Reinterpreting the Chinese Legal Doctrine of Li: Beyond Rites, Ritual and Ceremonies

30 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2011 Last revised: 29 Nov 2011

See all articles by Alex Chu Kwong Chan

Alex Chu Kwong Chan

Gratia College

Angus Young

Department of Accountancy & Law, Hong Kong Baptist University; German-Sino Institute of Legal Studies, Nanjing Univeristy; School of Law, Western Sydney University

Date Written: November 25, 2011

Abstract

For thousands of years Chinese scholars had characterized China’s system of regulation as li yi zhi bang. This literally means that China is governed by the doctrine of li. However, there a general misconception that the doctrine of li was conceived by Confucius, in fact it predates his birth. This paper aims to re-examine this doctrine with the aid of Chinese classics from 1100 B.C., in conjunction with Confucius’s works to explain the meaning and workings of this regulatory concept. Li is multifaceted, versatile, and dynamic doctrine because it more than mere rituals, rites, and ceremonies. It is a form of non-legal and non-rule based regulatory doctrine that centre upon virtue, actualized and practiced through unwritten codes of conduct and behavior. This regulatory doctrine is also varies according to the social hierarchy between individuals, the context of the application, and the heritage of a particular li. The ultimate goal of li to create a civil society, where everyone is in tune with the cosmic order that li is a sub set. Thus, this pre-modern regulatory doctrine has elements of natural law. Yet, the plurality of this regulatory doctrine appears to be similar to postmodernist views about law and regulation.

Keywords: jurisprudence, legal culture, legal traditions, regulation, governance, social norms, moral values, ethics

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K20, K30, N45, Z10

Suggested Citation

Chan, Alex Chu Kwong and Young, Angus, Reinterpreting the Chinese Legal Doctrine of Li: Beyond Rites, Ritual and Ceremonies (November 25, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1964501 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1964501

Alex Chu Kwong Chan

Gratia College ( email )

5 Wai Chi St
Shek Kip Mei
Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Angus Young (Contact Author)

Department of Accountancy & Law, Hong Kong Baptist University ( email )

Kowloon
Hong Kong

German-Sino Institute of Legal Studies, Nanjing Univeristy ( email )

22 Hankou Road
Nanjing, Jiangsu 210093
China

School of Law, Western Sydney University ( email )

Parramatta
Australia

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