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I have been unable to find how much, if any, authority was had for the creation of local laws in Míng China. Was it allowed to create local laws at the town, city, or provincial level in Míng China? And, if so, then who had that authority?

Edit after Semaphore’s comment: So local officials can make a by-law, but what happens if people violate that by-law assuming whatever they do doesn’t violate imperial law? Can they be punished? I know the Grand Administrator would send inspectors to ensure that local criminal lawsuits were conducted fairly. How would they view lawsuits involving these by-laws?

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    I think this comes to how do you define laws? The official legal code is issued only by the imperial court, but local officials can issue orders that carry a certain force of law, like city council by-laws. – Semaphore Dec 23 '18 at 13:00
  • Thank you! So local officials can make a by-law, but what happens if people violate that by-law assuming whatever they do doesn’t violate imperial law? Can they be punished? I know the Grand Administrator would send inspectors to ensure that local criminal lawsuits were conducted fairly. How would they view lawsuits involving these by-laws? – rclev Dec 23 '18 at 18:57
  • My understanding is that in an autocratic state there is no difference between the wishes of the autocratic ( or his representatives) and "law". If the local official wants pork on his rice and expresses that desire, then it is the mandate of heaven that he be served pork on his rice. Right up until he loses the mandate of heaven.. of course prudent representatives understand their superior s and avoid contradiction. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 23 '18 at 20:02
  • @rclev As Mark alluded to in his comment, I think you are overestimating the rule of law in those times. A magistrate's orders are backed by his local monopoly on violence - punishments wouldn't necessarily go to trial. Of course, an unreasonably oppressive magistrate could find himself in trouble if discontent spirals out of control - it's generally a balancing act. So, as I said, the question then becomes - should their orders be considered "laws"? – Semaphore Dec 24 '18 at 9:39
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Compared to modern legal systems, the scope of the Ming (and similarly Qing) legal system is extremely limited, primarily as a means for the Imperial court to govern its bureaucracy of scholar-officials, down to the local magistrates. The Imperial court was not concerned about governing citizens directly, rather it was through layers of hierarchy, from officials to clans and from parents to their children.

The legal code itself was a list of hundreds of crimes and punishments, and local magistrates could only apply them in cases, and not make new ones. Civil law existed but was poorly codified, and magistrates had tremendous leeway in how they ruled, taking into account aspects such as propriety, local customs and precedents. Nevertheless, all rulings by local magistrates must be tied to an existing statute within the code. If none could be found, they were advised to find an analogous statute to apply. This application would then become precedent and affect future rulings.

  • Accepted! This actually helped quite a bit. The civil law part was something I was struggling with understanding and this helped me connect the dots with what I’ve found. – rclev Dec 25 '18 at 22:26

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