13 August 2018

BOOK: Bettine BIRGE, Marriage and the Law in the Age of Khubilai Khan - Cases from the Yuan Dianzhang (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017). ISBN 9780674975514, €49.50

(Source: HUP)

Harvard University Press recently published a book on marriage law during the reign of Khubilai Khan.


The Mongol conquest of China in the thirteenth century and Khubilai Khan’s founding of the Yuan dynasty brought together under one government people of different languages, religions, and social customs. Chinese law evolved rapidly to accommodate these changes, as reflected in the great compendium Yuan dianzhang (Statutes and Precedents of the Yuan Dynasty). The records of legal cases contained in this seminal text, Bettine Birge shows, paint a portrait of medieval Chinese family life—and the conflicts that arose from it—that is unmatched by any other historical source.

Marriage and the Law in the Age of Khubilai Khan reveals the complex, sometimes contradictory inner workings of the Mongol-Yuan legal system, seen through the prism of marriage disputes in chapter eighteen of the Yuan dianzhang, which has never before been translated into another language. Birge’s meticulously annotated translation clarifies the meaning of terms and passages, some in a hybrid Sino-Mongolian language, for specialists and general readers alike. The text includes court testimony—recorded in the vivid vernacular of people from all social classes—in lawsuits over adultery, divorce, rape, wife-selling, marriages of runaway slaves, and other conflicts. It brings us closer than any other source to the actual Mongolian speech of Khubilai and the great khans who succeeded him as they struggled to reconcile very different Mongol, Muslim, and Chinese legal traditions and confront the challenges of ruling a diverse polyethnic empire.


Bettine Birge is Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, with a joint appointment in the Department of History, at the University of Southern California.


Maps, Figures, and Charts*
I. The Age of Khubilai Khan and the Yuan dianzhang
1. The Historical and Social Context of the Yuan dianzhang
2. Yuan Administration and the Legal System
3. Origins, Contents, and Transmission of the Yuan dianzhang
4. Notes on the Translation
II. Chapter 18, “Marriage,” from the Yuan dianzhang: An Annotated Translation
5. Sections 1–2: Marriage Rites and Exchanges; Getting Married
6. Sections 3–5: Marriage between Officials and Commoners; Marriages of Military Personnel; Divorce
7. Sections 6–8: When the Husband Dies; Levirate Marriage Approved; Levirate Marriage Rejected
8. Sections 9–12: Secondary Wives; Marriage between Slaves and Commoners; Marriage of Entertainers; Marriage during the Mourning Period
Appendix A: Translation of Title Page of the Yuan dianzhang
Appendix B: Marriage Cases from Chapter 18 of the Yuan dianzhang in Chronological Order
Appendix C: Marriage Cases from Chapter 18 of the Yuan dianzhang with Dates

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