While looking through the Law Library of Congress’s collection of a set of valuable Chinese judicial gazettes from the Minguo (or Republican) Period (1912-1949), I came across a picture of the Supreme Court (da li yuan) of China that was taken in 1913, ninety-nine years ago.
So what functions did these nine men in the picture perform? The man sitting directly in front of the seven men in a row and facing left appears to be the court reporter. Are the seven gentlemen at the bench all judges, or judges and prosecutor(s)? Is the gentleman sitting on the far right of the photo a prosecutor or a lawyer? It would have helped if this was a color photo–apparently the technology did not exist in China at the time, although we did find some color photos taken in China by a foreign photographer during that period. If it were in color, we would be able to tell their roles from the color of the piped edge of their robes and hats: black for lawyers, purple for prosecutors, and gold for judges. This is according to an official court dress decree from 1913 (5 Judicial Gazette of the Republic of China 9 (Feb. 15, 1913)). Below is the design sketch of the required attire.
According to the decree and its implementing order (6 Judicial Gazette of the Republic of China 17 (Mar. 15, 1913), judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and court reporters had to wear the prescriptive black robes and hats, with the piped edge made from different color of velvet distinguished by their respective roles. The decree even set the fabric of the robes and hats, which had to be made with “silk or wool from domestic sources” — an early “buy China” provision, or a method to guarantee good quality?