China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper discusses the development of administrative law – the body of principles, guidelines, and procedures governing official behavior – during the Qing dynasty. It describes how Manchu lawmakers updated existing administrative regulations, many of which were inherited from the Ming, in response to changing circumstances. On the one hand, deference to legal tradition made them reluctant to jettison long-standing rules and procedures. On the other, the evolving needs of the Qing state and society made it incumbent upon them to transform laws that were no longer relevant or effective. This paper examines the legislative process in action, focusing on how lawmakers honored legal tradition while transforming the laws governing official misconduct. Rather than removing or revising established regulations, lawmakers rendered them obsolete by allowing for various methods of commutation that modified or negated the effect of the original provisions. The substance of the regulatory changes varied according to the specific nature of the misconduct; however, the overall legislative trend was towards greater severity for “private misconduct” (wrongful acts committed intentionally and pursuit of private advantage, such as corruption) and greater leniency for “public misconduct (wrongful acts committed unintentionally and not in pursuit of private advantage, such as negligence). What is significant about these regulatory changes is not only the rationale behind their enactment and what this reveals about the judicial reasoning of Qing lawmakers, but also the consequences for officials and what this reveals about the administrative priorities of the Qing state.