The Sword of Authority and the Seal of Power

This paper examines some of the virtues of giving officials free reign with their power as well as some of the drawbacks that can result from an abuse of that power, with reference to three Chinese plays from the Yuan Dynasty.

This paper compares three plays: “Rain on the Hsiao-hsiang” by Yang Hsien-chih, “The Mo-Ho-Lo Doll” by Meng Han-ch’ing and The Lute by Kao Ming. It explores the advantages of allowing officials to freely exercise their power. The writer asserts that the most important way in which this freedom can benefit the citizens is the ability to make judicial decisions based on the specific situation.
The power of officials to overcome the corrupt officialdom of others is shown in The Mo-Ho-Lo Doll. Chang Ting is able to use his influence with the Prefect to overturn the unjust ruling of the 1st judge. He was able to uncover the truth that had been obscured by the poor job of investigation that the 1st judge had done to discover the killer of Li Te-Ch’ang. In the Prefect’s opening introduction he says: Now this area of Honan Fu is suffering under corrupt officialdom which has been snaring and harming citizens in every fashion. His Sage Presence appointed me Special Prefect here. I am to root out all evil and sustain justice; armed with the sword of authority and the seal of power. By exercising this symbolic sword of authority and the seal of power, the Prefect was able to correct the injustice done by the previous judge.