If you were Hammurabi being visited by a Chinese diplomat who criticized your code for its harsh punishments, plus its inequality based on class and gender, how would you defend your code? If you...

If you were Hammurabi being visited by a Chinese diplomat who criticized your code for its harsh punishments, plus its inequality based on class and gender, how would you defend your code?

If you met a Chinese diplomat today, how would you defend our legal system?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Hammurabi reigned over the First Babylonian Dynasty from 1792 BC to 1750 BC and established the first known "written codes of laws in recorded history" ("Hammurabi"). These laws are referred to as Hammurabi's Code. Hence, if a Chinese diplomat arrived in Babylon and criticized Hammurabi for his codes, that diplomat would have been from either the late legendary Xia Dynasty, which allegedly ruled from 2070 BC to 1600 BC, or the Shang Dynasty, which reigned from 1600 to 1046 BC. While the Xia Dynasty has been referred to in writing, historians have been unable to find archeological evidence of its existence. As for the Shang Dynasty, the dynasty's kings certainly did not create a written code of laws, nor did any dynasty before the Shang Dynasty. Only the last king of the dynasty, called either King Din Xin or King Zhou, was known to establish any rules for which a cruel form of torture was devised as a means of execution. Hence, if for your assignment you need to speak as Hammurabi in defense of your legal system, you could certainly do so by bearing in mind that China at this point did not have a written legal system of its own and that its only method of punishment under King Din Xin was reportedly even crueler than any of Hammurabi's punishments.

If the Chinese diplomat further protests the code of laws on the basis of class, Hammurabi can easily point out that an even stricter class system exists in China under the Shang Dynasty. The Shang Dynasty was a monarchy that was governed by 29 to 31 kings over the course of its 600-year reign. The king also delegated to officials who belonged to a "hereditary class of aristocrats, usually related to the king himself" (Lai and Brown, "The Shang Dynasty, 1600 to 1050"). The Shang Dynasty also possessed a period of what is called the "Slave-Owning System" in which the commoners were treated as slaves ("The Shang Dynasty"). In contrast, to the Shang Dynasty, Babylonia had four different classes, the king, the aristocrats, the free citizens and the slaves. It was even possible for some slaves to buy their freedom, making class mobility possible ("Ancient Babylonia--Social Hierarchy"). Hence, the Shang Dynasty had an even more rigid class system than the Babylonian class system because the Shang Dynasty only had three classes, the king, the aristocrats, and the commoners, or slaves, and it was not possible to move from one class to another. Therefore, as Hammurabi responding to a Chinese diplomat in defense of Hammurabi's Code, you might point out his code allows for fairer treatment of commoners by dividing them into two classes, freemen and slaves, and specifying laws and punishments with respect to each class. You might even point out that Hammurabi's laws allow for the protection of the rights of even slaves, as we see in law 196-201, which states, "If one destroy the eye of a man's slave or break a bone of a man's slave he shall pay one-half his price" ("Code of laws: Significant laws in Hammurabi's code"). Granted, while the punishment is certainly less severe than it would be if the crime was committed against a freeman, at least it is the first written law protecting slaves from being harmed by another person.

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