprehensive theoretical system of "morality given priority over penalty". He believed that "morality" and "penalty" shall be placed at different position and "morality" shall be regarded as the priority, advocating "morality over penalty" as well as "more morality and less penalty". The theory of "morality given priority over penalty", after the analysis and support by Confucians in the Han Dynasty, gradually became the guiding ideology for the Han Dynasty in legislation and governance and imposed a far-reaching impact on future generations). This theory was a feature of the legal culture in that period, and it affected the entire feudal society after the Han Dynasty with "morality given priority over penalty" remained as the guiding ideology in the construction of the legal system.