This article concerns the Chinese law of the Ch'ing period at the trial level in one locality in China. Through use of a unique archive, namely, the Tanshui and Hsinchu archive, and through statistical studies of the materials in that archive, the article asserts the hypothesis that many prior conceptions of Chinese law of the Ch'ing period were inaccurate. Thus the article asserts that civil law matters were a substantial portion of all cases to come before the local magistrate. Furthermore, that the Chinese population was not terrified about bringing a case to court and that ordinary Chinese people litigated civil matters. Civil cases did not usually result in punishment for the offenders nor were there long delays in the processing of civil matters. Finally, the legal system of the Ch'ing period can not be differentiated from a modern legal system on the basis of its lack of rationality, but rather the significant difference between a modern and pre-modern system lies in the lack of effective institutions of control in a pre-modern society.

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