Murderers, Outlaws, and Magistrates in Traditional Chinese Literature (PG)

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

Module overview

This module surveys a variety of literary texts from premodern China to introduce students to popular depictions of law and (in)justice. We first examine the theories and methods developed to study the relationship between law and literature. After this foundation is established, students then consider questions such as: how was law and the formal legal process portrayed by literary authors in various eras and regions? To what extent were various literary genres used as a form of public critique of law and legal procedure? and how were notions of justice and injustice articulated in literature? To answer these questions, students will read a variety of texts such as ancient records of idealised laws and law-bringers, Chinese dramas and short stories about famous judges, tales of hero outlaws, and Chinese novels containing subtle critiques of corruption within the legal process.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. discuss critically theories related to law and literature;
  2. analyse critically and discuss various themes related to law and justice in a variety of traditional
    Chinese texts;
  3. demonstrate advanced knowledge of the reseach skills necessary to engage in sinological study of
    law and literature
  4. compose essays critically analysing a specific theme in traditional Chinese legal literature.


Total taught hours: 20 hours. 2 hour lectures for 10 weeks.

Independent study: 130 hours

Total hours for module: 150 hours

Scope and syllabus

The following is an example syllabus and contents may change based on student interests and staff availability.

Week 1: Introduction to Module / Introduction to Law and Literature
Week 2: Idealised Visions of Law in Antiquity
Week 3: Overview of Legal Personnel and Procedures in Imperial China
Week 4: Law as Literature: The Text(s) of Law
Week 5: Tang and Song Legal Literature
Week 7: 'Judges' in Yuan and Ming Drama
Week 8: Outlaws as Law-breaking Heroes
Week 9: Law and the Chinese Novel
Week 10: Judge Dee as Novel 1
Week 11: Judge Dee as Novel 2

Method of assessment

Bibliographic essay of 1500 words (40%); essay 3500 words (50%); quizzes (10%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules