Hsieh-chai was a supernatural goat-like creature endowed with a single horn and the ability to discern the guilt or innocence of those accused of crimes in ancient China.
Affectionately known as “The Goat,” Philadelphia sculptor Henry Mitchell’s 1962 “Hsieh-Chai” has become the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s unofficial mascot.
According to legend, the Hsieh-chai was a supernatural goat-like creature endowed with a single horn and the ability to discern the guilt or innocence of those accused of crimes in ancient China. The creature was said to assist in the administration of justice by butting the guilty and leaving the innocent in peace.
Now a popular meeting point at the Law School, the bronze sculpture adorns school apparel, special awards, and souvenirs. Over the course of the first decade after its installation, Hsieh-Chai’s horn, nose, and tail were polished to a bright shine by the hands of superstitious students seeking good fortune on their way to exams.
The sculpture was commissioned by renowned law professor Clarence Morris, whose interest in the arts was, in the view of his contemporaries, unsurpassed by his faculty colleagues in either strength or sensitivity.
Morris was a nationally known scholar and teacher of torts. He was a key figure in the establishment of a Law and Behavioral Sciences program at the Law School in 1955, bringing insights from psychology to bear on criminal law, evidence, and family law. This venture was thought to be the first of its kind in any American law school.
Morris learned of the Hsieh-chai legend because he was also a scholar of Chinese Law. He facilitated the translation of a wide range of Chinese legal materials that served as the basis for much subsequent study. At a time when many Americans studying China were unduly influenced by Cold War ideology, Morris “viewed Chinese law as a vital touchstone of a major non-Western civilization and a key to a better understanding of our own institutions,” according to his colleague in Chinese Studies W. Allyn Rickett.
In Chinese lore, the Hsieh-chai is associated with Minister of Justice Kao-Yao, who served the Emperor Shun in the 23rd century BCE. In one recorded discourse between the two men, the emperor praised his minister, marveling that during Kao-Yao’s tenure, not one of his subjects has broken the law.
“You have acted upon the proper conviction that the ultimate purpose of the penal laws lies not so much in punishing the guilty as in lifting the people above the necessity of punishments, so that they may set themselves to the cultivation of virtue and practice of moderation,” said the emperor. “This is meritorious indeed.”