Household Division Disputes in Qing Courts
T HE normal process of household division did not involved the Qing state or the courts. But a small percentage of inheritance- related disputes did go to court, and given China's large population, they represent a significant number of cases. In particular, the cases from Baxian in Sichuan are so rich in detail that they can be used to illustrate several inheritance-related issues at the same time. This chapter seeks to analyze how the community-based process of household division interacted with the Qing court system and how Qing magistrates adjudicated household division-related disputes.
Family quarrels, including inheritance disputes, generally involved great energy and expense, and magistrates were reluctant to become involved in such time-consuming and, from their point of view, unimportant cases ( van der Sprenkel 1966:86; Macauley 1994: 176-183). Therefore, the first and most frequent response of a Qing magistrate to a household division dispute that involved nothing more serious was to refer the case back to the family, village, or lineage for resolution. In an 1861 case from Baxian, two Chen brothers and their widowed sister-in-law went to court in a dispute over dividing the household property. Upon receipt of the complaint, the magistrate dismissed it with this typical response: "It is ordered that the lineage resolve this; do not bring these [types of cases] to
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Publication information: Book title: Fenjia:Household Division and Inheritance in Qing and Republican China. Contributors: David Wakefield - Author. Publisher: University of Hawaii Press. Place of publication: Honolulu. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 113.