Renmin Chinese Law Review
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Renmin Chinese Law Review

Selected Papers of The Jurist (法学家), Volume 1

Edited by Jichun Shi

Renmin Chinese Law Review, Vol. 1 is the first work in a series of annual volumes on contemporary Chinese law, which bring together the work of recognised scholars from China, offering a window on current legal research in China.
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Chapter 1: The word ‘constitution’ in western languages: how did it originate and evolve linguistically?

Selected Papers of The Jurist (法学家), Volume 1

Xu Guodong


As Chinese scholars often begin their discussion about constitution with the Latin word constitutio, there is both reason and necessity for us to clarify the origin of the special word in Greek based on the available materials, in spite of the fact that other western nations in ancient times also had experiences of group living. Homer (9 B.C.) was possibly the first Greek writer known for discussing constitutional phenomena. In Chapter 2 of his great epic The Iliad, he detailed the Mycenaean constitutional institution: the King, the Senate, the Assembly of Soldiers, and the Herald who contacted them. It is obviously a Spartan-like structure. Following him was the famous writer Herodotus (484 B.C.–424 B.C.), who in the name of two Persians, Otanes and Megabysuz, distinguished dictatorship, democracy and oligarchy. He then analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of the three regimes in his The Histories. How great these words were! The earliest types of constitution in the eyes of the power holders were put forward for future generations. In The Geography, Strabo (63 B.C.–24 B.C.) also discussed the constitutions of some other states like those of Sparta, Tarsus and Galatain.

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