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Law, Empire, and Historiography of Modern Sino-Western Relations: A Case Study of the Lady Hughes Controversy in 1784

Li Chen

University of Toronto

May 30, 2008

Law & History Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Spring 2009

Western extraterritoriality in China (1843-1943) exerted an enormous impact on Sino-Western relations and on modern Chinese national identity and historical consciousness. The Lady Hughes dispute in Canton [Guangzhou] in 1784 has been the most powerful and often the single piece of "evidence" for commentators over the past two centuries to justify this extraterritorial regime by claiming that imperial Chinese law were too arbitrary and sanguinary to govern "civilized" Westerners in China. To better understand this issue of crucial historical significance, this paper suggests that the "colonial archives" of such early Sino-Western disputes be "read against the grain" to recover histories from the grips of the traditional narratives of these events. In contrast with the typically over-simplistic accounts, this microscopic case study highlights the complex process of accommodation and contestation between two empires and their respective agents in South China, with conflicting claims for sovereignty and imperial honor. Through a critical reexamination of the original English and Chinese records, this study challenges the still dominant discourse of this case and the preexisting historiography of Chinese law, politics, and foreign relations implicated thereby. It also contributes to the recent debates on how empire shaped the making of international

Number of Pages in PDF File: 62

Keywords: Chinese law, Chinese law and history, international law, law and empire, law and colonialism, law and orientalism, sovereign

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Date posted: July 6, 2007 ; Last revised: April 14, 2011

Suggested Citation

Chen, Li, Law, Empire, and Historiography of Modern Sino-Western Relations: A Case Study of the Lady Hughes Controversy in 1784 (May 30, 2008). Law & History Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Spring 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=998380 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.998380

Contact Information

Li Chen (Contact Author)
University of Toronto ( email )
Department of Historical and Cultural Studies
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
HOME PAGE: http://https://utoronto.academia.edu/LiChen
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