A Question of Intent

Homicide Law and Criminal Justice in Qing and Republican China


In A Question of Intent: Homicide Law and Criminal Justice in Qing and Republican China, Jennifer M. Neighbors uses legal cases from the local, provincial and central levels to explore both the complexity with which Qing law addressed abstract concepts and the process of adoption, adaptation, and resistance as late imperial law gave way to criminal law of the Republican period. This study reveals a Chinese justice system, both before and after 1911, that defies assignment to binary categories of modern and pre-modern law that have influenced much of past scholarship.

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Jennifer M. Neighbors, Ph.D. (2004), University of California, Los Angeles, is Professor of History at the University of Puget Sound.
“Beautifully written and analytically sound, it examines the ways in which criminal intent was constituted in late imperial Chinese homicide law and the ways in which it was reconfigured in the Republican period (1912-1949) with the adoption in China of modern Western legal theory and Western-based codes. It is the first in-depth study in any language of homicide in late imperial and Republican China, and as such is truly a ground-breaking work. On top of that, it radically revises conventional assumptions about the fundamental nature of imperial Chinese penal law, calling into question Max Weber’s and others’ characterization of Chinese traditional law as lacking the abstract and rational conceptualization of the supposedly more superior, modern Western law.”
Kathryn Bernhardt, University of California, Los Angeles
List of Tables
List of Abbreviations


1 From Guoshi Killing to Killing at Play: The Low End of the Intent Continuum

2 The Marriage of Concept and Circumstance: Killing in an Affray and the Intent to Harm

3 Murder, Mercy, and Mens Rea : Intentional Homicide in the Qing Dynasty

4 Limited Options: Intentional Homicide in Republican China

5 Continuities in Court: The Recreation of Qing Rulings in Republican Courts

6 Damages: Changing Notions of Reparations and Harm in Homicide and Injury Law


Appendix 1: Main Homicide Categories and Their Punishments
Appendix 2: Standard Qing Dynasty Punishment Provisions
Character List
Those interested in late imperial and Republican-era legal history, the relationship between theory and practice in law, criminal justice, and notions of legal modernity.
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