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The Mongols and Legal History



The Legal History Blog has alerted its readers to the existence of a journal on  Buddhism, Law & Society. In its inaugural issue, a professor at the University of Bern delves into the law in 18th century Mongolia. 

Mongolia was part of the vast Qing Empire at this time, the Manchu based empire that would last until the early 20th century and the rise of the Republic of China. But Mongolia was given relative autonomy, so it makes sense to speak and wrote of its legal system as a separate entity. 

The abstract of the article in question reads thus: 

"For 18th-century Mongols living under Qing rule, the imperial state was not the only source of law. Among the rules acknowledged to have binding character were Buddhist legal traditions, customary legal practices as well as rights and duties emanating from dependencies and prerogatives. Yet, the existence of these different legal practices and codes raises many questions about the specific way these different realms of law were interwoven, how Mongols used them and how they could be acting in different spheres of law at the same time. On the basis of archival material, this paper discusses how in the 18th century people switched between different regulatory orders, but also demonstrates that since legal disputes often—maybe even regularly—occurred in more than one legal realm at the same time, it is not always possible to determine where the one sphere began and the other ended. To address complexity of this legal environment, this paper draws on theoretical approaches from legal anthropology, especially research on legal pluralism. I begin with some general remarks on the legal situation in Qing-dynasty Mongolia and the relationship between the law of the Qing state, Buddhist law and local legal conditions. Then, I address two legal cases from the late 18th century that will illustrate how individual litigants and courts chose between different fields of legal reasoning. I argue that the wide spectrum of legal actors within this complex legal environment both enabled and compelled people to switch between different spheres of law."

So what we have here is a compelling lesson about legal pluralism, the ability of various 'different spheres' to survive and thrive within the belly of a Leviathan. 

Often a heartening thing to hear.

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