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UPDATED: July 19, 2010 NO. 29, JULY 22, 2010
Is It Appropriate to Quote Classic Works in Court?

When a Beijing resident surnamed Zhang signed a property transaction agreement with his mother, she refused to pay for the house. Zhang's mother, a 85-year-old woman surnamed Lu, sued her for breaking the contract. A Beijing court rendered a ruling in favor of Lu and quoted a few sentences from an ancient Chinese text, the Classic of Filial Piety that said a child must respect his or her parents. The court ruling said traditional values should also be promoted today. It said children must support and attend to their parents, and should not turn against their parents because of selfish interest.

But some people are against this kind of court ruling, saying a legal document has a certain format and content requirement. In order to maintain its authority, the judges are mandated to cite articles in laws and regulations, and it is better if they do not refer to non-legal articles.

Supporters contend legal scholars once criticized China's court rulings were too formatted, lacked convincing reasoning and were hard to understand for many. In the abovementioned case, the sentences quoted from the Classic of Filial Piety were meant to persuade the defendant to be dutiful to his mother rather than a legal basis for a judgment.

Useless moralizing

Sun Wufan (www.sina.com.cn): There is a basic rule in our country's judicial system, which is "grounded on facts, and measured by laws." Obviously, the Classic of Filial Piety does not fall in the category of laws and rules, hence reference to the ancient literature does not comply with basic rule of making judicial judgments.

The judge's effort to persuade people to live up to social moral standards is totally understandable. But a court is not a school, and judges are not teachers or preachers of moral standards. The court could choose to educate or persuade the defendant, but that element should not be included in a ruling.

Wuyue Sanren (Chinese Business View): In modern society, a moral index should not become an absolute standard in legal ruling. The court rulings must be based on the rights and obligations prescribed in law.

Due to a lack of civil codes, in ancient times in China courts referred to classics to judge civil disputes. The problem is the saints' opinions or their wordings are old fashioned. They might have been perfectly reasonable in the past, but might not be applicable in modern times. From time to time their opinions can be misinterpreted. Therefore, if judges try to rule based on ancient classics, how can we have real legal standards?

Xu Chunling (www.china.com.cn): One thing must be kept in mind: When making judgments about a case, people tend to confuse morality and law. Legal professionals must avoid using moral standards to influence legal judgments so as to show impartiality and precision. A court ruling must be based on legal terms, while moral considerations should be appended to it.

More persuasive ruling

Wu Ling (Legal Daily): For a long time, China's court rulings have been supposed to be "grounded on facts, and measured by law." It is of course the right and legal thing to do to respect facts, evidence and legal principles. But a strictly formatted verdict sounds ice cold and lacks a human touch. Few judges use publicly comprehensible reasoning to persuade people of the rightness of their ruling. Therefore, the effect of a ruling is largely discounted as many people do not understand legal terms.

Quoting the Classic of Filial Piety could help resolve conflicts and prevent disputes more effectively as it is expressed in a understandable way.

Yu Xiangrong (West China City Daily): Law and morality do not contradict each other, but are interrelated instead. Laws provide the most basic requirement of conduct, and are compulsory, while morality is of a much higher standard than the law.

A good court ruling should not only make a legal judgment, but also point out the right moral standards and express the judge's stance so as to enhance persuasiveness and make clear its social and legal effects. But unfortunately, we lack this combination because of possible incapability of judges and the judicial system. The wisdom of the judges who quoted the Classic of Filial Piety is worth learning from.

Qian Suwei (Jiangyin Daily): We are entering an aging society, but the economy is less developed and the public welfare system is imperfect. So raising the awareness of filial piety is realistic at this stage.

The quoting of the Classic of Filial Piety shows the judge's high standard of social responsibility. Relations between a person and his or her parents should not only abide by law but, more importantly, abide by morality. The effect of this court ruling, because of the use of the quotation from the classic, will be more profound and long lasting than any ice-cold legal stipulations. n

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