Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Zhao on Sorcery Crimes in Traditional China

Xiaohuan Zhao, University of Sydney, Department of Chinese Studies, has posted Sorcery Crimes, Laws, and Judicial Practice in Traditional China, which appears in the Australian Journal of Asian Law 17 (2016): 1-21:
Wugu is a general term for all sorts of black magic in China, just as ‘sorcery’ or ‘witchcraft’ is understood in a Western context. Wugu sorcery is a living tradition that has been practised for more than 3,000 years and has been strictly prohibited and severely punished since ancient times. This study will examine rules and punishments laid out against sorcery crimes in traditional China from the pre-Qin (221-206 BC) period through to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), followed by a case study of relevant judicial practice. I argue that sorcery was treated primarily as a heretical or political crime in early and early medieval China, before politically motivated sorcery crimes were distinguished from non-politically motivated ones. The distinction made between them led to a sharp drop in political sorcery charges and trials in China’s later dynasties but did not do much to prevent miscarriage of justice from occurring from time to time, mainly due to wide judicial discretion, lack of specific legal penalties, and the absence of effective means of gathering and verifying evidence.