Historical Comparison and Timely Adjustment of the Legal System

  • Jinfan Zhang


In the continuous over 4,000 years of Chinese legal history, the internal connections and interrelations of change and development could be clearly seen. It was almost a common practice to have the advantages and disadvantages of the legal systems of preceding dynasties carefully investigated and their experience and lessons drawn at the beginning of legislation by the founding rulers of newly established dynasties, and to form new legislative ideologies and principles or to implement the necessary legal reforms. As the legislative activities of successive dynasties were mostly conducted on the basis of summarizing the past experience and focusing on the present conditions by historical comparison, the legal codes formulated would still be slightly different in contents and innovative in structure compared with the preceding ones, despite their consistency in the fundamental nature. Therefore, the legal history of ancient China could be considered as a legal history of historical comparisons, which had started from the Shang Dynasty in about 1600 B.C. Just as Confucius had said, “The Yin dynasty followed the rites of the Xia: wherein it took from or added to may be known. The Zhou dynasty followed the rites of Yin: wherein it took from or added to may be known.” So, “Li” (rites) in ancient China had a broad coverage, not merely referring to rituals and etiquettes, but also including the laws and regulations of the state. For this reason, Confucius’ inference was really insightful and practical to the reality of Chinese legal history. He had not only revealed the evolutionary relations between “Li” (rites) of Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, but also pointed out that the development of “Li” (rites) in the three dynasties was exactly carried on and completed by comparisons. After all, only from the perspective of comparison, can the gains and losses be grasped. Thus, in a sense, Confucius was the first person who had advocated, supported and put the principle of the comparative study of legal history into practice.


Qing Dynasty Song Dynasty Ming Dynasty Tang Dynasty Criminal Punishment 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jinfan Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.China University of Political Science and LawBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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