Buddhist Litigants in Public Court A Case Study of Legal Practices in Tibetan-ruled Dunhuang (786–848)

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Cuilan Liu



This article examines a legal dispute over the ownership of nine bondservants between a Buddhist monastery and two monks and a nun, focusing on the legal apparatus and practices in Dunhuang when it was under Tibetan control (786– 848). During the Tang, eminent monks of the Buddhist clergy petitioned for exemptions from public courts in order to restrict trials of ordained Buddhists at alternative venues. Such petitions were declined, granted, or revoked by different Tang emperors. This case study demonstrates that ordained Buddhists on this Sino-Tibetan frontier affiliated with the Buddhist clergy in Dunhuang did not enjoy this privilege. Instead of being shielded from public attention, two Buddhist monks and a nun successfully litigated against a Buddhist monastery in a public court.

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