|Eugene John Gregory III|
Over the course of fifty years, the Qianlong emperor attempted to educate officials to autonomously carry out summary executions in “extraordinary cases” without ceding his authority over life and death. First, this involved changing the attitude of adjudicating officials – their collective adjudicative mentalité – so that they would be willing to summarily execute an offender rather than follow the entrenched and codified routine process for adjudication that required the emperor’s actual approval to carry out a death sentence. It required overcoming a legal-cultural taboo against summary execution. Second, it required that officials’ conform their judgement of what constituted “extraordinary” to the will of the emperor, thereby ultimately leaving control at the center. The impossibility of such a vicarious control resulted in fifty years of scolding and sometimes deadly edicts and rescripts in which the Qianlong emperor praised, upbraided, and guided officials in making this determination. Along the way, the idea that summary execution could be appropriate in extraordinary cases became a norm of late imperial legal-culture.H/T for the link to Global Military Justice Reform contributor Susan Finder, Distinguished Scholar in Residence, School of Transnational Law, Peking University, and Visiting Fellow, Centre of Chinese Law, University of Hong Kong.