P13. Law and Society

Session: Session 2, 1:45-3:15 pm, Friday 9/29

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Innovation

Chair: Yidan Xiong (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: James Jagiello, Yujie Pu, Haiyi Li

Lay Judges: First Impressions from Taiwan’s New Legal System

Speaker: James Jagiello
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: While Taiwan’s system of lay judges has long been in the making, the first cases using lay judges have only been decided this past month. This paper sets out to discuss the motivations for this new system, expectations for the system by the public, lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, as well as courtroom ethnography of the first two cases tried in Taiwan. In addition to courtroom observation (where comparisons are made with common law systems, as well as differences between the prosecution and the defense in these two cases) interviews were conducted with lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and academics involved in the process. It was found that even amongst those who had a part in crafting the new system, there is uncertainty as to how the new system will operate in practice, especially as it pertains to harshness of sentencing. The first two cases resulted in harsher sentences than most predicted, but this paper claims that it is still too early to conclude that lay judge cases result in harsher sentences, as the specific fact patterns of these two cases (which were not fully conveyed in the media) might have led to the lengthier sentences.  

Exorcising Spirits in Court: Spirit Possession and Law in 18th-Century Chinese Homicide Cases 

Speaker: Yujie Pu
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: Modern medicine and psychiatry have discredited the explanation of behavioral aberrance through spiritual possession. However, late imperial China witnessed a divergence between ritual healing and medical healing, with skilled physicians rejecting the former as heretical (Leung, 2013). Despite this division, medical practitioners did not entirely exclude the possibility of spirit possession as a cause of insanity; instead, they used herbal medicine or acupuncture to “exorcise” the spirits (Chen, 2008). This study builds upon previous study and investigates how the Qing legal system dealt with homicide cases in which the accused claimed to be possessed by spirits. It seeks to contribute to the fields of religious studies and medical studies by demonstrating how the juridical system of the Qing led to a reconfiguration of the relationship between religion and medicine. This paper argues that while local officials relied on medical practitioners’ testimony to investigate homicide cases involving mad suspects, medical practitioners did not categorically rule out spirit possession as a reasonable trigger for madness. Moreover, case reports show that families of the ill turned to medical practitioners first but sought help from religious experts when medical healing was ineffective. While witnesses presented both medical and religious explanations of madness in court, bureaucratic decisions ultimately dismissed the notion of spirit possession as reasonable evidence in dealing with homicide cases involving insanity. This research sheds light on how the Qing legal system further demarcated medicine and religion, comparable to the process of secularization that occurred in contemporary Europe.

Strategizing gender in everyday lives: widowhood, family, and law in
Qing dynasty China 

Speaker: Haiyi Li
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: Many women, unfortunately, lost their spouses for various reasons. To Chinese women living in the rural areas of the Qing empire, the passing of their partners could mean not only the loss of labor forces, but more importantly, the disappearance of a shelter that supposedly should protect them from competition and gazing from the outsiders. Becoming a widow in late imperial China was a perilous experience, but it also created opportunities for women to exploit by acting as the de facto household owner. In this research, I study the experiences of Chinese widows in Qing dynasty China from legal archives, that recorded their interactions with their relatives, community members, and the legal system. The social practices being studied included arranging the estate left by their deceased husbands, fighting for the rights of lineage inheritance for their offspring, and negotiating for another potential marriage that and ingenuity in strategizing their demands before their kins, the state, and the patriarchal structure of society. I examine the process in which widowed women made decisions between compromise and resistance in the specific context that had been given. Many scholars had studied the regulation of women imposed by the state from the up. This research, however, took a new approach to understanding the late imperial Chinese society from the bottom.