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  • The Legal Administration of Qing Mongolia*
  • Frédéric Constant (bio)

On the eve of the founding of the Qing Dynasty (1636–1911), prior to the conquest of China, alliances with Mongol rulers from the southern part of Mongolia, a territory approximately corresponding to modern Inner Mongolia, bolstered Manchu military power. These military alliances were rooted in practices inherited from the steppe, and during the 1620s Manchu and Mongol political elites interacted fundamentally as equals. Following the strengthening of Manchu military power, however, Mongol noblemen gradually became vassals of the "Manchu khan." After the coronation of Hong Taiji as Boγda Qaγan (Holy Khan) in 1636, the Manchus granted Mongol noblemen honorific titles as rewards for their loyalty. Nevertheless, integration into the new Qing order increasingly limited Mongol autonomy.

The transition to a new political system after the conquest of China posed many challenges and required an adjustment of the earlier Manchu-Mongol relationship. The Qing rulers divided the Mongols into banners (Mo. qosiγu, Ch. qi), each ruled by a hereditary official called a J̌asaγ, but this organization did not override existing sociopolitical structures, nor did it eliminate the privileges of the Mongol nobles.1 In order to guarantee the integrity of the Mongol legal tradition and thus to win over the Mongols, the Qing state enacted a set of rules mostly based on older Mongol legal institutions. For example, the Qing confirmed the [End Page 133] right of Mongol nobles to rule over commoners via existing personal bonds. Because of their submission to the "Manchu khan," the Qing ruler promised Mongol nobles equal status with Manchu princes and offered them a preeminent place within the new political configuration.2 At the same time, this status required their prior submission to Qing rule, meaning that they could not be equal.

Qing rulers successfully integrated political models inherited from the nomadic world into the bureaucratic Chinese empire. Personal bonds between the imperial family and each of the peoples gathered within its empire helped to constitute the Qing political framework. Qing policies concerning peoples located in border areas emphasized the importance of careful attention to and respect for their specific situations, sometimes to the detriment of uniform and compulsory rules promulgated by the central government.3 The principle of "governing according to local circumstances" (yindi zhiyi) remained one of the cornerstones of Qing policy toward the Mongols, evidenced by the promulgation of legislation specific to the Mongols, as well as to other peoples subject to the Qing government. The Qing relied on this mixed model to expand, over the course of more than a century, its rule over all Mongol populations from the Liao River to the Ili valley.

The Qing incorporated aspects of Mongol administrative, religious, and legal institutions into its policies for governing Mongol areas. Within this general pattern, law occupied an important position, since the Qing promulgated specific legislation to guarantee that the Mongols would be ruled according to their own customs.4 The Qing based these rules on former Mongol legal institutions and promulgated them by individual edicts and published codes. These texts shaped a distinct legal regime for the Mongol population. The special position that Mongols occupied within the Qing Empire is also evidenced by the creation in 1636 of the Mongol Office (Menggu yamen), in charge of administering Mongol affairs. The Qing later transformed this institution into the Lifanyuan, or Court Ruling Outer Dependencies, and extended its jurisdiction to the Inner Asian dependencies that the Qing Empire gradually conquered. [End Page 134]

Nonetheless, following the conquest of Ming China and with the Manchus' adoption of most Chinese institutions, the principle of "governing according to local circumstances" became increasingly difficult to uphold, while the influence of Chinese law on this legislation became more evident. The Manchu state's development of separate Mongol institutions and legal policies was constrained by the necessity to uphold the authority of imperial rule over the whole empire. The Qing limited the autonomy granted to the Mongols and set up several institutions to guarantee a strict monitoring of the legal administration of Mongolia. Although the Qing government maintained separate institutions for Mongolia and rules specific to Mongol criminal matters, it...


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