The Tang Legal Code Essay

Law and order are used and enforced by any government in order to maintain safety, security, and ethical undertakings. Putting up a constitution or a set of rules and regulations to govern the behavior of subjects depends on the practices of the government or leadership at hand. Considering this, a leader may decide to erect his/her own set of regulations that govern a certain part of the territory he/she rules in order to address some parts that may not have been addressed by an earlier version of the governing laws. For this reason, this paper reflects on the Tang Dynasty Legal Code as an example of adopted law put in place to regulate the activities of people.

As far as 6th and the 7th centuries goes, there was no formal type of governance but rather empires that rose from rich and financially able families. With this mode of leadership, slave trade and other forms of trade were rampant to cater for agricultural labor and home industries. Furthermore, trade began before 1st century A.D so the work of the poor was to work for the rich in one way or another. Being a commoner or a slave before the rule of an empirical leader was but the same thing. This means that the rich ascended to power (or assumed power) to manage resources and take control of the commoners and poor people.

The Chinese introduced the dynasty legal code in the 6th century by the introduction of the Sui Dynasty. The rule was put into practice so that it could give emperors legal responsibilities of punishing those who went against the law. The Sui Dynasty was indented to control the behavior and the code of ethics required for every inhabitant of the territories that used the Dynasty. The main aim of the dynasty was to separate people of different social classes and governing their activities according to their classes. It was also aimed at making sure that the emperors were respected and recognized as leaders by all. However, the overall use of the Sui Dynasty was to make sure that several offenses were avoided for they were capable of demoralizing the society. In the Sui Dynasty, the capital offenses were included in one article named ’10 greatest abominations’. Anyone who went against the requirement of the articles was either killed or exiled for life.

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The successor of the Sui dynasty was the Tang Dynasty that was a bit fair to both offenders and people in general. The earlier Sui dynasty classified people according to their ranks and protected those with high ranks against some offences. However, on the Tang Dynasty several amendments were made to equate the people in terms of the law. Inspite of the Tang Dynasty version on lenience to some offences, it contained articles that gave offenders benefits of punishment in that some could buy their freedom with copper and also have death penalties revoked if offenders appealed to the emperors. The down side of either version of the Dynasties (Sui and Tang) excluded the emperors from punishment when it came to offences. However, considering the two, it is clear that punishment for top leaders was put in place to help deal with impracticalities in the line of duty and in the prevention of corruption.

Tang Dynasty was mainly aimed at addressing the relational values of people in that it emphasized on terms and conditions of association. It also reflected on the issues of trading thereby attracting economical recognition to investors and local traders. As a matter of master-slave relationships, a strict guideline was put across to control treatment of slaves and ensure that minimum allowance for slaves was met accordingly. For those with the indentions of converting some of their family members, friends, enemies, or assuming marriage with an uninterested party were punished following respective articles of the Dynasty. However, inspite of the advantages of the Tang Dynasty Legal Code, a number of disadvantages were arising by following its requirements. Amongst the disadvantages of the Tang Dynasty were the issues of emperors being above the law, too many articles on the dynasty that took away the alleged offender benefits, the exclusion of some articles named under the Sui Dynasty and assuming that people knew they were supposed to be followed, and giving the rich an option of buying their freedom.

Advantages of the Tang Dynasty Legal Code

Balance Between Commoners and Officers

Former Han and Latter Han of 206 B.C-AD and 25-219 AD under the Law of Confucianization separated the rich from the poor, the highly ranked officials from those of a lower rank, and protected officers from punishment. Following other laws that came after these two, it seems that before the succession of the Sui Dynasty by the Tang Dynasty there were distinct punishments for the poor and the rich. Following this distinct approach to law, the Tang Dynasty was advantageous in that it created a leveled ground in that any official that committed crime was legible for punishment. Particularly, the Ten Abominations that were present in the Sui Dynasty apply to Tang Dynasty and for anyone who goes against the requirements is supposed to be put to death or exiled for life without any legal benefit. For this reason, the rich who are able to buy their freedom or reduce their punishment by offering copper were locked out of this.

Article 9.2 of the Dynasty denies anyone – be it an official or a commoner the right of petitioning a ruling if one of the Ten Abominations was committed. Following this, it means that there was not one above the law when it came to the Ten Abominations. Amongst those officials who had the rights of deliberation from punishments, under the requirements of article 9.2 those rights were revoked and they were punished accordingly. Article 9.1 of the dynasty outlines that, “anyone of a lower political or social rank had the right to petition the emperor and have their capital punishments of death or life exile reduced. To support this, article 10 gave a broader group of people possessing lower official ranks a degree of punishment reduction in terms of exile for life.

As both an economical and fairness strategy, article 11 of the dynasty gave a choice of buying a reduction of punishment with copper. For this reason, one was able to reduce a degree of punishment by giving out a clearly stated amount of copper. The use of copper back at the time was to make household equipment and utensils and these were major trading goods. For this matter, it is clear that the freedom of buying freedom was both a punishment as it was an economical strategy.

Accounting For Every Judgment Mistake

Overall, the emperors had the final judgment incase people or offenders appealed for petition following unfair rulings. For this case, magistrates and lower courts could exercise the right of punishing criminals according to the right way as indicated in the Dynasty Legal Code. However, petitions that reached the emperor and were proven to have a legal basis resulted to punishment of the magistrates or the lower court judges who made the mistakes. For these undertakings, it was easy or rather beneficial to offender who thought they were falsely accused or unfairly punished to reverse the ruling by petitioning the emperor. This was a both a means of ensuring fair treatment for offenders or the accused as it was for training judges and magistrates to exercise their authorities.

By reflecting back on the issue of the accuser; if one accused another of abomination as outlined on the Sui Dynasty and reinstated in article 9 of the Tang Dynasty, if the accusation was proven false or baseless that person would be punished not lesser than the accused would have been. The advantage of these undertakings was to build up a social backbone for different social denominations and tribes. This encouraged the people to be more cautious when making accusations and to some point was promoting arbitrational approach to solving issues. For this reason, legal counsel was exercised with caution and the parties were well informed. However, for fear of accusing someone falsely and ending up serving their sentences some people would rather not report crimes than face the consequences of benefit of doubt. The result of the Tang Dynasty under this requirement fostered good relationship between people of the same or different political and social backgrounds. Following the benefits of caution, strong bonds were created between people and this encouraged cross-race trade.

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Prevention of Slavery

The period between 300 B.C and 1000 A.D was period within which slave trade was a normal form of living. Before and after this period does not make so much different in regards to how people conceived the idea. However, the Tang Dynasty’s existence comes somewhere between this period and clarified the modes of engaging in slave trade. The Dynasty under article 375 claimed that no one had the authority to claim that one was his/her slave. Commoners were the people that existed between the high ranks and the lower ranks of citizens of inhabitants. They are assumedthe people who come between slaves and authority or rather the subjects who make up the better part of the society. Considering this, an officer did not have the authority to retain anyone - be it a wife, a concubine, a son, grandson; that person was punished for kidnapping (Han, 2004: 65).

The meaning of the 375th article of the Tang Dynasty is that it provided immunity to the common people who would have fallen victims of slavery. Furthermore, considering the psychological status of leaders and wealthy people of this dynasty, it is possible that they would have taken anyone for slavery if there were no rules to regulate this aspect. The implication of this undertaking in terms of wellbeing of people and the economy was maintaining a gap of freedom that acted as a breathing space for the commoners. If the law did not manage the gap, it would mean that all the people less powerful in terms of family backgrounds and financial status would be enslaved by the rich and forced to work for them. In the long run, there would be no place for commoners in the society for they would all be working for the rich. The economy under these circumstances would have suffered greatly for riches would be a family thing generation in generation out. For this reason, the regulation of who could be called a slave or not helped maintain an open chance of anyone making it out of poverty or from being a commoner.

Economical Implication of the Dynasty

Just like the undertakings of the law on the 21st century concerning markets and business ethics, the Tang Dynasty also regulated the activities that stakeholders in the economy performed. For this reason, ethics of trade and engagement in business matters were regulated through several articles in the dynasty. The reason behind this was to place a balance between highly privileged people and lesser-privileged people. For the rich, it was known that they could get away with unethical behaviors through bribing officials. According to this law, supervisory and custodial officials who took bribes so that they could subvert the law were accused and punished for robbery through exile for life.

On the same issue of controlling the market in terms of ethical and legal practice, article 419 of the Tang Dynasty stated outlined that, no official was supposed to set prices for articles and other goods fairly. It adds that, if unfair setting of prices resulted to an officer benefiting from that exercise, he or she was supposed to be exiled for life for committing a robbery. The tone of robbery comes from the concept of taxing and making the masses pay more for sole benefits. For this, it means that a person who engaged in practices that put the lives of investors, traders and consumers on the receiving end was considered a robber. The advantage of this law was to protect consumers from exploitation by either the market officials or traders with similar intentions of exploitation. A fair atmosphere was created for trading that encouraged investment and fairness in the market.

The government was supposed to be the sole collector of taxes as outlined in article 173 of the Tang Dynasty. The article prohibited the application of selective imposition of taxes and labor. Under this, illegal collection of taxes that went to a private person or group of persons was prohibited and was punishable under the law.  For this reason, the rampant abuse of office that has been witnessed in organizations since industrialization started was not the case back in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries due to the strictness of the law.

Effectiveness of communication and delivery of goods and services was managed and closely observed under article 123. This article required that postal relay couriers deliver their services within schedule. Delays were to be avoided especially if the services were to be delivered to the military. Regarding the role of this article, many people involved in the transaction were forced to be time-sensitive or risk facing capital punishment. As a resource, time was of essence and observation of time was an economical element that stabilized the sector.

Buying Freedom

As a legal benefit, the choice or reducing an offender’s punishment under the provisions of article 10 of the Tang Dynasty was a selective move that in actual sense isolates the poor from redemption. Given the economic standards and strengths of the poor, evasion to pay tax is one of the reasons whey they would be accused and sentenced to a certain period behind bars. On the same matter, the rich have the ability to pay tax and are faced with lesser risks of conviction. Considering other offenses that people may commit with or without intentions, the poor still had lesser privileges when punishment was considered a trade. With copper, the rich would buy off some degrees of the punishments and be left with something they can handle. Without the copper, the poor would be faced by a burden of dealing and serving the whole sentences. For this reason, buying of freedom was a judicial offence that the Tang Dynasty promoted.

Assumption that subjects understood previous’ law requirements

Sui Dynasty of 598 to 617 A.D was the predecessor of the Tang Dynasty and contained the law that stated the Ten Abominations. With the strictness that the Ten Abominations were met with, it is assumed that citizens or the community understood them and was willing to follow. However, in the Tang Dynasty there was no inclusion of Ten Abominations in terms of their requirements. For this reason, article 9.2 of the Tang Dynasty provides for requirements that are in a very different constituted document. Following this undertaking, the disadvantage of this law comes in for generations that came after the period between. Accusations for capital offenses and their subsequent penalties are irrelevant considering offenders who did not have prior knowledge that committing incest, great irreverence, plotting to kill, plotting to rebel against the government, and plotting treason were five amongst the Ten Abominations.

Different Articles Adding up to a much Fierce Punishment

Under articles 9.1, 10, and 11 of the Tang Dynasty, legal benefits were extended to offenders so that they could reduce their punishments. However, under other articles, like 9.2 any benefits that would arise by either petitioning the emperor or even paying copper could not be accepted for having committed a capital offense. As a result, the benefits that an offender accused falsely or judged unfairly would be revoked under these circumstances. Generally, Tang Dynasty articles treat offenses fairly when certain articles are reviewed separately. However, the scattering of legal bindings all through the document make it difficult for an offender to get the legal benefits if all articles are considered (Liang, 1996: 104).

Emperors being above the Law

Interpretation of the law differs from one person to another. Interpretation of the law differed from one emperor to another considering their levels of experience and knowledge. For this case, magistrates and judges who were punished for unfairly punishing offenders might have been punished unfairly themselves. Putting the emperors above the law allowed them to make uninformed judgments and committing crimes that suited their judgments. For this reason, the Tang Dynasty Legal Code was correctional of wrong doing as it was contributing to the wrong doing.


The Tang Dynasty Legal Code of 618 to 907 A.D was a successor law of the Sui Dynasty that controlled the empirical leadership of the Chinese. The law was both advantageous as it was disadvantageous due to the flip-flop nature. Some of its advantages were promoting relationships and unity between people of different tribes, protecting consumers and promoting ethical business practices, and the prevention of slavery through the basis of rich-poor to master-slave concepts. However, inspite of the governance traits and advantages of the law; the fact of emperors being above the law, contradicting or rather subdivided articles, and the allowance of the rich to buy their freedom were some of its disadvantages.

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