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Xiyuanlu 洗冤錄

Mar 22, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Xiyuanlu 洗冤錄 "Amendments of unjust verdicts", also called Xiyuan jilu 洗冤集錄 "Collected records of amending unjust verdicts" or Song tixing xiyuan jilu 宋提刑洗冤集錄 "The Judicial Commissioner's collected records [...]", is a collection of difficult lawsuits compiled by Song Ci 宋慈 (1182-1246) during the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279). It is part of Wu Zi's 吳鼒 (1755-1821) series Song-Yuan jianyan sanlu 宋元檢驗三錄 from 1812.

The text consists of precedent cases of former ages that were described and commented by Song. The book demonstrates that with the help of forensic medicine a great number of unsolved cases or unjust verdicts could be amended. It therefore describes concrete details by which the manner and time of death can be found out. The text is based on earlier studies like the anonymous Neishulu 內恕錄, Zheng Ke's 鄭克 xxx Zheyu guijian 折獄龜鑑, Gui Wanrong's 桂萬榮 xxx Tangyin bishi 棠陰比事, Zhao Yizhai's 趙逸齋 Pingyuanlu 平冤錄 or Zheng Xingyi's 鄭興裔 Jianyan gemu 檢驗格目. The first chapter is a general introduction into the topic, the second part describes how to examine corpses, and the third is an analysis of different injuries (self-inflicted or attacked by others) and manners of death, including the question whether a person had died by suicide or murder, by poison, or by illness, whether by drowning, or if the corpse was thrown into a river after death. The book also includes some methods of first aid, like artificial respiration, the fixation of broken limbs, or administering anti-dotes.

The original Song-period print is lost, but a print from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) has survived, with a length of 5 juan and including 53 cases. The Xiyuanji was very widespread because of its helpful analysis and the many details on the physical state of injuries. It was also translated in many East Asian languages, and several times in English, like William A. Harland, Records of Washing Away of Injuries (Hong Kong: [1855]), Herbert A. Giles, "The Hsi Yuan Lu, or Instructions to Coroners", in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1924 (17, Sect. Hist. Med.); 59-107, or Brian E. McKnight, The Washing Away of Wrongs: Forensic Medicine in Thirteenth-Century China (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1981).

It has survived in fragments quoted in the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典. The text can be found in the series Dainange congshu 岱南閣叢書, Song-Yuan jianyan 宋元檢驗 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

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