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II. Réglementer l'espace – Regulating Space

A “Dog-eat-dog” World: Qing Jurispractices and the Legal Inscription of Piety in Amdo

Un monde de conflits féroces : pratique judiciaire et réglementation légale de la religion en Amdo sous les Qing
Max Oidtmann
p. 151-182


Historians of Tibet have largely ignored the influence of the Qing colonial context on the development of Tibetan society. Using previously inaccessible Chinese, Tibetan, and Manchu-language archives from Qinghai and Gansu, this essay examines the ramifications of Qing rule on the development of legal culture in the Amdo region. In the late 18th century, the arrival of Qing magistrates in Amdo presented new opportunities for Tibetan litigants to resolve conflicts. Although reluctant to get involved in lawsuits, Qing officials soon found themselves dragged into a variety of matters ranging from natural resource disputes among Tibetan laypeople to large scale feuding between monasteries over issues such as the appointment of abbots, pilgrimage, and rights over property—both animate and inanimate, belonging to the estates of reincarnate lamas. This litigation not only resulted in the creation of a new “Tibetan” code derived from Mongol law and other indigenous practices, but also generated a large body of decisions and compacts, composed in both Tibetan and Chinese, that profoundly shaped the organization of indigenous society in Amdo. These new traditions of “jurispractice” fundamentally re-shaped the political and religious structures of local society and resulted in legal restrictions and regulations of religious activities.

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Xunhua Subprefecture as a Qing-Centered Pluralistic Legal Order
Colonial Legal Culture in Xunhua Subprefecture
The Growth of Monastic Confederations in Xunhua
The White Slope Accord of 1889: Qing Frontier Jurispractices in Action
The Final Settlement

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During the final quarter of the 19th century, Qing magistrates stationed in the borderlands of Gansu province handled what appeared to be a growing and increasingly troublesome load of cases involving “Fan.” The archives of the Xunhua subprefect (tongzhi), which are extant for the years 1872-1911, reveal that in the spring and summer months when the magistrate was in residence at the yamen—he spent the rest of the year in Lanzhou or Hezhou—he often handled dozens of matters involving Tibetans on a weekly basis. On one extraordinary August day in 1889, for instance, the register of the day’s business lists 68 separate affairs, the majority of which were feuds and criminal cases involving Tibetans from both his jurisdiction and neighboring subprefectures.

Although the Qing court had sanctioned the use of “Fan statutes” (Fan li) since the 1730s and Tibetans themselves regularly sought out Qing legal forums to resolve local conflicts, these cases were anything but routine. Qing magistrat...

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Electronic reference

Max Oidtmann, « A “Dog-eat-dog” World: Qing Jurispractices and the Legal Inscription of Piety in Amdo », Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident [Online], 40 | 2016, Online since 21 November 2018, connection on 24 February 2018. URL :

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About the author

Max Oidtmann

Assistant professor at School Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Max Oidtmann received his PhD from Harvard University in History and East Asian Languages in early 2014, and is a historian of Late Imperial China (1368-1912) and Inner Asia. He also is interested in modern China and the affairs of minority ethnicities in the People’s Republic of China. His current research is on the legal culture of Tibet during the Qing dynasty. At Georgetown, he teaches Asian history, as well as specialized courses on the history of China, Islam and Muslims in East Asia, Tibet, and comparative studies of empire and colonialism. He works with historical materials in Chinese, Tibetan, Uyghur, Manchu and Japanese languages.
Professeur assistant à la Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Docteur de l’Université Harvard en histoire et langues de l’Asie orientale (2014). Historien de la Chine impériale tardive (1368-1912) et de l’Asie centrale. Il s’intéresse également à la Chine moderne et à la question des minorités ethniques en République populaire de Chine. Ses travaux actuels portent sur la culture juridique du Tibet à l’époque des Qing. À Georgetown, il enseigne l’histoire de l’Asie, et dispense des enseignements plus spécifiques sur l’histoire de Chine, l’Islam, les musulmans en Asie orientale, l’étude comparative des empires et le colonialisme. Il travaille sur des sources historiques en chinois, tibétain, ouïghour, mandchou et japonais.

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