China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The commercial printing revolution since the late Ming transformed the way how legal information was circulated. Before the late Ming, the state largely monopolized the production of the Code. Since the late Ming, however, commercial publishers began to play an increasingly important role in printing and circulating the Code. In the Qing, commercial publishers replaced official publishers and became main providers of the Code and other law books to officials and commoners. The Qing state did not ban or impose serious regulations on commercial/private printing or reprinting of the Code. Instead, the state seemed to rely on commercial publishers to provide its bureaucracy with updated editions of the Code. Among the 131 different editions of the Code that I have found thus far, only 11 editions were published by official publishers. Commercial publishers published at least 120 editions. The market for the Code was competitive. Due to the lack of regulations, unauthorized reprinting of the Code was rampant. Interestingly, rather than reprinting imperial editions of the Code, most commercial publishers chose to reprint editions published by several leading commercial publishers in Hangzhou, which had different contents and printing formats from the imperial editions. Commercial printing and reprinting of the Code and other law books brought changes to the Qing judicial system and legal practice. These changes included the rise of the power of private legal secretaries, the rising importance of private statutory commentaries and case precedents in judicial decisions, and the diminishing government control over interpretations/practice of the law.