Vital spots, mortal wounds, and forensic practice: Finding cause of death in nineteenth-century china

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

The Qing inquest was one function of the bureaucracy which administered justice throughout the empire. Concern over integrity of this component of judicial process fuelled development of standardized techniques to ensure quality of forensic determinations. A key method for determining cause of death was use of knowledge of parts of the body for which trauma could be fatal-the so-called "vital spots." This way of conceptualizing wounds formed part of a basic rubric which officials used to determine the mortal wound and assign legal responsibility in homicide cases. This article uses a nineteenth-century homicide case drawn from Yilibu's "Elementary Models for Studying Cases" (1838) to examine the observational and analytical procedures used in inquests to transform effects of violence on a body into evidence for adjudication. Not only did these techniques reinforce relationships of power within the bureaucracy but they also reflect the extent to which Qing forensic knowledge was conceptually, institutionally, and procedurally inseparable from judicial process and codified law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-474
Number of pages22
JournalEast Asian Science, Technology and Society
Volume3
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)

Keywords

  • Autopsy
  • Coroners
  • Forensic medicine
  • History of death
  • History of the body
  • Inquest
  • Law
  • Qing dynasty

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