China's law and the symbol of justice: Xie Zhi

By Eugene Clark and Li Duomi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 26, 2013
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The mythical animal has been used to promote the traditional judicial spirit of justice and the hat worn by ancient judges and criminal officials is called the "Xie Zhi Hat," symbolizing the impartial and effective enforcement of the law. This tradition has been passed down from Chunqiu (the Spring and Autumn Period), Zhanguo (the Warring States Period) through the Qin, Han, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

 Xie Zhi Hat

Official suit (Different officers wear suits embroidered with different animals)

Language, of course, is also comprised of symbols. We think in language and thus the symbols of language also reflect and shape our reality. Xie Zhi is thus linked with the law in many ancient Chinese books and articles, not only because of the legends and stories, but also because it is reflected in the structure of Chinese characters.

"Fa" (third tone), equal to "law" in English, is written as "灋 " in the traditional style (complex font) Chinese. It is composed of "法 ," the simplified character we now use (on the Chinese mainland) to represent "law" and " " (Zhi), which stands for Xie Zhi. Even though this part has been deleted to simplify the Chinese character, Xie Zhi is still seen across many buildings and other contexts as the ultimate symbol of justice.

Xie Zhi (the eighth) on the roof of Hall of Supreme Harmony 

From right to left in the picture above, the first statue is that of the immortal riding the wind; the 10 animals start from the second to the 11th: the dragon, phoenix, lion, sky horse (Pegasus), sea horse, Suan Ni, Xia Yu, Xie Zhi, Dou Niu and Hang Shi (the winged monkey).

Usually there are only six animals displayed on a rooftop to protect the house and remove bad fortune and disaster, the number of animals changes according to the "level" of construction. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the only building decorated with 10 animals.

Xie Zhi in all its forms is therefore an important reminder that we should commit ourselves to justice, fairness, truthfulness, transparency and the effective and efficient administration of justice. With the country's National Day in October and November's Third Plenum now well behind us, China's leaders will undoubtedly be considering important future steps to advance the cause of justice as symbolized by Xie Xhi.


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