Item ID: 9135 Tae Myŏngnyul kanghae or Dae Myeongnyul ganghae 大明律講解 [The Great Ming Code Explained]. Emperor of China MING TAIZU.

Movable Metal Type

Tae Myŏngnyul kanghae or Dae Myeongnyul ganghae 大明律講解 [The Great Ming Code Explained].

69; 84; 102 folding leaves. 30 parts in three vols. Large 8vo (306 x 202 mm.), orig. patterned yellow-brown wrappers, new stitching. [Korea]: final volume with date 1903.

A rare metal movable type edition printed at the Ministry of Justice in Seoul in 1903 using a font cut in 1816. The text was originally compiled in Chosŏn Korea on royal command in ca. 1440. The earliest edition that can be confidently dated was printed by woodblocks in Kyŏngju in 1536.

The text explains the descriptions of crimes and punishments contained in the Great Ming Code, which was the penal code of the Chinese Ming empire (1368-1644). This book, in the form in which we now have it, is the result of a series of revisions in the late 14th century. It represents an important moment in Chinese legal history, as a kind of legal Renaissance, in that it was deliberately modeled on the centuries-old Tang code, whereas the preceding Mongol Yuan empire had not had an official Chinese legal code.

The Ming legal code was very influential in East Asia. In Korea, the Ming code’s influence can be discerned already in the second half of the 15th century, when we see references in the penal section in the official collection of statutes specifying that certain matters should be handled according to the Ming code. Even in the last Korean code issued before the advent of Japanese rule, dated 1905, the influence of the Ming code is still discernable.

Our edition of the book belongs to the uncertain period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Korean leadership tried to navigate between the surrounding empires and establish the country as an independent state. The laws of Ming China, which had collapsed more than two and a half centuries earlier, were still being studied by prospective officials in the Korean judiciary on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War , which made Korea a Japanese protectorate.

Our edition was printed with metal movable type using the chŏnsaja 全史字 set. This copper font of approximately 20,000 characters was cast privately in 1816 by Pak Chonggyŏng 朴宗慶.

Fine and handsome set. A seal states that this set belonged to the collection of the Institute for the Training of Officials for the Judiciary (Pŏpkwan Yangsŏngso 法官養成所), in Seoul founded in 1895 as part of an attempt to modernize the civil service. It was intended as a textbook for the institute’s students.

"At the end of the book is a double leaf of errata, a novelty among Korean government publications" (Fang, The Asami Library, 18.45)


Fang Chaoying. The Asami Library: A Descriptive Catalog. Edited by Elizabeth Huff. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Jiang Yonglin, trans. The Great Ming Code. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014.

Tanaka Toshimitsu 田中俊光. “Chōsen kan Daiminritsu kōkai” 朝鮮刊『大明律講解』について, Tōyō hōseishi kenkyūkai tsūshin 東洋法制史研究会通信 no. 28 (2015).

Price: $12,500.00

Item ID: 9135