William Theodore de Bary was a prolific Sinologist who worked as a professor for almost 70 years at Columbia University. De Bary was born in 1919 in an immigrant family. After his parents divorced, he added “William” to his name to separate himself from his father. His interest in Asian cultures began at an early age before any extensive and modern research was performed on the subject. In 1937 he began studying Chinese at Columbia University, but when the United States entered the war, he was approached by the U.S. Navy due to his topic of studies before being able to graduate. He served in World War Two as an intelligence officer during the Pacific campaign where he had to learn Japanese which enabled him to further study the Asian countries.
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After the war, he continued his studies in Chinese and received a Master of Arts degree as well as a Ph.D. in the following years. After completing his Ph.D., he became a professor at Columbia University where he saw great success with both the students and his peers. He received some prestigious awards and honors for his teaching and research. He was an author of a large number of books on the topic of Asian countries with a large focus on China and Chinese history. De Bary continued his work at the Columbia University even after turning 90. He stopped only a few months before he passed away in 2017. He was 97 years old when he died and was considered one of the longest-serving professors in the country.
The Joei Code
The Joei Code is one of the Japanese administrative codes that is described in the book. This specific code was used by the Kamakura shogunate around the 1230s. It was designed to manage vassal regions of the country. It contained several rules for the courts of the shogun and included articles about the resolution of land disputes, matters of religion, upkeep of religious sites, and how to deal with criminal activity in the area. Some of the more interesting elements of the Joei code are described in detail by De Bary. The first element concerns the matter of property ownership by women. Unlike previous and following administrative codes, women were granted the ability to own a considerable amount of property due to the equal division of inheritance between siblings.
Female heirs could receive and own land and wealth which were previously given only to male siblings. Another interesting element of the articles lies in the text of Article #3 which describes a situation in which constables were exploiting their power for personal gain in various provinces. Instead of protecting the people and apprehending murderers, they began to interfere in the administration of provinces and collecting money from people and landowners. This behavior is considered completely unacceptable by the Joei Code. A certain level of independence is also allowed by the code to the governors of the provinces such as being able to exercise their jurisdiction over their province without contacting the shogunate in Kanto. The same allowance is granted to the estate holders. Other issues such as complaints from rent collectors, crimes of husbands, and which property is confiscated after they are convicted, and the previously mentioned matters of female relatives receiving an inheritance are also covered by the Joei Code.