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Sorcery Crimes, Laws, and Judicial Practice in Traditional China

21 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2016  

Xiaohuan Zhao

University of Sydney, Department of Chinese Studies

Date Written: July 3, 2016

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Zhao, Xiaohuan, Sorcery Crimes, Laws, and Judicial Practice in Traditional China (July 3, 2016). Australian Journal of Asian Law, Vol. 17, No. 1, Article 1, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2804393

Xiaohuan Zhao (Contact Author)

University of Sydney, Department of Chinese Studies ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NC NSW 2006
Australia

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