Greater China Legal History Seminar Series – ‘Fengshui and Court Practice in Ming and Qing’ by Prof. Ian M. Miller (Online)

Sometime in the sixteenth century, two men surnamed Li and Chen, had a dispute over a small forest: Chen cut the trees and buried an ancestor there; Li claimed that Chen had violated his rights. At face value, this was a totally ordinary property dispute, but its resolution reveals something strange: neither man owned the hill, yet both were granted limited rights there. The case was resolved, not through the formal laws on household property, but through the logic of fengshui, a metaphysical geography that governed the placement of edifices in the landscape. More broadly, fengshui had a curious position in Ming and Qing law. In practice, fengshui was enormously important, factoring into an estimated 25% of local lawsuits. Institutionally, fengshui fell under the oversight of specialized officials, who were often called to consult on legal cases. But fengshui was never fully endorsed in formal law. This talk will explore some of the evidence for the emergence and perpetuation of fengshui in court practice.

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