The Chinese Emperor’s Decree

(The text of the Decree of the Manchu Emperor Kangxi, which could be characterized as “The Case for ADR in China 300 Years Ago,” or “Plus Ca Change, Plus Le Meme Chose”). 

There was a complaint during the reign of the Emperor Kangxi, one of the greatest Manchu Emperors, about the corruption and tyranny of the courts. The Emperor received a petition, considered it awhile and issued this decree:

The Emperor considering the immense population of the empire, the great division of territorial property, and the notoriously law-loving character of the Chinese, is of the opinion that lawsuits would tend to increase, to a frightful amount, if people were not afraid of the tribunals, and if they felt confident of always finding in them ready and perfect justice.

As man is apt to delude himself concerning his own interests, contests would then be interminable, and the half of the empire would not suffice to settle the lawsuits of the other half. I desire, therefore, that those who have recourse to the tribunals should be treated without any pity, and in such a manner that they shall be disgusted with law, and tremble to appear before a magistrate.

In this manner the evil will be cut up by the roots; the good citizens, who may have difficulties between themselves, will settle them like brothers, by referring to the arbitration of some old man or the mayor of the commune. As for those who are troublesome, obstinate and quarrelsome, let them be ruined in the law-courts; that is the justice that is due to them.

(From “The Geography of China,” by Frank Goodnow Johnson, President of Johns Hopkins University, National Geographic Magazine, June, 1927.  Also found in “Arbitration in China:  A Legal and Cultural Analysis,” Kun Fan, Bloomsbury Publishing 2013)

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