Law, Literature, and Gender in Tang China: An Exploration of Bai Juyi's (772-846) Selected Panwen on Women
Tsinghua China Law Review, Vol. I, No. 1 (2009)
30 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2012
Generally speaking, law and literature scholars have primarily focused their attention on American and European literary masterpieces. By comparison, very little scholarly attention has been placed on premodern Chinese literature and law. This article attempts to rectify this scholarly deficit by exploring the panwen (which can be translated as "written verdicts" or "written judgments") literary genre, which reached its peak during the Tang dynasty (618 - 907), when it was institutionalized as a literary form to be tested on the imperial civil service examinations. In particular, this paper will center its analysis on a selection of Tang poet Bai Juyi's (772 - 846) panwen that focus on gender and women issues. This article argues that the relationship between literature and law in the premodern Chinese tradition - as seen through these panwen - was symbiotic. The boundaries between law and literature often overlapped - literature could become a source of law and legal authority, and the literary features and style of the panwen also empowered the force of law expressed through Bai's written verdicts. Furthermore, Bai's panwen were not simply works of literary ornamentation, but utilized analytical legal and substantive reasoning to make important points about the case at hand and the human condition. Indeed, exploration of Bai's panwen not only reveals the importance and value of the panwen genre as a whole to the Chinese literary and legal tradition, but may very well complicate commonly-held assumptions held by the law and literature field in the West.
Keywords: China, Chinese law, Chinese legal history, law and literature, Tang dynasty
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