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The Tang Code (Chinese: 唐律; pinyin: Táng lǜ) was a penal code that was established and used during the Tang Dynasty in China. Supplemented by civil statutes and regulations, it became the basis for later dynastic codes not only in China but elsewhere in East Asia. The Code synthesised Legalist and Confucian interpretations of law. It is composed of 12 sections that contain a total of more than 500 articles. It was created in 624, modified in 627 and 637, and enhanced with a commentary (the Tánglǜ shūyì 唐律疏議) in 653. Considered as one of the greatest achievements of traditional Chinese law, the Tang Code is also the earliest Chinese Code to have been transmitted to the present in its complete form.
The Tang code took its roots in the code of the Northern Zhou (564) dynasty, which was itself based on the earlier codes of the Cao-Wei and Western Jin (268). Aiming to smooth the earlier laws and reduce physical punishments (such as mutilations) in order to appease social tensions in the newly pacified Tang territories, it was created in AD 624 at the request of Emperor Gaozu of Tang. After further revisions in 627 and 637 under Emperor Taizong, the code was completed by commentaries in 653, under Gaozong.
|I||General definitions and rules|
|II||Laws relating to passing into or through forbidden places
(imperial palaces, town gates, walls, frontier posts)
|III||Offences committed by officials in the exercise of their functions|
|IV||Laws concerning peasant families (lands, taxes, marriages)|
|V||Laws related to state stud-farms and storehouses|
|VI||Laws relating to the raising of troops|
|VII||Offences against the person and against property|
|VIII||Offences committed in the course of brawls|
|IX||Forgery and counterfeiting|
|X||Various laws of a special character|
|XI||Laws concerning the apprehension of guilty persons|
|XII||Laws relating to the administration of justice|
French historian and sinologist Jacques Gernet has called the Tang Code "an admirable composition of faultless logic in spite of its size and complexity." It contained more than 500 articles divided into twelve large sections (see right-side table).
The penalty for an offence was determined according to two factors:
The local magistrate acted as examiner and sometimes as investigator, but his final role in legal cases was to determine the proper penalty for the offense that had been committed: he had to fix the nature of the offense as defined by the code, and to increase or reduce the associated penalty depending on the social relation between offender and victim.
The offence modulated according to the degree of social relation determined the final penalty which could range from flagellation using a rattan and bastinado with a bamboo stick, to penal labour, exile with penal labour, and death by strangulation (garrote) or decapitation.