The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST4700SM Topic Studies in Public History: The Rule of Law in World History

Semester 1 (2023-2024)

Lecture TimeThursday, 16:30 - 18:15

VenueRoom 101, Leung Kau Kui Building (KKB 101)


Lecturer Stuart MCMANUS (

Teaching Assistant CHEN Mengjia (

Course Description

This course introduces students to the major themes and events in Western and World legal history, beginning with the legacy of ancient Greek and Roman law and culminating in its global legacy in the modern U.S. and Asia. It combines aspects of both the content and social history of the law (text and context) as it developed over time from antiquity to the present day. Key topics include the emergence of the Roman legal tradition, its reception in antiquity and the Middle Ages, the development of non-Roman legal systems such as English Common Law, and the spread of international and commercial law in the early modern period. It concludes by considering the impact of the various Western legal traditions in the modern world, helping students understand present-day legal changes in historical context.


1. (7/9) Introduction

Aristotle, Politics III.16 & Plato, Statesman, 294a-296a Plato and Aristotle Reading

Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, chapter 1

Explore this resource: 


2. (14/9) Greece and Republican Rome. Online via Zoom (all other classes in person).

Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution 1-11, 20-25:

Polybius, The Constitution of the Roman Republic:*.html


3. (21/9) Law and Custom in Imperial China and East Asia

Lu, David John. Japan: a Documentary History / Vol. 1: The Dawn of History to the Late Tokugawa Period. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2015. Web. Pp. 29-36 (online). 

Han Feizi the Legalist, “The Five Vermin”  

Tang Code, “The Great Abominations”

Further Reading (optional): POMERANZ, KENNETH. “Land Markets in Late Imperial and Republican China.” Continuity and change 23.1 (2008): 101–150. Web.  & Ma, Debin, and Jan Luiten van Zanden. “Property Rights, Land, and Law in Imperial China.” Law and Long-Term Economic Change. Stanford University Press, 2011. 68–. Both online via UL Catalog.


4. (28/9) Justinian

Codex of Justinian, 1st, 2nd & 3rd Prefaces, Book I.1 

Institutes, Preamble & Book 1, titles 1-3, Book 2, titles 1-6 & 10-12


5. (5/10) Post-Roman and Early Medieval Law, including Islamic Law

Katherine Fisher Drew (trans.), The Laws of the Salian Franks (Philadelphia, 1991), 28-39, 171-182

Al-Risala, On Legal Knowledge Shafi’i, ‘al-Risala’, ch. 3 ‘On Legal Knowledge’

S.P. Scott (trans.), The Visigothic Code (Forum Judicum) (Boston, 1910), 1-14 Scott, S.P. (1910) ‘The Visigothic Code (Forum Judicum)’, 1-14


Tutorial 1 – Justinian reading


6. (12/10) Canon and Civil Law

Gratian, The Treatise on Laws (Decretum DD. 1-20) With the Ordinary Gloss, trans. Augustine Thompson (Washington, D.C., 1993), Introduction (ix-xxvii), Distinction 10 (32-37), Distinctions 15-18 (53-76):


7. (19/10) Common Law I

Magna Carta (all)  and Bracton (pp. 20-33, 39-42, 282-285):


8. (26/10) Common Law II

Justice Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Introduction part 3 “Of the Laws of England” & Book 1 Chapter 1 “Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals”)

“Entick v Carrington” 


Tutorial 2 – Common Law I-II


9. (2/11) The Codification Movement

French Constitution (1791), Preamble, Titles 1-3:

Napoleonic Code, Preliminary Title, Book 1 Title 1, Book 2 Titles 1-2: 

Friedrich Carl von Savigny, The Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence, trans. Abraham Hayward (London, 1999), 13-35, 41-65, 92:


Tutorial 3 – All pre-modern legal systems readings


10. (9/11) No Class


11. (16/11) Codifications Around the World

Japanese civil code 1896, TBC: ; Mecelle (Civil Code of Ottoman Empire pp. TBC



Tutorial 4 – Codifications reading


12. (23/11) Soviet and Socialist Law (McManus)

“Socialist Law” 

Civil Code of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (pp. 7-8, 25-42, 124-125,) 

“The Socialist System of Laws with Chinese Characteristics”

Assessment & Assignments

30% 5*1-page response papers (6% each)

For 5 of the 13 weeks of readings, please produce a 1-page argument-driven mini essay (no more than 300 words), answering the question: “What is the most important take-away from the reading, and why?”  Send to Professor by email before Monday 9AM after the related lecture. Veriguide Receipts must also be submitted, but these can be sent at the end of the term. 


20% Participation in Tutorial

Active and enthusiastic participation in the tutorial on the basis of the reading (5% per tutorial). 


20% attendance and participation in lecture

Each student is required to attend the weekly lecture and the tutorials, as well as participate in class exercises, etc. (5%).  Students must also ask at least two questions over the course of the semester (you must announce your name before you ask the question) (10%) with half the grade given for asking the questions (5%), then the other half given for the quality/relevance of the questions (5%).  From time to time, we will also cold-call students on students.  Students must also attend at least 3 World History Seminars via Zoom (send screen shot to TA as proof). Schedule will be announced in due course (5%). 


30% Final Project.  

(25%) Write an argument-focused essay on a topic of your choice related to the course.  You may also choose a creative assessment, e.g. write their own law code, commentary on law, etc. (2500 words minimum, 3000 words maximum, plus references). 

(5%) 1-page proposal by Friday 9AM on week 8 and compulsory visit to office hours.  

Due: December 8 at 5pm.  


FKH 116, 14:30-16:15, Thursday


There is no textbook.  However, students looking for an introduction to the topic should refer to: Tamar Herzog, A Short History of European Law: The Last Two and A Half Millennia, 2019 [on hold in library] and Brian Z. Tamanaha, On the Rule of Law: History, Politics, Theory, 2004 [CUHK Ebook; there is also a Chinese translation with Wuhan University Press, as well as translations into several other languages]. 

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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