Crime and the City: the criminal underworld in sixteenth century Peking

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The presence of a criminal underworld is one of the characteristics of a metropolis. A city unplagued by an underworld, without its share of confidence tricksters and swindlers, burglars and pick-pockets, gambling dens and houses of ill-repute, would probably not be generally counted as a great city. This is certainly true today, and it was also true four hundred years ago, and even earlier.

Peking at the end of the sixteenth century was one of the great cities of the world, with a population of about a quarter of a million inhabitants. It too had its underworld. The aim of this paper is to shed some light on the criminal history of the city and also to draw a number of comparisons with the crime committed in another great city of that time, namely Elizabethan London.

The study of Ming dynasty law and crime is rendered somewhat unwieldy by the absence of convenient collections of case studies to tell us about crimes that were actually committed and how the law worked in practise to deal with their perpetrators. We lack works such as the Xing’an huilan, for example, which tells us a great deal about crime and the legal punishments meted out in the Qing dynasty. Students of the Elizabethan underworld too have a wide choice of Elizabethan and Jacobean materials to turn to for their study, ranging from pamphlets and broadsheets, with titles such as A Manifest Detection of Dice-Play and A Mirror for Magistrates of Cities, to the plays of Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare.

However, drawing on materials found in the Mingshilu, Huang Ming tiaofa shilei zuan, the writings of Feng Menglong and manuals for local officials, we are able to reach a view, albeit less comprehensive than we might hope for, of the rogues and vagabonds active in the Ming capital.
StatusSubmitted - 2000
EvenemangXIIIth EACS Conference - Turin University
Varaktighet: 2000 aug. 30 → …


KonferensXIIIth EACS Conference
Period2000/08/30 → …

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