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Zichan xingding 子產刑鼎, the Code of Zichan

Aug 27, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The "law tripod" (xingding 刑鼎) of Zichan 子產 (d. 496 BCE) was a bronze vessel into which a legal text was inscribed. The vessel, exhibited to the public, was produced in 536 BCE by the Counsellor in the regional state of Zheng 鄭, Zichan.

It was the earliest public law code. Tripods (ding 鼎) were not only used as cooking pots for sacrifices to the ancestors, but also as a means of demonstrating political power, and objects storing information on legal contracts, like investitures or royal and ducal presents. Communist historians seen in the vessel a triumph over the nobility of the "slave-holder society", by making public legal matters to the oppressed masses.

Historical records show indeed that members of the nobility of the powerful state of Jin 晉, like Shu Xiang 叔向, lamented that legal matters were commonly dealt with in debates according to the principles of propriety (later known as Confucianism), and not according to written codes. It was to be feared that the people might contest the power of the nobility.

Zichan's code was part of a general trend of the codification of law which culminated in the state philosophy of the legalists. In 513 Zhao Yang 趙鞅 and Xun Ying 荀罃, nobles of the state of Jin, decided to follow the precedent of Zichan. This time even Confucius himself criticized the custom of written law, because it distracted the people from their "natural" duty of obeying the nobility. The commentary Zuozhuan zhengyi 左傳正義 to the history book Zuozhuan 左傳 explains that the tripod of Jin was not exhibited in public, but only presented at the ducal court of that state.

Sources:
Huang Donghai 黄東海, Fan Zhongxin 范忠信 (2008). "Chunqiu zhu xingshu xingding jiujing zhaoshi le shenme jubian 春秋鑄刑書刑鼎究竟昭示了什麽巨變?", Faxue 法學, 2008 (2).
Nie Changjian 聶長建, Li Guoqiang 李國强 (2011). "Kongzi fandui zhu xingding de fa zhexue jiedu 孔子反對“鑄刑鼎”的法哲學解讀", Zhejiang shehui kexue 浙江社會科學, 2011 (3).
Wang Pei 王沛 (2012). "Xingding yuan yu heshi: You Zaoyang chutu Zeng bo Qi yue mingwen shuo qi 刑鼎源于何時——由棗陽出土曾伯陭鉞銘文說起", Faxue 法學, 2012 (10).
Zhang Jun 張軍 (2012). "Zichan zhu xingding gaige de yiyi 子產“鑄刑鼎”改革的意義", Xuexi yuekan 學習月刊, 2012 (11).
Zhou Fazeng 周發增, Chen Longtao 陳隆濤, Qi Jixiang 齊吉祥, ed. (1998). Zhongguo gudai zhengzhi zhidu cidian 中國古代政治制度史辭典 (Beijing: Shoudu shifan daxue chubanshe), 123.