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New Publication: Max Oidtmann, Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet

Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet

Max Oidtmann, Georgetown University Qatar

Columbia University Press, 2018

Orders through Columbia’s website are eligible for 30% discount using coupon code CUP30 at checkout.

Publisher’s Description

In 1995, the People’s Republic of China resurrected a Qing-era law mandating that the reincarnations of prominent Tibetan Buddhist monks be identified by drawing lots from a golden urn. The Chinese Communist Party hoped to limit the ability of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile to independently identify reincarnations. In so doing, they elevated a long-forgotten ceremony into a controversial symbol of Chinese sovereignty in Tibet.

In Forging the Golden Urn, Max Oidtmann ventures into the polyglot world of the Qing empire in search of the origins of the golden urn tradition. He seeks to understand the relationship between the Qing state and its most powerful partner in Inner Asia—the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. Why did the Qianlong emperor invent the golden urn lottery in 1792? What ability did the Qing state have to alter Tibetan religious and political traditions? What did this law mean to Qing rulers, their advisors, and Tibetan Buddhists? Working with both the Manchu-language archives of the empire’s colonial bureaucracy and the chronicles of Tibetan elites, Oidtmann traces how a Chinese bureaucratic technology—a lottery for assigning administrative posts—was exported to the Tibetan and Mongolian regions of the Qing empire and transformed into a ritual for identifying and authenticating reincarnations. Forging the Golden Urn sheds new light on how the empire’s frontier officers grappled with matters of sovereignty, faith, and law and reveals the role that Tibetan elites played in the production of new religious traditions in the context of Qing rule.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Act I: The Royal Regulations
Act II: Shamanic Colonialism
Act III: Amdowas Speaking in Code
Conclusion: Paradoxes of the Urn and the Limits of Empire
Chronology of Key Events
List of Usages of the Golden Urn Ritual
Tibetan Orthographic Equivalents
Translation of the Qianlong Emperor’s Discourse on Lamas

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New Publication: Philip Thai, China’s War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965

China’s War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965

Philip Thai, Northeastern University

Columbia University Press, 2018

Available at Columbia University Press, Amazon, and independent bookstores. Orders through Columbia’s website are eligible for 30% discount using coupon code THAI or CUP30 at checkout.

Publisher’s Description

Smuggling along the Chinese coast has been a thorn in the side of many regimes. From opium and weapons concealed aboard foreign steamships in the Qing dynasty to nylon stockings and wristwatches trafficked in the People’s Republic, contests between state and smuggler have exerted a surprising but crucial influence on the political economy of modern China. Seeking to consolidate domestic authority and confront foreign challenges, states introduced tighter regulations, higher taxes, and harsher enforcement. These interventions sparked widespread defiance, triggering further coercive measures. Smuggling simultaneously threatened the state’s power while inviting repression that strengthened its authority.

Philip Thai chronicles the vicissitudes of smuggling in modern China—its practice, suppression, and significance—to demonstrate the intimate link between illicit coastal trade and the amplification of state power. China’s War on Smuggling shows that the fight against smuggling was not a simple law enforcement problem but rather an impetus to centralize authority and expand economic controls. The smuggling epidemic gave Chinese states pretext to define legal and illegal behavior, and the resulting constraints on consumption and movement remade everyday life for individuals, merchants, and communities. Drawing from varied sources such as legal cases, customs records, and popular press reports and including diverse perspectives from political leaders, frontline enforcers, organized traffickers, and petty runners, Thai uncovers how different regimes policed maritime trade and the unintended consequences their campaigns unleashed. China’s War on Smuggling traces how defiance and repression redefined state power, offering new insights into modern Chinese social, legal, and economic history.

Table of Contents

1. Coastal Commerce and Imperial Legacies: Smuggling and Interdiction in the Treaty Port Legal Order
2. Tariff Autonomy and Economic Control: The Intellectual Lineage of the Smuggling Epidemic
3. State Interventions and Legal Transformations: Asserting Sovereignty in the War on Smuggling
4. Shadow Economies and Popular Anxieties: The Business of Smuggling in Operation and Imagination
5. Economic Blockades and Wartime Trafficking: Clandestine Political Economies Under Competing Sovereignties
6. State Rebuilding and New Smuggling Geographies: Restoring and Evading Economic Controls in Civil War China
7. Old Menace in New China: Symbiotic Economies in the Early People’s Republic
Character List

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Message from Taisu Zhang, President of ISCLH

Dear members of ISCLH,

On behalf of the new officers and directors, please allow me to thank you for your ongoing support of the society. As the new board, which was announced to you last week, begins to operate, I would like to bring three things to your attention:

  1. For those of you who are planning to attend the AAS annual conference in Washington, DC, we would like to invite you to a society-wide gathering at 8:30 pm on Friday, March 23, in Washington Room 3 at the Marriott Wardman. Board of Director members, executive officers, and committee members: please consider arriving at 7:30 pm for a business meeting, where we can discuss the planning of our upcoming workshops/conferences and other items on the Society’s agenda.
  2. The American Society for Legal History (ASLH) will have its annual meeting this year in Houston, in early November. They have invited ISCLH members to submit panel proposals. If you are interested but need help assembling a panel, please let us know.
  3. The Society is currently in the process of organizing two workshops/conferences: one at Yale in December 2018 or January 2019, and one in Taipei in the summer of 2019. Should you have suggestions or thoughts, we would welcome your input.

Thank you again, and best wishes for a prosperous Year of the Dog!


Taisu Zhang

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Upcoming International Conference in Lyon, May 12-13, 2015

The conference “The Places of the Law in the Late Chinese Empire” (Les lieux de la loi dans l’empire Chinois) will be held at the Lyons Instiute of East Asian Studies (Institut d’Asie Orientale) from May 12-13, 2015. The conference marks the conclusion of the four-year “Legalizing Space in China” research program and will explore the relationship between law and governance within the Chinese realm. For more information on this exciting event, please visit the following link:

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Call for Papers/Participation

Call for Papers/Participation

International Conference on Chinese Law and History

July 10-11, 2015

Fudan University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China

The International Society for Chinese Law & History is pleased to announce an international conference on Chinese law and history in Shanghai, China, on July 10-11, 2015. The conference is sponsored and hosted by the School of Law at Fudan University and organized through the International Society for Chinese Law & History. The two organizations are collaborating to bring together a large group of international scholars working on the intersections of Chinese law and Chinese history from multiple disciplines. We now invite proposals for individual papers, panels, and round-table sessions on this area. We especially welcome innovative approaches, interdisciplinary projects, and well-developed papers featuring the most recent developments or new directions of the field.

Proposals should be submitted by April 20, 2015, and will be notified of our decisions on the proposals by April 30, 2015. Paper drafts will be expected for pre-circulation by June 20, 2015. Presentations and papers may be in English or Chinese, but each paper should be accompanied with an English abstract. Please send your proposals, papers, or questions to While only the fifty earliest registrants will be provided with free local accommodation for three nights, all participants must complete registration online by May 10, 2015 at


  1. Proposals can deal with issues related to any of the following topics but are not limited to:

-Law, empire, and ethnicity

-Chinese law in regional and global contexts

-Gender, sexuality, and law

-Law and literature

-Law and environmental history

-Law and food culture

-Law, politics, and governmentality

-Law and religious practice

-New sources or methods in historical research on law in China


  1. A complete proposal will include the following in English:

(1) for individual papers: title, abstract (200 words maximum), presenter’s name, email, affiliation, mailing address;

(2) for panels, besides information for each paper listed in (1), please also include information about a chair and/or discussant, plus a 200-word panel proposal that explains the connections among the individual papers;

(3) for round-table sessions, please choose a topic/theme, a 200-word proposal explaining why this topic/theme deserves group discussion at the conference, and the names, contact, and affiliation of four to six round-table participants who have agreed to take part. Once approved, the organizer(s) are responsible for developing a structured discussion at the conference.

(4) for all applicants, especially those who plan to attend but not to present a paper: please indicate whether you will be willing (also) to serve as a chair or discussant.

We look forward to seeing you in Shanghai soon.

The International Conference on Chinese Law and History Planning Committee

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Upcoming AAS Panels sponsored by ISCLH March 26-27, 2015

ISCLH is proud to announce two wonderful panels it has successfully sponsored at the upcoming annual conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Chicago on March 26 and 27, 2015:

THURSDAY, 26 MARCH 2015 | 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM

Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Level 4, Sheraton Ballroom V

Comparative Perspectives on Confucian Justice and Imperial Rule in Chosŏn Korea and Qing ChinaSponsored by International Society for Chinese Law & History

Organizer | Li Chen | University of Toronto

Panel Abstract:

This panel provides a valuable opportunity to compare the legal cultures and judicial practice in Chosŏn Korea and Qing China in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both societies then were heavily influenced by Confucian ideas of justice, benevolence, imperial legitimacy and social hierarchy. And these ideas in turn informed public expectations of how the authorities should administer law and treated the people. Jisoo Kim’s paper will analyze how victims of abusive judicial torture in Chosŏn Korea and their female relatives strategically invoked some of the Confucian ideals to press charges against the local judicial officers. This presented a thorny issue for the central government trying to support its local agents while claiming compassionate rulership. In comparison, Thomas Buoye explores the tensions between the Qing rulers’ desire for imperial control, which led to a rising number of capital statutes and offenders, and their desire to claim benevolent rule, which contributed to numerous unresolved capital cases awaiting mandatory imperial review in the Autumn Assizes. Although the Qing emperors often blamed local judges for causing such judicial backlog and treating capital offenders too leniently, Li Chen shows that a major cause for such imperial frustration lay in the feared loss of control over interpretation and administration of law as most local judges depended on private legal specialists to handle their judicial matters. These papers will illustrate how different social, cultural and political contexts enabled or limited individual and institutional actors in seeking justice, order, social recognition, or power.

Commentator: Bradly Reed, Univ. of Virginia


Jisoo M. Kim, George Washington Univ., “In Search of Justice: Making Accusations against Unjust Magistrate in Eighteenth-Century Korea”

Thomas Buoye, Univ. of Tulsa, “Imperial Pique and the ‘Benevolence of Women,’: The Politics of Criminal Justice in Eighteenth-Century China”

Li Chen, University of Toronto, “Politics of Justice and Knowledge of Law in Qing China.”



FRIDAY, 27 MARCH 2015 | 3:15 PM – 5:15 PM

Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Level 4, Sheraton Ballroom III

Legal Politics in the Qing Colonial TerritoriesSponsored by International Society for Chinese Law and History

Organizer | Max Oidtmann | Georgetown University

Organizer | Melissa Macauley | Northwestern University

Panel Abstract:

What was the “law” in the Qing’s outer territories in Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang? Who made it and who used it? Over the last five years, large collections of archival materials from Qing-period agencies and offices in Inner Asia have become available to researchers, allowing for an unprecedented glimpse of grassroots legal politics. These archives reveal that Tibetans, Muslims, Mongols and other non-Han groups made extensive use of Qing institutions to resolve local conflicts. This fact has forced a reconsideration of basic questions about life in Inner Asia in the aftermath of the 18th-century Qing conquests. Was the local legal scene “pluralistic”? Who won in the Qing courtroom: indigenous people or the Qing state? Was there such a thing as “Qing jurisprudence”? The (re)emergence of these legal sources also permits historians of law in China to place the Qing expansion in a comparative framework with the better-studied contemporaneous colonial legal regimes. Was the Qing legal order “colonial”? How can a comparative study of the Qing legal order illuminate changes in legal practices and jurisprudence elsewhere in the 19th century world? This panel brings together four original papers to tackle these questions. Each paper presentation will run for twenty minutes. The final forty minutes will be reserved for a response from our discussant and conversation with the audience.

Area of Study: China and Inner Asia

Discipline(s): History, Law


Max Oidtmann, Georgetown Univ., “The ‘Warring States’ of Amdo: Qing Jurispractice and the Creation of the ‘Tibetan World,’ 1772-1911”

Wesley Chaney, Stanford Univ., “Stolen Land and Broken Families: Law and Disputes in Rebellion’s Wake”

Jianfei Jia, Indiana Univ., “Legal Pluralism in Penal Cases from the Qing’s Muslim Frontier: The Role of Islamic Law”

Eugene John Gregory, “U.S. Military Academy West Point, “Desertion and the Development of the Militarized Criminal Adjudicative Track.”

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Upcoming International Conference in Shanghai, July 10-11, 2015


The International Conference on Chinese Law and History (中國法律與歷史國際研討會) will be held at Fudan University, Shanghai, P.R.China, on July 10-11, 2015. If you plan to attend the conference, please pay your registration fee here before May 10, 2015. Those who have not registered by then may be able to participate in the conference or be accommodated only if our space and budget permit it. Please click here for a copy of the Call for Papers/Participation.

Local accommodation: (1) The first fifty or so ISCLH members who have registered before the deadline will be provided with free hotel accommodation for three nights in Shanghai, and non-members may enjoy the benefit if there is still space. (2) We will make the hotel reservation for all the timely registrants for July 9-11, 2015.  (3) If you plan to stay beyond those three days at the same hotel at your own cost, please contact us at and we can probably help extend the reservation at a conference rate.

Note on the ways of participation:  We will have a variety of panels, sessions, and activities scheduled, including typical conference presentations. We expect that all the registrants, if they are willing to, will be involved in one of the panels one way or another. We will also send a call for paper/proposal out soon. But if your institution will reimburse your travel cost only if you have a formal paper presentation, please email us after your registration. We will try our best to accommodate it, and we should be able to include about three dozen presenters in addition to two dozen or so commentators, chairs, invited speakers, and workshop mentors, etc..

Registration fees for “current members” and “new members”:  If you are not a member of the International Society for Chinese Law and History (ISCLH) yet but would like to participate, please fill out the Membership Application Form (available at Membership) and then click one of the applicable rates for “New Membership + Registration” (depending on your annual income level) to complete your registration for the conference. But if you have already paid membership fee ($30 per year) for the year of 2015, please see information about “current members” below.  //

         For the “current members” (i.e., members who have paid the membership for 2015), please choose the applicable rate of registration fee according to your annual income level. 已經付清了2015年度會費的現有會員,只須支付會議報名費(Registration)一項,請在下面支付欄內根據自己的年收入選擇合適的款項支付報名費。

Please note that the rates are different for new members and current members, and your income level also influences your registration fee. So please click the drop-down menu below to choose the rate applicable to you.

Payment Instructions: To all current members, to pay your registration fee is to follow the same process as you paid your membership fee before: After you have selected your appropriate registration category in the drop-down menu below, please click the “Pay Now” button. You will then see a page with different methods of payment. If do not have a Paypal account, please click “Pay with a debit or credit card, or PayPal Credit” on the right hand side of the page. You can then proceed to fill out the information of your credit card and make the payment. You will receive an automatic receipt of your payment if you have provided an email address when making the payment.

Transaction cost: You will see that we add a 3% (not really “tax” but the system has no other category to label it) to the registration fees as the transaction charges. While this payment system makes things easier for all our members, Paypal charges the equivalent amount for each payment we receive. It is a small amount for each individual member, but the total sum makes a substantial difference for the revenue of ISCLH as a whole. We thank you for your understanding and support.

If you need a more detailed receipt from ISCLH or have difficulty making the payment, please contact Society Secretary at or Society Treasurer at We look forward to seeing you soon in Shanghai!

Registration fee based on income
Thanks for registering!

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New publication: “Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice, and Transformation, 1530s-1950s” (2015)

A new book on late imperial and modern Chinese law and history, edited by Li Chen and Madeleine Zelin, and contributed by a dozen ISCLH members, has just been released. Here is the information about its contents and how to order it if you are interested.

The twelve case studies in Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice and Transformation, 1530s to 1950s, edited by Li Chen and Madeleine Zelin, open a new window onto the historical foundation and transformation of Chinese law and legal culture in late imperial and modern China. Their interdisciplinary analyses provide valuable insights into the multiple roles of law and legal knowledge in structuring social relations, property rights, popular culture, imperial governance, and ideas of modernity; they also provide insight into the roles of law and legal knowledge in giving form to an emerging revolutionary ideology and to policies that continue to affect China to the present day.

The editors hope that this will be one of a new series of books focusing on Chinese law and history from the global community of ISCLH. Its contributors include Jennifer Altehenger, Daniel Asen, Li Chen, Bryna Goodman, Weiting Guo, Jianpeng Deng, Zhao Ma, Janet Theiss, Margaret Wan, Yu Wang, Yanhong Wu, Madeleine Zelin, Ting Zhang, and Taisu Zhang.

Here is more information about the editors, the book’s table of contents, and relevant links to the book:

Biographical Note of the Editors:

Li Chen, J.D. (Illinois), Ph.D. (Columbia), is Assistant Professor of History and Sociolegal Studies at University of Toronto. His publications on law and history include Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes: Sovereignty, Justice, and Transcultural Politics (Columbia University Press, forthcoming 2015)

Madeleine Zelin, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley), is Dean Lung Professor of Chinese Studies at Columbia University. She has published monographs, translations and articles on China, including The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Enterprise in Early Modern China (Columbia University Press, 2005)


All those interested in the history of Chinese legal culture and history or the transformation of late imperial Chinese society, law, culture, and politics, or comparative law and politics.
所有对中国法律史、传统法律文化、法律现代化, 以及明清和近现代中国的社会、政治和文化变迁感兴趣的人士和学者。

The Book’s Table of Contents:

Introduction: Ways of Rethinking Chinese Law and History – Li Chen and Madeleine Zelin

Part I. Meaning and Practice of Law

Chapter 1. Classifications of Litigation and Implications for Qing Judicial Practice – Jianpeng Deng

Chapter 2. Kinship Hierarchies and Property Institutions in Late-Qing and Republican China – Taisu Zhang

Chapter 3. Social Practice and Judicial Politics in “Grave Destruction” Cases in Qing Taiwan, 1683-1895 – Weiting Guo

Chapter 4. Elite Engagement with the Judicial System in the Qing and its Implications for Legal Practice and Principle – Janet Theiss

Chapter 5. “Law Is One Thing, and Virtue Is Another”: Vernacular Readings of Law and Legal Process in 1920s Shanghai – Bryna Goodman

Chapter 6. Wayward Daughters: Sex, Family, and Law in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing – Zhao Ma

Part II. Production and Application of Legal Knowledge

Chapter 7. The Community of Legal Experts in 16th- and 17th-Century China – Yanhong Wu

Chapter 8. Marketing Legal Information: Commercial Publications of the Great Qing Code, 1644-1911 – Ting Zhang

Chapter 9. Contestation over Legal Knowledge and Limits of Imperial Power in Qing China  – Li Chen

Chapter 10. Court Case Ballads: Popular Ideals of Justice in Late Qing and Republican China – Margaret Wan

Chapter 11. Old Forensics in Practice: Investigating Suspicious Deaths and Administering Justice in Republican Beijing  – Daniel Asen

Chapter 12. Simplified Legal Knowledge in the Early PRC: Explaining and Publishing the Marriage Law – Jennifer Altehenger

Relevant links:

Click here for more information from the publisher Brill
Click here for information about the book on Amazon

From the press: If a university library purchases an e-copy of the book, all the individual students/faculty affiliated with the university can get a MyBook copy (which is a paperback with a generic cover) at $25 or EUR 25, depending on where they order the book. This MyBook copy is available now. Here is the link:

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