Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sommer on autopsy and confession in Qing China

Cover Powerful ArgumentsMatthew H. Sommer (Stanford University) has published "Some Problems with Corpses: Standards of Validity in Qing Homicide Cases" as part of Martin Hofmann, Joachim Kurtz and Ari Daniel Levine, eds., Powerful Arguments: Standards of Validity in Late Imperial China, Sinica Leidensia, vol.146 with Brill (5 March 2020). Here's the opening:
This chapter explores homicide cases from the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) to interrogate the perfect balance between autopsy and confession that was necessary for magistrates to pass judgment. What factors might disturb that balance, and what problems then arose? How did the Qing system cope with these problems? Moreover, how good was Qing forensic medicine, according to modern standards?
When considering standards of validity in the legal field, it is useful to distinguish between representation and practice: that is, between the ideal principles invoked by normative sources and the practical realities that impinged on the actual work of judicial authorities. This chapter will tack between the two dimensions, illuminating how the Qing judicial system was supposed to work, but also how difficult forensic cases might induce magistrates and coroners to diverge from that ideal. Running through this material like a red thread is the Qing judiciary's reliance on self-incrimination under duress--raising fundamental questions that are not merely academic, given their painful relevance to criminal justice in China and elsewhere today.
Further information is available here

--Mitra Sharafi