Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes

Sovereignty, Justice, and Transcultural Politics

Li Chen

Columbia University Press

Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes

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Pub Date: December 2015

ISBN: 9780231173742

416 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£50.00

Pub Date: December 2015

ISBN: 9780231540216

416 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£50.00

Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes

Sovereignty, Justice, and Transcultural Politics

Li Chen

Columbia University Press

How did American schoolchildren, French philosophers, Russian Sinologists, Dutch merchants, and British lawyers imagine China and Chinese law? What happened when agents of presumably dominant Western empires had to endure the humiliations and anxieties of maintaining a profitable but precarious relationship with China? In Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes, Li Chen provides a richly textured analysis of these related issues and their intersection with law, culture, and politics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Using a wide array of sources, Chen's study focuses on the power dynamics of Sino-Western relations during the formative century before the First Opium War (1839-1842). He highlights the centrality of law to modern imperial ideology and politics and brings new insight to the origins of comparative Chinese law in the West, the First Opium War, and foreign extraterritoriality in China. The shifting balance of economic and political power formed and transformed knowledge of China and Chinese law in different contact zones. Chen argues that recovering the variegated and contradictory roles of Chinese law in Western "modernization" helps provincialize the subsequent Euro-Americentric discourse of global modernity.

Chen draws attention to important yet underanalyzed sites in which imperial sovereignty, national identity, cultural tradition, or international law and order were defined and restructured. His valuable case studies show how constructed differences between societies were hardened into cultural or racial boundaries and then politicized to rationalize international conflicts and hierarchy.

Just when we thought no one could offer any new approach to the subject of the Sino-Western encounter during the early modern period, this book pulls us back in. Li Chen sets a new standard for any future study on this topic.

Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, New York University

Li Chen makes a gift of his expertise in legal history to readers of every level. He not only reinterprets monumental historical episodes in the relations between China and Europe but also builds on this platform a cultural history of European perceptions of punishment, justice, and state prerogative in China. Anybody considering legal history an arcane or marginal element of late Qing history and its international relations will have to reconsider.

Pamela Kyle Crossley, Dartmouth College

Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes is a landmark contribution to the emerging field of Chinese law and cultural studies. Li Chen's sophisticated analyses and wide-ranging archive illuminate the complex and fascinating encounter between Chinese and European legal traditions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Teemu Ruskola, Emory University School of Law

Extensively researched and well-written.... The aspiration of the author to restore the centrality of legal matters to Sino-Western interactions is clearly achieved.

H-Empire
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Imperial Archives and Historiography of Western Extraterritoriality in China
2. Translation of the Qing Code and Colonial Origins of Comparative Chinese Law
3. Chinese Law in the Formation of European Modernity
4. Sentimental Imperialism and the Global Spectacle of Chinese Punishments
5. Law and Empire in the Making of the First Opium War
Conclusion
List of Abbreviations
Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index

Read the Introduction:

About the Author

Li Chen is associate professor at the University of Toronto and founding president of the International Society for Chinese Law and History. He has published on late imperial and modern Chinese law and society, Sino-Western encounters, and international law and empire, including a volume coedited with Madeleine Zelin called Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice and Transformation, 1530s–1950s.