Fraternity and Fratricide in Late Imperial China

Of all relations between men in late imperial China, the bond between brothers was the most important and the most celebrated. In addition, the fraternal bond was the implicit model for all other types of male homosocial relations, such as the friends discussed in Norman Kutcher’s article and the sworn blood brothers examined by Lee McIsaac in this Forum. Fraternal relations were at the core of the highly articulated and state-sponsored conceptualization of kinship relations. Confucian thinkers linked the idea of ti (loving fraternity) to that of xiao (filial piety), meaning that younger brothers were supposed to display the same obedience to older brothers as they showed to their father or sovereign. Thus the Song dynasty writer Yuan Cai argued that “the relationship of a son to his father or a younger brother to his elder brother is like that of a soldier to his officer, a clerk to the official above him, or a bondservant to his master: that is, they may not consider themselves peers who may dispute points whenever they please.”[1] While Yuan also encouraged parents and older brothers to handle their power responsibly, he insisted that children and younger brothers should accept even unjust demands: “if a senior’s words or actions are unmistakably remiss, all that the junior may do is voice some suggestions in a tactful way. If the senior compounds his mistakes by offering twisted excuses, the junior should listen even more submissively and not argue with him.”[2] Similarly, the great Song thinker Sima Guang, in his Jia Fan (Family Rules), argued that, even in “cases where the deference and submission of the junior was not matched by fairness and kindness from the senior,” there should be “greater submission to the point of extreme self-abnegation,” for “in these cases one had a special opportunity to display one’s filial piety or fraternal submission.”[3]

This dominant model of hierarchical fraternal relations exercised great influence in late imperial Chinese society. The late imperial Chinese state promoted and defended it (along with other aspects of the family system) through its laws. Yet the influence of a hierarchical conception of fraternity, of which these laws are but one, albeit major, example, should not blind us to the fact that there were other conceptions of fraternal relations operating in late imperial China. Above all, the fraternal bond was complicated by the general rule that brothers had an equal claim to the assets of their family. This contradiction between status inequality and economic equality has led many anthropologists to identify fraternal relations as, in Arthur Wolf’s words, “a structural weakness at the very center of the Chinese kinship system.”[4] Wolf pointed out that the mourning clothes worn when a brother died indicated that the “seniority enjoyed by an older brother” is “slight” and that “the relationship is essentially one of equality.”[5] Maurice Freedman argued that the “fraternal relationship was one of competition, and potentially of a fierce kind”[6] over “scarce resources,” and was “one of the most fragile bonds in Chinese society, Confucian moralizing notwithstanding.”[7] Myron Cohen’s work expanded on this theme, stating that “all Chinese families were under a constant tension produced by the conflict between unifying forces and those making for fragmentation” and that the “major divisive force [in the family] was generated precisely by the equal rights to the chia [jia] estate held by the brothers.”[8]

The dual nature of the way fraternity was constructed in late imperial China—its inclusion of hierarchical and equal elements—made a certain amount of tension between brothers virtually inevitable. This article will examine one extreme expression of tension, cases of fratricide, to uncover both the specific issues that led to conflict among brothers as well as the concepts of fraternity that were expressed by individuals. Fratricide cases demonstrate that the hierarchical model of fraternity was not the only conceptual formulation of fraternal relations circulating in late imperial Chinese society. At first glance, nothing might seem further removed from “fraternity” than “fratricide”; however, fratricide cases allow us to examine both fraternal relations and the competing meanings and definitions of fraternity. While hardly designed for this purpose, the investigation and trial of the murder of brothers provided a context in which men articulated their understanding of the fraternal relationship. These cases thus reveal the multiple meanings assigned fraternity within late imperial society.

Although the extreme violence that marked these instances of fraternal conflict was clearly unusual, the issues that prompted them were far from uncommon. The cases most often arose out of disputes over the division of property, clashes over the support and treatment of parents, and concerns over how a brother’s behavior might affect the reputation of the family. Underneath each of these conflicts, however, was also a difference of opinion over the definition of fraternity; often, brothers fought not only over specific issues but also because they saw the fraternal bond differently. Some were threatened by the rejection of a hierarchical relationship between older and younger brother. Others identified the salient threat to the fraternal relationship as the misuse of hierarchical authority to obtain personal advantage; still others grew angry over a brother’s persistent refusal to conform to other norms of social behavior (especially filial piety and adherence to the law), which weakened the social status of all members of their family. The language, explanations, and descriptions found in the testimonies of these murderous brothers thus tell us more than the immediate cause of their conflict. They also give us an indication of the diversity of ways in which “fraternity” was defined in late imperial China. Both younger and older brothers acknowledged the widely promoted and culturally dominant model of hierarchical fraternity. Yet they also invoked other principles, which modified or undermined that model. Some spoke of a collective conception of fraternity, while others stressed the individual interests and separate identities of brothers.

This article examines closely three fratricide cases that were tried during the Yongzheng (1723–1736) and Qianlong (1736–1796) reigns of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The details of these cases are very similar to many other cases of fratricide I have examined as part of a larger study of intra-familial homicide in eighteenth-century China.[9] While it is obviously impossible to make broad generalizations about fraternal relations in late imperial China from such a small number of cases, I argue that these instances of fraternal conflict contain important clues about the contested nature of fraternity in Qing China. Given the paucity of other materials that reveal the quotidian details of family life during this period, I believe that, notwithstanding the problematic nature of legal documents, these cases serve as a useful counterpoint to the more widely disseminated and promoted discourse that celebrated hierarchical fraternity.

Qing law both singled out intra-familial crime and encouraged the production of voluminous records of homicide. The Qing code adjusted punishments for crimes such as cursing, assault, and murder if a familial relationship existed between the perpetrator and the victim; junior or younger relatives were given especially severe punishments for harming their senior or older relatives. Thus younger brothers (and sisters) who struck, injured, or killed their older siblings were punished far more severely than older brothers and sisters who assaulted or murdered their younger siblings.[10] The discrepancy in punishment between siblings was starkest in cases of murder. Killing an older sibling was punished with beheading or, when it was premeditated, with death by slicing;[11] by contrast, older brothers and sisters who killed a younger sibling were usually sentenced to penal servitude or banishment.[12] Not only Qing codified law but also the jurisprudence developed over the course of the dynasty stressed the intense importance of distinguishing between older and younger brothers in determining punishment. This is especially evident in the casebooks that Qing magistrates relied on for dealing with complex situations.[13] These collections clearly demonstrate that Qing courts were usually unwilling to reduce the sentence of a younger brother convicted of murder.[14] Only in cases where there was no intention of doing harm or when the younger brother acted completely in self-defense did judges show some flexibility.[15] Nor were judges usually willing to allow a younger brother guilty of murdering his older sibling to be eligible for liuyang, the procedure by which a person was exempted from punishment because he was the only one available to take care of his elderly parents.

Other provisions in the Qing dynasty legal code regarding homicide generated an immense documentary record of murder. All homicide cases had to be reviewed by each level of the Qing bureaucracy; all executions had to be approved by the emperor.[16] For each homicide case, a routine memorial of the Qing Board of Punishments (xingke tiben) was produced. These memorials essentially consist of a series of reports issued by increasingly important officials—first by the county magistrate who originally dealt with the murder, then by officials at the prefectural and provincial level who reviewed the magistrate’s actions and verdict, and finally by the Board of Punishments in Beijing. These are extremely rich documents. They contain, for example, a record of the original report of the homicide, an autopsy report, and an account of the investigative process carried out by the county magistrate. Most important, they include long, detailed testimonies given by the witnesses, village leaders, and relatives of the victim, and confessions by the murderer.

The use of these legal records is obviously problematic, especially with regard to their representativeness and accuracy. To begin with, the cases document only those murders that came to the attention of the authorities; many people sought to avoid reporting crimes and instead settled them privately. Also, magistrates and other judicial officials had a great capacity to affect the nature of the record, since the Qing legal system authorized the use of certain forms of torture to extract testimony. In addition, there were many factors that would encourage defendants and witnesses to alter their statements, adjust their account of their actions, or structure in a particular way the “facts” they were recounting. Defendants hoped to minimize evidence of their guilt; witnesses and others giving testimony sought to avoid being entrapped or revealing their own involvement in criminal activity. No doubt, then, in some of these cases, defendants distorted evidence, witnesses falsified testimonies, and magistrates handed down unfair verdicts.[17]

However, countervailing factors minimized or reduced the effects of non-reporting, judicial manipulation, and misrepresentation and concealment in testimonies. Homicide was almost certainly reported more consistently than other crimes, for concealing a murder was punished severely, especially if the victim was a close relative.[18] The initial investigation and trial of a case of homicide, carried out by the county magistrate, was always followed by a full retrial of the murder at the prefectural level. Since the verdict was then reviewed at all levels of the government hierarchy before sentence was carried out, magistrates had to be careful to avoid outright deception and manipulation of evidence, which might be discovered at these higher levels. While defendants and witnesses may have tried to deceive the magistrate, false testimony by witnesses was harshly punished, and it is clear from the cases that magistrates made great efforts to compare testimonies in order to uncover lies and resolve discrepancies.

Moreover, as scholars working on legal records from other areas of the world have shown, testimonies can also be revealing even when they do not represent an absolutely accurate account of events, for the ways in which criminals attempt to explain and sometimes justify their behavior can be as significant as the behavior itself. Falsehoods can be useful evidence; as Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero note, “lies can often tell more about the past than apparent truths . . . [N]ot just any lie will do in testifying about a crime. Usually lies must have the ring of credibility.”[19] Natalie Zemon Davis has shown that the “pardon tales” written by sixteenth-century French men and women accused of crimes contain clues about the cultural framework within which these requests were produced.[20] Similarly, in his study of crime in colonial Mexico, William Taylor notes that the motives and explanations expressed in testimonies, even if not true, “give us clues to folk explanations and norms” and let us know “how the people interpreted their situations and what was considered proper or expected social behavior in different circumstances.”[21]

Cases of fratricide illustrate Taylor’s point, for they expose the ways in which men in late imperial China interpreted the concept of fraternity. This interpretation was highly varied and complex; indeed, even promoters of the Confucian ideal of fraternity, such as Yuan Cai, acknowledged that “sometimes they [brothers] are not harmonious,” and “with brothers it is often the result of disputes over property.”[22] The fratricide cases bear this out, for among the most common sources of tension between brothers was the division of jointly held family property—both how the land and other assets should be split and who had the authority to supervise the division. One example is the case of Xie Biao, a Sichuanese peasant who killed his older brother, Xie Kui, during a fight over ownership of a piece of land.[23] Xie Kui had managed his and his siblings’ land after their father died. Because of his incompetence and extravagance, he had soon lost the bulk of their property. Fearing even further losses, his two younger brothers, Xie Jian and Xie Biao, asked their older sister to supervise an equitable division of their estate; she was able to persuade all three brothers to agree to a split. Xie Kui and Xie Biao each received slightly more land than Xie Jian because their families were larger.

Xie Kui, however, fared no better on his own, and had soon sold off all the land he had received. He then began to covet a portion of the land that Xie Biao had been given. On October 28, 1738, as Xie Biao was plowing this very land, Xie Kui confronted him and demanded to be allowed to cultivate the land himself. They argued for a while and then separated; later that day, however, Xie Kui went to Xie Biao’s house to pursue the argument. In the course of the ensuing fight, Xie Biao killed his older brother by striking him on the head with a rock. Terrified that his crime might be discovered, Xie Biao hid his brother’s corpse in a nearby grove. When Xie Biao’s wife came home, he made her help him move Xie Kui’s body to a more secure hiding place: a cave in a nearby hill, whose entrance Xie Biao blocked up. However, his attempt at concealment failed; his sister became suspicious about her older brother’s disappearance, especially when she saw some bloodstained stones around Xie Biao’s house. She relayed her suspicions to the village leader Ao Fenghe, who then interrogated Xie Jian and Xie Biao. Xie Biao confessed to his crime; he was later sentenced to beheading.

This case is one of many in which fraternal conflicts over land or other property were intensified when older brothers like Xie Kui presumed on their elevated status and position to demand a greater share of the family estate, or to insist on a renegotiation of the division of that estate. Clearly, younger brothers sharply—indeed, violently—resented and rejected attempts by their older brothers to obtain economic advantage. Just as clearly, however, the evidence in the cases also shows that older brothers often felt that their status did entitle them to demand a greater share of the estate or to a larger role in deciding how it would be divided. Thus conflict over land and property also involved a dispute over the extent as well as the economic significance of the power balance within the fraternal relationship. Younger brothers tended to resist the extension of the hierarchical nature of fraternity into the realm of property rights, while older brothers at times presumed on their seniority to justify their demand for a greater portion of the familial estate.

The above case involved brothers fighting over their individual interests. In other instances, the brother’s relationship to the family—particularly a perceived lack of filial piety or economic support of parents—was the reason for tension. Settlements of property division in late imperial China often involved provisions for the maintenance of parents, either by setting aside the income from some land for this purpose or by rotating the responsibility for support of parents. Neglecting or avoiding this responsibility challenged norms of filial piety, a key value in late imperial China. Even when property was not at stake, violation of filial piety—by yelling or cursing at parents, refusing to obey their demands, or generally behaving “improperly”—was a volatile issue for brothers. In some cases, parents would be actively involved in these disputes, either participating in the fight or demanding that one of their sons punish the one they saw as “disobedient.”

Unfilial behavior was, for example, the spark that set off a Cantonese case from 1735, that of Liao Mingxian.[24] Liao Mingxian was one of three sons (the other two were Liao Mingyang and Liao Mingru) of Liao Riying. After their father died, the brothers split the estate and lived separately, while their mother lived and worked at Liao Mingxian’s home. Trouble began with the death of Liao Mingru’s wife, which left him with two children to raise on his own. He tried to persuade his mother to move from Liao Mingxian’s house to his, but she was not swayed. Then, on May 7, 1735, Liao Mingru went to ask his mother to watch his children while he went to work in the fields. Because there was a lot to do at Liao Mingxian’s at the moment, she refused his request, suggesting that he find someone else. Liao Mingru then flew into a fury and cursed his mother, saying that she favored Liao Mingxian, since she was willing to work for him but not to take care of Liao Mingru’s children. Liao Mingxian, who was cleaning fish nearby, overheard his older brother curse their mother, got upset, and reprimanded him for his remarks. Unable to bear his younger brother’s criticism, Liao Mingru put down his infant son and grabbed a carrying-pole to beat Liao Mingxian. Taking the knife that he had been using to clean fish, Liao Mingxian stabbed his older brother Liao Mingru in the right side of the throat; Liao Mingru fell on the ground and died soon after. Panicked, Liao Mingxian dropped the knife and fled.

Their mother desperately tried to conceal Liao Mingxian’s crime. Her oldest son, Liao Mingyang, wanted to report the murder, but she stopped him by saying that she had already lost one son that day, and, if they reported the crime, Liao Mingxian would also be killed. Liao Mingyang relented and agreed to follow her orders to buy wood for a coffin and prepare Liao Mingru’s corpse for burial. Then, when the head of their security group (baozhang), Li Xingrang, and neighbors Liao Zongpu and Li Yajun learned of what had happened and wanted to report the crime, she stopped them by threatening to commit suicide. Ultimately, however, despite her efforts, the crime was reported to the county magistrate of Xinhui County. While the magistrate was lenient toward the mother and eldest son, and did not sentence them to any punishment for attempting to conceal the crime, the mother’s predictions about her youngest son’s fate were accurate: Liao Mingxian was sentenced to immediate beheading.

This case illustrates some of the ways in which the relationship to parents mediated relations between brothers. The conflict between the Liao brothers revolved around access to the valuable labor of their mother, as well as the more abstract, yet perhaps more visceral, issue of filial respect and piety. Charges of unfilial behavior were one way in which the fraternal hierarchy could be challenged, especially when the charge was backed up by the parent. Younger brothers in these cases suggested that the older brother had forfeited his prerogatives and authority because of his lack of filiality. The shared responsibility for and obedience toward parents also emphasized the collective nature of fraternity, which made brothers responsible for and affected by their siblings’ actions.

The collective and shared nature of fraternity is also clear in another scenario found fairly often in fratricide cases—the calculated elimination of a brother because his actions were becoming an embarrassment or a threat. In particular, criminal or equally outrageous behavior on the part of a brother that seemed to threaten the overall position or reputation of the family could lead to informal clan “justice.” One example is the murder of Xu San. By the time of his killing, Xu San had already committed several robberies and thefts; he had an “arrest record” and had been punished by the county magistrate court.[25] His older brother, Xu Dabin, testified that he had tried on numerous instances to persuade his brother to change his ways, all to no avail. Frustrated, Xu Dabin told his maternal uncle, Song Da, that he was worried about suffering for Xu San’s crimes and wanted to kill him to eliminate that threat. The document does not make clear the exact substance of Xu Dabin’s worries; the language that he uses (qianlei—to drag into trouble, or to involve) suggests a concern that he might be liable for any thefts that Xu San committed.[26] Perhaps, too, Xu Dabin was angry that his younger brother refused to listen to his remonstrations. Whatever the case, Song Da convinced Xu Dabin to be patient and to try harder to reform Xu San.

Xu San remained deaf to his brother’s sermons. On February 26, 1722, both brothers turned up at a new year’s celebration at Song Da’s house.[27] That night, for some unspecified reason, Xu Dabin’s patience snapped, and he decided to carry out his plan to kill Xu San. He asked Song Da for help. “Xu San,” he said to him, “is a thief and will not change. I will be hassled because of him. Killing him would be good. However, the only problem is that I can’t do it by myself. There is no one to help me.”[28] Song Da agreed to help, and together they convinced Xu Dabin’s neighbor, Pu Chengyou, to join them. Xu Dabin inveigled his brother into going with him to Helaizi Bridge, where Pu Chengyou was lying in wait. Pu Chengyou knocked Xu San to the ground, and then Xu Dabin strangled him with Pu Chengyou’s sash. Xu Dabin had Pu Chengyou tie Xu San’s feet with the sash, and they tossed his corpse into the river. Two days later, the corpse was discovered by the head of the local security unit, Zhang Shengxian, and by Zhuang Rui. Later, a villager, Jin Meichen, overheard Xu Dabin’s wife saying that the corpse resembled her brother-in-law Xu San. Jin went to look at the corpse, recognized it, and reported the crime. Xu Dabin was sentenced to banishment; his accomplices received lesser sentences.

Like challenges to parental authority, then, criminal behavior was an issue that prompted brothers to see fraternity as a collective concept, which created connections between brothers that could not be severed because of individual interests. Brothers were, in the minds of the participants in these cases, forever bound to one another; like it or not, they could not avoid the effects that a sibling’s behavior or actions might have, both on themselves and on their larger family. This attitude led both younger and older brothers to claim the right to discipline a sibling who was violating social or familial norms.

Fraternal disputes in late imperial China revolved mostly, as we have seen, over the issues of ownership of property, relationship to parents, or criminal or other inappropriate behavior. However, while these immediate concerns were very important, the underlying conflict found in these cases was also vital. On a deeper level, these cases involved the question of the meaning assigned to and responsibilities incumbent upon fraternity in late imperial society.

What did fraternity mean to men in late imperial China? Certainly, it appears that older and younger brothers tended to see it differently. The demands and actions of the older brothers in many of these cases indicate that they believed fraternity meant they had the right to command and their younger brothers had the obligation to obey. This hierarchical notion of fraternity is similar to what was enshrined in state law and the dominant ideology of Neo-Confucianism. By contrast, some younger brothers saw the elevated status of older brothers to be relatively limited; in particular, a few resisted and fiercely resented any notion that this status might give older brothers economic privilege within the family. Thus, when an older brother demanded a larger share of the family estate, and a younger brother resisted it, as was the case with Xie Kui and Xie Biao, in one sense they were fighting over property. But, on another level, they were arguing over the extent to which the definitions of older and younger brother determined their position in relation to that property. In a sense, one could argue that they were grappling with the question of whether fraternity implied difference—as in the stark contrast between older and younger brothers promoted in Confucianism—or similarity.

However, the diversity of opinion over fraternity cannot simply be understood as a clash between older and younger brothers who, primarily out of self-interest, came to different understandings over what being a brother implied. Another conflict besides the question of difference versus equality is that between a collective notion of fraternity and a more individualistic notion. While in conflicts involving property rights, both younger and older brothers in these cases jealously guarded their individual interests from demands of other members of their family and clearly enforced boundaries between communal and personal property (or blurred the boundaries for their own benefit), in disputes over the behavior of a brother, men instead asserted a common identity that gave one brother the right to intervene in the affairs of the other, demand that he change his behavior, and discipline him if he failed to comply. In these cases, brothers sought to justify or to explain their fratricides by referring to obligations they owed to their entire family, as well as criticizing their brother’s failure to adhere to those obligations. Thus both collective and individualistic conceptions of fraternity were invoked, by younger and older brothers alike. Similarly, the right to use force to deal with fraternal conflict was claimed by both younger and older brothers. Brothers argued that it was necessary to correct or punish criminal or unfilial behavior on the part of a brother. Brothers in these cases positioned themselves as the defenders of orthodox behavior. In most of their testimonies, they identified egregious actions—criticizing a parent, criminal behavior—as the cause of what had led them to violence. Nor was the assertion of this right to punish confined to the brother on trial; there are examples of parents and other relatives actively encouraging both younger and older brothers to deal harshly with their misbehaving sibling. Thus many of these quarrels represented a struggle over the degree of control one brother (usually, though not always, the older) could exercise over another.

While the law and the dominant ideology of Neo-Confucianism promoted a hierarchical fraternity, when we look beyond the realm of legal decisions and judicial reasoning, we encounter a world in which far more flexibility and variety existed in the definition of fraternity. Recent work on gender relations and roles in late imperial China has also focused attention on the complex and shifting connections between models of normative behavior as defined by orthodox Neo-Confucianism and the actual experiences of men and women who lived lives that appear, at least at first, to depart from these models. Dorothy Ko’s recent book on learned women in seventeenth-century China, for example, explores how these women studied, interacted, and traveled without—in their view—violating Confucian norms of feminine behavior.[29] Matthew Sommer’s work on sexual relations between men in the late imperial period has also demonstrated the ways in which men involved in these relations both upheld and transgressed normative models.[30] Fraternity, like gender, can be understood as a social category that takes shape and acquires meaning in the interaction of models and realities, and in the space between desired norms and actual practices.

The conception of fraternity that emerges from a study of these cases is thus not one that simply rejects the official, hierarchical model. Certainly, there is abundant evidence that this official model was believed in and adhered to by some, particularly those who stood to benefit from it. But other evidence suggests there was another conception of fraternity—one that rejected any misuse of hierarchical authority, both in material and more broadly social terms. The question, then, was not whether, as in the case of the male friendships Norman Kutcher discusses, the relationship between brothers should be equal or hierarchical; rather, the conflicts were over the extent of the prerogatives that hierarchy conferred. The contested nature of fraternity in late imperial China bears out Pierre Bourdieu’s point that “the closest genealogical relationship, that between brothers, is also the point of greatest tension.”[31]


A 1986 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Adrian Davis received his PhD in history in 1995 from Harvard University, where he studied under the direction of Philip A. Kuhn. He taught East Asian history from 1995 to 1998 at Franklin&Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Davis is currently a third-year law student at New York University School of Law.


The research for this article was made possible by a grant from the Committee on Scholarly Communications with the People’s Republic of China, as well as a faculty research grant from Franklin&Marshall College. An earlier version was delivered at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 5, 1996. I would like to thank my co-participants on the panel, Norman Kutcher and Lee McIsaac, and the commentators, Susan Mann and Gail Hershatter, as well as members of the audience, for their insightful comments. An even earlier version formed a chapter of my dissertation; I would like to acknowledge my adviser, Philip A. Kuhn, for his many useful comments. Abby Schrader, Maria Mitchell, David Schuyler, Jonathan Karp, Ted Pearson, Kathy Brown, Renee Sentilles, Carla Willard, and Tim Roseborough also provided me with criticisms and suggestions. I have also benefited from the comments of the AHR’s editors and anonymous reviewers. None of the above are responsible for any errors that this article might contain.
1 Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Family and Property in Sung China: Yuan Ts’ai’s Precepts for Social Life (Princeton, N.J., 1984), 185.
2 Ebrey, Family and Property, 185.
3 Ebrey, Family and Property, 33.
4 Arthur P. Wolf, “Chinese Kinship and Mourning Dress,” in Maurice Freedman, ed., Family and Kinship in Chinese Society (Stanford, Calif., 1970), 206.
5 Wolf, “Chinese Kinship and Mourning Dress,” 198, 199.
6 Maurice Freedman, Chinese Lineage and Society: Fukien and Kwangtung (London, 1971), 46.
7 Maurice Freedman, “Introduction,” in Freedman, Family and Kinship in Chinese Society, 3–4.
8 Myron Cohen, House United, House Divided: The Chinese Family in Taiwan (New York, 1976), 73.
9 This analysis of fratricide is part of a larger study on intra-familial homicide. See Adrian Davis, “Homicide in the Home: Marital Strife and Familial Conflict in Eighteenth-Century China” (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1995), 147–81, chap. 5. Cases are drawn either from memorials (xingke tiben) in the collection of the First Historical Archives in Beijing, or included in Zhang Weiren, ed., Mingqing Dangan (Taibei, 1987), a multi-volume compilation of Qing documents. Archival cases all date from the following years in the Qianlong emperor’s reign—the first year (1736–37), tenth (1745–46), twentieth (1755–56), thirtieth (1765–66), thirty-fifth (1770–71), fortieth (1775–76), or fiftieth (1785–86). In referring to an archival document in the notes, I list the archival catalog listings under which a memorial can be found, as well as the date and author of the document.
10 Younger brothers and sisters who hit their older siblings were punished with ninety blows of the heavy bamboo and two-and-a-half years of penal servitude; if they injured them, this punishment was increased. If the injury was caused with a knife, or if the injury had resulted in the breaking of a limb or the blinding of an eye, they were sentenced to strangulation. Daqing Luli Huitong Xinzuan (Taibei, 1964), 4: 2795.
11 Daqing Luli Huitong Xinzuan, 4: 2795.
12 Older brothers and sisters were punished only when they killed a younger sibling; they were given one hundred blows of the heavy bamboo and three years’ penal servitude if the killing had not been intentional, and banishment to a place 2,000 li (a unit of measurement equivalent to about a third of a mile) away if the killing had been deliberate. Daqing Luli Huitong Xinzuan, 4: 2796. However, if the purpose of an intentional killing of a younger sibling was to obtain property or office, or, if as a consequence of a long-term feud or conflict, the older sibling intentionally took a weapon and killed the younger sibling, then the punishment was strangulation. Daqing Luli Huitong Xinzuan, 4: 2798.
13 Most Qing magistrates had little formal legal training or detailed knowledge of the law. Often, they relied on legal secretaries (always male) for advice. See Wejen Chang, “Legal Education in Ch’ing China,” in Benjamin A. Elman and Alexander Woodside, eds., Education and Society in Late Imperial China (Berkeley, Calif., 1994).
14 See the case of Chen Chaosui in Xingan Huilan (Taibei, 1968), 10: 4455.
15 See the case of Zhou Yongtai in Xingan Huilan, 10: 4468.
16 For a fuller treatment of Qing legal procedure, see Zhang Weiren, Qingdai Fazhi Yanjiu (Taibei, 1983); Shiga Shuzo, “Criminal Procedure in the Ch’ing Dynasty—with Emphasis on Its Administrative Character and Some Allusion to Its Historical Antecedents (I),” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko 32 (1974): 1–46; Shiga Shuzo, “Criminal Procedure in the Ch’ing Dynasty—with Emphasis on Its Administrative Character and Some Allusion to Its Historical Antecedents (II),” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko 33 (1975): 115–38.
17 See Susan Naquin, “True Confessions: Criminal Interrogations as Sources for Ch’ing History,” National Palace Museum Bulletin 11 (March–April 1976), for another discussion of these issues.
18 William C. Jones, trans., The Great Qing Code (Oxford, 1994), 283.
19 Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero, “Afterword: Crime and the Writing of History,” in Muir and Ruggiero, eds., History from Crime (Baltimore, 1994), 230.
20 Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, Calif., 1987).
21 William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford, Calif., 1979), 91.
22 Ebrey, Family and Property, 181.
23 Zhang, Mingqing dangan, 93: 52561–77.
24 Xingke tiben by Yang Qiubin (governor of Guangdong), dated Yongzheng 13.12.13 [January 25, 1736], catalog number 2–78–1–109.
25 Zhang, Mingqing dangan, 40: 22523–36.
26 Zhang, Mingqing dangan, 40: 22530.
27 The date was the eleventh day of the first month in the Chinese calendar.
28 Zhang, Mingqing dangan, 40: 22528.
29 Dorothy Ko, Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China (Stanford, Calif., 1994).
30 Matthew H. Sommer, “The Penetrated Male in Late Imperial China: Judicial Constructions and Social Stigma,” Modern China 23 (April 1997).
31 Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Richard Nice, trans. (Cambridge, 1977), 39.