Rite Makes Right —Judicial Rituals in Postwar Taiwan

The term “legal system” was transmitted from the West to China in the nineteenth century. Its “rational” nature is different from the Chinese ideology of justice, which extends to the ways in which gods control all human affairs. Such “underworld” judicial system is extremely unusual when accused of vote-buying, Taiwan’s politicians, ranging from city councilors to presidential candidates, do not hesitate to make oaths of innocence, and until recently beheaded live chickens to stress their rightness.

Ordinary citizens embroiled in various financial disputes file underworld indictments against their enemies. Even policemen and prosecutors regularly make offerings at temples in order to crack tough cases.

Why does modern Taiwan still practice such judicial rituals in the context of economic growth and with legal reform? Is it due to an expansion of traditional religion in the public sphere or a representation of flaws that still existed in the legal system today?

  • Speaker: Paul Katz

    Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

  • Moderator: Nap-yin Lau

    Research Fellow, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica