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Two Community Contracts in the Form of Sworn Brotherhoods

(Jump to First Document, Second Document.)

The following two contracts were collected by L. Ivanov in Manchuria at the turn of the twentieth century and published in Russian translation (Ivanov 1914). They are of interest here because they represent an extreme example of the instrumental use of sworn brotherhood, in this case to provide a simple legal system for the governance of a community. They are reproduced here partly in the hope that they may also interest students of Chinese law.

In his introduction, Ivanov explains that:

The two documents given below, one from the "Suchang valley," and the other from the Iman river valley, are in essence the same, differing only slightly in character. Thus in the first one, punishments for crimes are somewhat lighter, the death penalty is absent; whereas in the second one, burying the offender alive is one of the major punishments for a crime such as stealing more than five sable furs. The first document also acquaints us with the administrative structure (if this term may be used) of the sworn brothers. (Ivanov 1914: 7)

I have not located Suchang, the town where the first document was in force. Iman (Иман), mentioned in the second document, seems to be located near modern Guberovo, on the Ussuri, south of Khabarovsk, Russia, on the border of Héjiāng 合江 province [now assimilated into Hēilóngjiāng 黑龍江 province].

The Orochens mentioned in the same text are apparently a Tungus group. The most likely identification seems to be with the Orochon (Chinese: Èlúnchūn 鄂倫春, officially spelled "Oroqen," or Qílè'ěr 奇勒爾), an eastern Tungus group now living in small pockets in northern China, principally Inner Mongolia and Hēilóngjiāng, and at present [1985] estimated to number about 3,200.

Both documents (and other Russian translations in this paper) were translated from the Russian by the UCSD translation service, and slightly corrected by me. Ivanov occasionally adds explanatory notes in parentheses. Clarifications of my own are added in brackets []. Tones and characters have not been added to Ivanov's transcriptions from the Chinese, since I am not sure which Chinese words are intended in every case.

It needs to be noted that a common word throughout the Russian text in the second document is khozyain (хозяин), which can refer indifferently to a master, boss, property owner, proprietor, host, or landlord, and by extension to a manager or master of a situation. I have employed the awkward translation "master" consistently for khozyain, but the exact relationship between the "masters" in question and the rest of the community is not entirely clear. This document is clearly part of a sworn brotherhood among these masters, however. Apparently it was enacted subsequent to the establishment of the sworn brotherhood itself as a supplement to the original jīnlánpǔ. Note that article 23 prohibits similar brotherhoods among their subordinates.


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First Document (1892) (Ivanov 1914: 7-11)

Pledge of Brotherhood

In the eighteenth year of the Guangxu reign [1892], first moon, twenty-sixth day, we established a collective agreement (pledge of brotherhood).

Everyone knows that in China there are five family and social relations. The allies, binding themselves with an oath, hereby begin a friendship by which those who were not born together are willing to die together. Let us follow the example of the Three Sages in the Peach Garden, who established a union and drew the respect of even the wisest people in those ancient times.

Let the law of the Tai Yuan dynasty live 1,000 years, and let us, its lesser brothers, also live 100 years. Let us not scatter, as they did during Suizhou but boldly declare a union, as they did during Gucheng, and let our truth be as deep as four seas. Here at Suchang many of us allies gather, having made this Suchang agreement, consisting of the following:

  1. If anyone steals ginseng from another man who has discovered the place where it grows, and there is a witness to this crime, then the guilty one shall be punished by a stick beating without mercy.
  2. During the time of the sprouting of rice and millet, it is forbidden to let cows, horses, and other livestock into the fields. If the owner of the fields catches even one animal in these fields, then the guilty one responsible for this shall pay four ounces of silver. This law is valid until the Han-lu holiday [October 8]. After that it is legal to graze the cattle.
  3. If anyone burns wastelands at an inappropriate time and in doing so burns farming tools and other things, or if anyone, during the burning of seaweed, burns boats, goods, or an earth-dwelling or the like, then the guilty one, according to the deed he has committed, shall pay a fine of 100 diao and shall not receive any mercy. After the Gu-yu holiday [April 20], when posters have been hung, then it is legal to burn wastelands.
  4. If anyone has taken a loan, and this fact should be recorded in a book, and he ignores the request of the lender for the return of the money or delays the repayment of the loan and in addition argues and shouts, then he shall be relieved of a horse or a cow, and also of a rifle, which is valued at 30 ounces, and of a short gun, in place of two ounces [of silver].
  5. Anyone not obeying the laws, deceiving older brothers and cursing younger brothers, plotting and scheming, drinking vodka and brawling in a drunken state, after being punished with bamboo sticks, must be banned from Suchang as one not complying with the law.
  6. Anyone who wishes to exchange grain shall abide by the following rules: One garrets [ = 3.28 liters] of wheat and shuzi [glutinous or broomcorn millet] exchanges for eight handfuls of rice. One garnets of bread grain, millet, corn, and peas exchanges for one-half garnets of rice. One garnets of yellow beans exchanges for six handfuls of rice. One garnets of barley exchanges for four handfuls of rice. One garnets of buckwheat exchanges for three handfuls of rice.
  7. If anyone plots to mis-level his scales or standard containers (in the presence of an official standard garnets of the size of sixty pounds and scales of sixteen ounces, leveled at both markets) or if improper scales, namely too large a garnets or too small a pound (too small a pound, too small a weight), or scales created by the merchant himself are found in a market or a home, then the guilty one is punished with a fine of 100 diao.
  8. If anyone in Suchang does not permit the opening of a gambling house (under threat of report) and if he, knowing (that the house is opening) desires to prevent the house from opening, then he is entitled to a bribe of one cow or 400 diao; however, if he, after accepting the money, comes to play at the house, then he shall be punished with 40 lashes of the bamboo.
  9. If anyone in Suchang decides to disobey the law and steal, although it is forbidden to take food, vodka, flour, and other things, the guilty one must pay for the things and will receive 40 lashes of the bamboo.
  10. It is forbidden to go to the storehouses where flour, rice, and vodka are kept and take things without asking permission. If a man secretly takes things and there is a witness, then he shall be punished with 20 lashes. It is also forbidden to take chumiza [чумиза?], and if someone needs it he must first ask the manager. It is also forbidden to wander for no reason around the storehouses. If another man sees this and reports that this wandering was with the intention of stealing, and if in fact a theft does occur later, then the man seen wandering around the storehouses must pay for the things, he will receive 40 lashes, and his appeals for mercy will not be heeded.
  11. Anyone in Suchang who has a very important message to relate must warn his comrades, and all must come immediately and listen to him whether they are busy or not. If anyone refuses and does not come, then he shall be punished with a fine of 200 diao and, in addition, 20 lashes. For this law it makes no difference whether it is an older brother who has refused to come with the excuse of having work to do or a younger brother. In any case, it is forbidden to request violation of the law. In this case the most important ones from the meeting (the oldest) are punished with a fine of 400 diao but not with lashes. The second oldest comrades will be punished with both a fine and lashes, depending upon the wish and the number. The last category of brothers shall be punished with ?ashes only, 40 in number, but never by a fine.
  12. If any man in Suchang, renting an apartment, makes a disturbance, creates disorder, or changes things, then the master of the house must preside at the hearings of this deed. Since there are people in Su ch'ang who do not work and who live in private apartments, then each month they must pay the owner of the house six garnets of flour, and each New Year they must pay five ounces. They must also pay three ounces of silver for heating. Tillers of the soil, having worked hard for eleven months, arrange a large, general feast on the first of the month [=in the first month?] for the purpose of gathering together as friends. If any man is present who does not live in that house, then on New Year's he must pay five ounces to the owner of the house.
    All of this should be strictly followed.

Below are numerous signatures, divided into categories, depending upon the ages of the participants:

Assignment of Positions

Zhong daye, or the oldest brother, is in charge of all matters, having at the same time the legislative power. He is, so to say, a president in the small Suchang republic, the only difference being that he cannot be replaced. He has a large staff of all kinds of assistants and executors of his wishes. Orders given by Zhong daye go first to Bang laoda and then to Bangban laoda. These latter ones, being the executive power, bring the orders of the older brother into effect.

In charge of relations with the Russians, with the government, as well as with individual citizens, is the foreman (who, by the way, now holds the position of interpreter in the Vladivostok police department). This is a man well acquainted with the Russian language. His assistants are two Bangban laoda. There are four Zunzhong wenguan laoda for carrying out hearings. The chairman of the court is Zhong daye. Serving more or less as our police are two Xueshi wenguan laoda. One of them is in charge of the marine department.

In charge of bringing the brothers to meeting and relaying information are four Tietou laowu and four Paogou laowu. Both the former and the latter are recruited from young Chinese; the first ones serve as messengers and the second ones are announcers. Both are called "inviolable" because they cannot be punished with bamboo.

It is characteristic that a servant of Zhong daye is also inviolable.

Further down, there are two junior police ranks which are called Xueshi wenguan.

Working with them is the chief Dongxi haiyan zunguan, who relates directly to the Xueshi wenguan laoda. On the western side of the Suchang valley there is a separate manager who, together with the eastern executive, Dongcha, is under the Tonggong kouzhong shanshangzong wenguan.

In the Pinglangbie region, there is a separate executive manager, Pinglangbie guanshang laoda. Working with him is Paogou laowu, whose function is transmitting messages from Zhong daye. The entire list ends with one Xiongcha shanggou laoda, or a spy.

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Second Document (1877) (Ivanov 1914: 11-16)

Brethren, we swore before Heaven to rule the valley of the Iman river from its mouth to its end, and all the adjacent territories, to rule the Chinese and Orochens as well as all newcomers and people wishing to live there. Let the law described below be the law for everyone; therefore any man who commits a crime or practices oppression and disobeys the law shall be punished in accordance with the law listed here without any mercy from justice.

In the entire valley of the Iman river and its surroundings the opening of gambling places (such as the bank game, card games, etc.) is permitted only during one month, namely from the 15th of November to the 15th of December each year. Those violating the law by not playing within the prescribed term, and also those who open games whose names are not given in the list of pledged brothers, even if it is within the outlined term, are sentenced to a fine of 400 pounds of movable possessions, one fat pig, and 20 bamboo lashes. All players shall receive the same punishment, the dealer, scorekeeper, and the master who opened the secret gambling place.

Section 1: If anyone, at night, with a premeditated purpose, steals sable furs from the trap of another person at that person's home, in the mountains, or in any other place, then he shall be buried alive.

Section 2: If anyone steals ginseng from another he shall be drowned in the river without mercy or leniency.

Section 3: If anyone steals from another young deer antlers, no-matter where, he shall be buried alive without mercy.


  1. If anyone, no matter where, steals less than five sable furs, then he shall receive 40 lashes by a stick, and he shall be banned from the valley, and if more than five, then he shall be buried alive.
  2. If anyone steals from another an unknown amount of ginseng, then he shall be punished by 40 lashes of the stick and banned from the valley, and if he steals a known amount, then he shall be buried alive.
  3. If anyone steals from another food, money, or anything worth more than 100 rubles, then he shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick and banned from the valley.
  4. If anyone discovers that thieves are plotting to steal, and fails to report this, then he shall receive the same punishment as the thieves.
  5. If anyone sells an animal fur secretly from the master, then he shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick and banned from the valley.
  6. If anyone finds something in the forest and sells it secretly from the master, then he shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick and banned from the valley.
  7. If someone from the Orochen hides young deer horns in the house or in the forest secretly from the master, then he shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick, whereas the buyer shall be fined three times the price he paid for the antlers.
  8. Every newcomer has the right to live in anyone's house for three days without paying. Beyond this term he must pay 40 kopecks a day for food. If he arrives at New Year's then he must contribute 15 rubles to celebrate the New Year.
  9. For any quarrel and abuse among each other, the guilty ones shall be sentenced to a fine of 2,000 pounds of movable possessions and shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick.
  10. Anyone who, during a fight, inflicts a light wound upon someone with a stick or a knife, shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick and banned from the valley. Anyone who allows the guilty party into his house or who stands up for him shall receive the same punishment as the guilty one. If the wound happens to be heavy, and if the wounded person does not recover within 15 days, then the guilty party must pay all expenses and in addition shall be fined 400 pounds of movable possessions and be punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  11. If anyone provokes another to a quarrel, abuse, or a fight, he shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick.
  12. If there is a sick person staying in a house, and if the master does not report this to the proper authority, and if the ill person dies (his corpse will be witnessed by the judges), and if there are no signs of a violent death, then for the failure to report this in time the master shall be punished by 40 lashes of the stick and banned from the valley.
  13. Prices for sable furs are the following: In the area of Miaolin, 5 ounces; in Xiangsuihezi, 7 ounces; and in Liaoliu, 12 ounces.
  14. The standard measure for portable substances is 70 pounds by the scales at Na'erdong. For the violation of this article, the guilty party is fined 200 pounds of movable possessions and is punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  15. No one, no matter if he is Chinese, Orochen, new-coming merchant, or traveler, may violate or neglect the law. For a violation of the law, the guilty party shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick.
  16. No one may secretly build a fishing place without notifying the authorities. The guilty party shall be punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  17. Every Orochen cargo, whether it is on a boat or a sleigh, must be weighed in advance, and once having sold it to a merchant (outsider), he must be paid for it in cash. For the violation of this law, the guilty Orochen shall be punished with 40 lashes of a switch.
  18. Everyone is obligated to keep dogs at home, and if he does not have dogs, then he must borrow them from a neighbor, and in the case that the dog dies, the owner must not reproach or suspect him in the death of the dog. Those violating this law shall be punished with 40 lashes of the stick.
  19. If an Orochen, without the master's knowledge, exchanges an animal fur for his own debt, he shall be punished with 40 hard lashes of the stick.
  20. Workers and sharecroppers have no right to leave until fall, that is, before the completion of the agreement and the complete yielding of the crop. Otherwise they shall be deprived of their salaries as well as the borrowed land. If any of them, upon completion of the contract, wishes to stay on for another year, then he must contribute 30 rubles toward the celebration of the New Year.
  21. If someone rents a house and leaves before expiration of the term, then he is subject to the same laws as the others. The term must be specified in the contract.
  22. Chinese and Orochens who wish to sue each other must declare this to a judge, and upon completion of the trial the losing side must compensate the other for losses suffered while absent from home.
  23. If workers or tenants wish to pledge brotherhood to each other, and the master fails to report to the proper authority, and the workers or tenants still manage to pledge, then the master shall be fined 400 pounds of movable possessions and be punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  24. Chinese may demand payment of debts from Orochens only at a specified time, and men are allowed to walk about armed only from the first of the year to the 16th of March.
  25. When hiring a worker, the master must demand a reference, and if the worker, after being hired, commits a crime, then the person who gave the reference shall also be punished depending upon the seriousness of the crime.
  26. If an Orochen lives in the house of his master [or boss or landlord], then all things killed by him in hunting and all fish caught by him are divided in half; he is also allowed to keep opium and all smoking appliances in the house, although the amount of opium must not exceed two lots. But if the Orochen lives separately from the master, then everything earned by him, and also killed and caught by him in hunting, shall be taken away from him and given to the master in payment of his debt according to the account books. For the violation of this law, the guilty party is fined 400 pounds of movable possessions and punished with 40 lashes of the stick.
  27. In December of each year all workers and all craftsmen must return home from work; if a person happens to be ill and the master does not send for him, then the master shall be fined 200 pounds of movable possessions and punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  28. Common merchants are not permitted to carry sulya [суля?] for sale to Orochens in the mountains and force intoxication on them with it. It is also forbidden to carry more than 10 pounds of sulya. The guilty party shall be fined 200 pounds of movable possessions and punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  29. A merchant who comes to the valley to buy furs and goods must pay the price established by local authorities for each day he stays on the premises, namely: In Liaoling, 50 kopecks; in Chengzi and Ha'erdong, 60 kopecks; in Taidiebie, Xibie, and Xiangsonghezi, 70 kopecks; in Konggu'ezi, 80 kopecks; in Xiduodong, one ruble; in Shahezi, one ruble 20 kopecks; and in Hanglubie and Sanzhizi, one ruble 20 kopecks. If the merchant stays more than two versts from the listed places, then no payment is required. [1 verst (верста)= slightly over 1 km.]
  30. No one has the right to sell goods in cities or to exchange them for sable furs. The guilty party shall be fined 200 pounds of movable possessions and one fat pig, and also shall be punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  31. All people from Biali to Diaxing [sic] are permitted to ask for the payment of debts from the Orochens in the mountains. But it is permitted to ask only for old debts, not to give new loans. A person who makes loans somewhere else has no right to ask for repayment. In addition, it is permitted to ask for repayment along the shores of the entire Iman river. Anyone who makes a new loan and then forces repayment of the new debt shall be fined 20 pounds of movable possessions and one fat pig and shall be punished with 20 lashes of the stick.
  32. When asking for repayment of a debt from an Orochen, no man may threaten him with weapons, beat him, or remove his clothes. The guilty party shall be fined and punished as in the previous article. Third Year of the Guangxu Reign [1877], Third Moon, Fourth Day.

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