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lianzuofa 連坐法, law on collective liability

May 25, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The "sequential accusation law" (lianzuofa 連坐法), also called shijia lianzuo fa 十家連坐法, was a kind of collective liability introduced by the Qin dynasty 秦 (221-206 BCE) , but was then and when also applied through the whole imperial era.

If one person had committed a crime, his whole family or even neighbours were punished along. This procedure aimed at a better control over society, where people were mutually responsible for each other's deeds. It was introduced as a principle by the legalist politician Shang Yang 商鞅 in the state of Qin during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) . Like the civilian realm, military law also knew the principle of collective punishment (lianxing 連刑). An very special kind of collective liability was kin liability, the punishment of three generations (sanzu 三族), meaning the extirpation of the whole family. In this cruel form, the system was rarely used in later times. During the Jin period 金 (1115-1234) it was an instrument for the prevention of rebellious movements in northern Chinese villages against the Jurchen rulers.

Mutual responsibility and the duty to report to the authorities illegal activities within the family or the neighbourhood was part of the village organization system (see lijia 里甲, baojia 保甲). Mutual control was part of Chiang Kai-sheks 蔣介石 village policy, and was of course also an important structure of the danwei 單位 organization in the People's Republic.

Sources:
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, ed. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi remin chubanshe), 108.
Wang Jinwu 王金鋙, Chen Ruiyun 陳瑞雲, ed. (1988). Zhongguo xiandaishi cidian 中國現代史詞典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 469.
Zhou Fazeng 周發增, Chen Longtao 陳隆濤, Qi Jixiang 齊吉祥, ed. (1998). Zhongguo gudai zhengzhi zhidu shi cidian 中國古代政治制度史辭典 (Beijing: Shoudu shifan daxue chubanshe), 131.