Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Monday, May 12, 2008

Shaanxi court tries new cases in the old style

20080509200100 Well, not really. It was actually fictitious cases based on literary characters tried in the old style for the purpose of spreading legal knowledge. Drawing on the story of Pan Jinlian (潘金莲) from the classical novel "The Water Margin" (水浒传), the court tried the divorce case of Pan Jinhua. The petitioner Pan was (again) a beautiful young woman, this time married to plain but good-hearted villager Wu Dafa (Wu Dalang in the novel). In order to make more money, Pan took to the road (probably to Dongguan) to seek work. There she met the wealthy and licentious Ximen Da (Ximen Qing in the novel), who we are told was from Guangdong. Together they cooked up a scheme whereby Pan would claim Wu had beaten her and get a divorce, and thereafter they could live together. (Pretty harmless compared with the story in "The Water Margin", in which Pan had to kill her husband to be rid of him, and not even necessary at least according to the formal law of the PRC, in which fault on the other side's part is nice to have but not a necessary condition for divorce.) But the court saw that Wu was an honest-looking fellow and didn't look like a wife-beater at all. Further investigation revealed the hand of Ximen Da. The court then explained to Pan what kind of person Ximen really was, at which point Pan's heart was moved so that she rejected Ximen and got back together with the faithful Wu.

One of the court's personnel explained that there were many cases like this in some respect - people leave the village and get exposed to life in the big city, and their values change (presumably for the worse).

Here's the news report.

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