Horse Theft, Law, and Punishment in Xinjiang during the Qianlong Reign

in Ming Qing Yanjiu
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There are a large number of criminal cases in the Manchu archives, which occurred in Mongolia and Xinjiang and were reported to the Qing emperors. These criminal cases can be roughly divided into two groups: homicide cases and horse theft cases. Based on the records of the Manchu archives, this paper will focus upon horse theft cases in Xinjiang during the Qianlong reign. Xinjiang was a place populated by many ethnic groups under the Qing rule. In the Qing records, we found that almost all of the ethnic groups were involved in horse theft cases. The questions at issue are: why did such horse theft cases matter in the Qing dynasty, especially to the extent they even had to be reported to the central government and the Qing emperors? Based on what law were the criminals of different peoples punished in the judicial trials?

My arguments are as follows: based on the Qing records, one can learn that the legislation in Xinjiang had been less mature than that in China proper, and there had not been specific regulations or laws on criminal cases including horse theft being enacted by the Qing court in Xinjiang; the law was subject to variation based on the emperors’ own will, which largely reflects the limitations and challenges that the Manchu rulers were facing during their reign in such a newly-conquered multi-cultural territory. What is certain is: first, in general, the ethnicities of horse theft criminals and owners of the stolen horses were considered by the Qing magistrates, and the criminals were punished on the basis of their and the owners’ ethnicities, thus, a diversified statutory base appeared to be applied in these trials. Second, the punishment for criminals in horse theft in Xinjiang at the time was more severe than that in other parts of the Qing Empire, and the penalties were generally borrowed from that in Daqing lüli, which, to some extent, could reflect the strong influences of Chinese and Manchu legislation.

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    Jia Jianfei 2015.

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    Heuschert 1998: 314. In the later Lifanyuan zeli which was enacted during the Jiaqing and Daoguang reigns one can learn that the specific regulations for western Mongols were changed and they would be treated as one group with Inner and Outer Mongols for stealing cattle. See Qingdai ge buyuan zeli· Lifanyuan zeli 37: 597.

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    Jia Jianfei 2015.

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    Jia Jianfei 2015.

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    Lipman 2006: 93. This idea is widely held by many scholars for example Zhang Zhongfu argues it was the unequal legal status that caused the Muslim rebellions and the social discrimination from other non-Muslim peoples. See Zhang Zhongfu 2001: 188–189.

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    Hu 2013: 47.

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