Tradition and Transformation of Legal Culture in the Mongol Empire

Title: 1184 | Tradition and Transformation of Legal Culture in the Mongol Empire
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Paehwan Seol, Chonnam National University, South Korea (organizer, presenter)
Bettine Birge, University of Southern California, United States (chair, discussant)
N. Chogto, Inner Mongolia University, China (presenter)
Florence Hodous, Renmin University of China, Switzerland (presenter)


The Mongols brought the shock of transformation at the same time as destruction in Eurasia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The huge integration and connection amid the diversities of races, languages and cultures was a new transition.
The unification of the empire did not necessarily mean a transparent society. The Mongols were perhaps almost “blind” to the Eurasian world, especially in the early period of the empire. Law (Mongolian čaɤaja) is an important window for expressing and reading social phenomena and their justice. The ways of governance and justice in the Mongol empire can be understood through its legal cultures.
Justice can be implemented through legislation and litigation. Legislation of the Mongols has been a hot topic for study in line with the debate over the reality and characters of the ǰasaq (yāsā or yasāq in Persian), the imperial legal code of Chinggis Qan (r. 1206-27). On the other hand, lawsuits and their procedural issues, where cases and disputes were settled and reconciled, have been relatively less attentive to researchers. The application and transformation of the ǰasaq or other imperial laws in the Mongol Khanates after Chinggis Qan has not been fully understood.
Our panel analyses the legal traditions of the Mongols and their changes under the dissimilar legal cultures of the different Khanates, and challenges some distortions of the Mongol laws.

Panel Abstracts:
How did the Mongol empire enforce the law?— Reconstruction of litigation and the Yuehui 約會 —
This paper analyzes the origin, nature and transformation of the yuehuis 約會 as courts of lawsuits in the Mongol empire. The paper presents a new discovery about the yuehuis. The yuehui was a “joint court” that jointly interrogated, judged, and concluded legal cases. The Mongolian word bolǰa’an and three forms of its translation in Chinese, yuewen 約問, huiwen 會問 and, yuehui implied the primary meaning of “appointed meeting.” They also signified universal “joint trials of officials and civil representatives” in central and local governments. They were originated from the legal tradition of the Mongol steppe.It was the policy of the Mongol lawsuit that the group leaders concerned assembled on a promise and jointly settled legal cases at a round meeting of yuanyi 圓議 in a public hall. The bolǰa’an handed down to the Yuan dynasty and the Goryŏ dynasty since after 1260s and developed into the “joint court” in a folklore of Inner Mongolia in the Qing dynasty. The yuehui was a process that the Mongol authorities obtained the procedural justice. Unlike the claims of the previous works, it was limited ideology to allow a joint court to adjudicate a suspect in compliance his/her legal customs. While there were negotiations among governments and social groups in the joint courts, the yuehuis were places that the Mongols often secured their power and authorities in administration and lawsuits. The yuehui among certain groups was not a prerogative, but a rational transformation of universal legal administration of the yuehui.

The Jargu and Jargu Lawsuits of the Mongol Empire
After Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty, the dynasty legislated the Chinese law in the Han Chinese regions, while the Yeke Jasaq, or the law of Chinggis Khan, remained feasible in Mongolia and the other nomadic regions under the Mongols.It can be regarded as an example that different legal systems were enacted in the Yuan dynasty. This paper discusses how Kublai Khan enacted the Yeke Jasaq of Chinggis Khan in the dynasty by analyzing some cases to which Kublai demanded to apply the Yeke Jasaq of Chinggis Khan.

The 'Yasa' in Context
This paper will take up the arguments surrounding the Yasa from a fresh perspective. The word zhasa in Mongolian, later rendered as yasa in Persian sources and also yasa in Arabic sources, meant a variety of different things to different people, including being understood as a Mongol law code. Originally, the word probably meant ‘an order’. In the course of its translation and transmission from one language to another, there still remains something to be learned from the Persian sources specifically: analysing the yasa in its literary context, we can see that it is often accompanied by synonyms or near-synonyms, which can aid us in understanding what was meant by this word.Persian relies heavily on the use of synonyms, including numerous expressions involving two synonyms or near-synonyms to express a single idea. This is the case both in modern Persian and perhaps even more so in the highly literary and ‘flowery’ language of Ata Malik al-Juvaini. This paper will analyse the yasa references in context and discuss the implications for our understanding of Mongol law and how it was practiced under the leadership of the Ilkhans.Reference will be made to particular examples of legal trials during the Ilkhanate. Given an appropriate understanding of the yasa and what it meant in Mongol legal culture, we can also see and discuss the similarity of such trials with other institutions and constitutive conventions both within the Ilkhanate and in further parts of the Mongol Empire.

This panel is on Monday - Session 02 - Room 2

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