The best-known inheritance dispute in china

Updated: 2013-07-09 07:09

(China Daily)

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One of the biggest disputes over a will in Chinese history happened in 1722 after the death of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). According to Kangxi's will, his fourth son, who later became Emperor Yongzheng, would inherit China's largest fortune - the country itself. The problem was that Kangxi had 35 sons and no one knew his intentions until his will was executed soon after his death.

However, rumors spread that instead of complying with Kangxi's wishes, Yongzheng stole the throne by changing the written will. Novelists even suggested that he had poisoned or suffocated his father and although historians disproved the rumors, doubts lingered.

The case is unique in that it was of vital importance for the country, the fortune involved was limitless and the emperor enjoyed unassailable power.

However, the head of a regular Chinese family in olden times could not dispose of his fortune freely because different dynastic laws attempted to protect the integrity of the household. Moreover, because taxes were levied on the entire household, it guaranteed government revenue.

Women were also severely discriminated against and did not have the right to share the family fortune.

Things began to change with the advent of the Republic of China in 1912. To guarantee individual civil rights, the government abolished the traditional patriarchal system, which set an order of succession, such as the major part of the father's fortune being inherited by the wife's first son, but not by the sons of concubines, or by younger sons.

The laws of succession upset the existing order and gave women the right to inherit the family fortune.

In 1985, the Law of Succession of the People's Republic of China was enacted. It provided a legal framework for wills, but lawyers often complain that people are not used to seeking legal help. They usually only turn to lawyers if the legitimacy of a will is questioned during its execution. Although the patriarchal system is long gone, people are subconsciously unaware of the importance of using to the law when drawing up a will.

- Yang Yang

(China Daily 07/09/2013 page6)