Book Recommendation: Law and Religion in China
- To: WSW
Cc: CGC, Crosstalk
Forwarding: Book Recommendation (Law and Religion in China)
I have received, by several intermediate steps, a note from James Robson
describing a forthcoming book of interest to this list as well. I venture to
repeat the substance of it here, for those who, or whose libraries, can
still afford a book published by Routledge.
I would like to draw your attention to a new publication by Paul R. Katz
entitled Divine Justice -- Religion and the Development of Chinese Legal
Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2009) [In press].
The primary goal of this book is to consider the ways in which religious
beliefs and practices have contributed to the formation of Chinese legal
culture. It does so by describing two forms of overlap between religion and
the law: the ideology of justice and the performance of judicial rituals.
The former extends to the ways in which the gods control all human affairs
in this life and the next in order to ensure the attainment of justice.
Because this ideal is rarely realized in earthly courts, many people place
their faith in underworld deities who have the power to pass judgment on
both the living and the dead. Such conceptions of the afterlife, which have
been shaped by both indigenous religions like Taoism and the impact of world
religions like Buddhism, vary significantly from those of the Middle East
and Europe, which tend to place less emphasis on the legal nature of
underworld procedures and punishments.
The second form of overlap between religion and the law may be found in the
realm of practice, and involves instances when men and women perform
judicial rituals like oaths, chicken-beheadings, and underworld indictments
in order to enhance the legitimacy of their positions, deal with cases of
perceived injustice, and resolve disputes. These rites coexist with other
forms of legal practice, including private mediation and the courts,
comprising a wide-ranging spectrum of practices that I refer to as the
Individuals ranging from high-ranking officials to commoners have performed
judicial rituals for centuries. Such rites have also shaped the legal
histories of overseas Chinese in colonies like Batavia, the Straits
Settlements, and Hong Kong, as well as those who immigrated to countries
like Australia and the United States. In Taiwan, a high-tech democracy with
a vibrant civil society, judicial rituals remain an integral component of
legal practice, but in China such rites remain largely underground. Inasmuch
as the effective functioning of any legal system requires a certain degree
of entirety, the extent to which the Chinese government proves willing to
tolerate such rites may influence the degree to which people may feel
confident in their ability to obtain true justice.
It will be obvious, I suppose, that the general subject is of importance in
other parts of the world also also, wherever secular and sacred traditions
of judgement overlap or impinge, or where (as in early Christianity) two
sacred systems of judgement collide, or where (as in Melanesia) an overlaid
and a native tradition of law compete.