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
Date Written: August 30, 2010
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
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