Universalism and Equal Sovereignty as Contested Myths of International Law in the Sino-Western Encounter

Journal of the History of International Law, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 75-116, 2011

44 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2010 Last revised: 7 Nov 2011

See all articles by Li Chen

Li Chen

University of Toronto

Date Written: August 30, 2010

Abstract

Contrary to the relevant traditional historiography, this paper argues that early modern Sino-Western conflicts were to a great extent attributable to the sustained contestation between China and the Western empires (particularly Britain) over their competing claims to sovereignty in China. It shows that the Western empires’ demand for extraterritoriality and natural rights to freely trade, travel, and/or proselytize in China originated in their assumption of universal sovereignty in the non-Christian world. The early Sino-Western encounter illustrates how the discourses of sovereign equality and universal justice, as two origin myths of modern international law and diplomacy, were constructed, deployed, challenged, and adapted in the course of Western expansion in the age of empire.

Keywords: international law, sovereignty, imperialism, Chinese law, British empire, Sino-Western relations, opium war, law and empire, colonialism, universalism

Suggested Citation

Chen, Li, Universalism and Equal Sovereignty as Contested Myths of International Law in the Sino-Western Encounter (August 30, 2010). Journal of the History of International Law, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 75-116, 2011 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1672526

Li Chen (Contact Author)

University of Toronto ( email )

Department of Historical and Cultural Studies
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
Canada

HOME PAGE: http://utoronto.academia.edu/LiChen

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