Pushing the Boundaries of the Public Sphere: The Su Bao Case and Everyday Citizenship in China, 1894-1904

30 Pages Posted: 4 May 2011

Date Written: April 29, 2011


In the last decade of the Qing Dynasty six Chinese nationals were arrested in the International Settlement at Shanghai and charged with acts of treason against the Chinese state. Their arrest prompted an international crisis as their advocates jockeyed with Chinese and foreign governments to determine where and how the men should be tried. The affair took almost a year to resolve; the men were arrested in July 1903 but it was not until May 1904 that a specially constituted court brought the case to a close by entering sentences against two of them. That trial, known as the Su Bao case after the newspaper (苏报, Su Bao) with which the defendants were associated, marks the moment in Chinese history when the radicals who called for the end of dynastic governance and the creation of a democracy split from the reformers who sought creation of a constitutional monarchy and was also a turning point in China’s constitutional order, helping to publicize and popularize the cause of constitutional change. Here, I consider what the case tells us about a problem of constitutionalism in a modern world marked by a mobile citizenry and fragmented or overlapping sovereign powers. On the theory that close examination of the constitutional past offers, if not a solution to the problems of our constitutional present, at least a useful way to think through their ramifications, this study looks at the Su Bao case to explore whether, and how, people could act as citizens in a world of fragmented sovereignty.

Keywords: transnational citizenship, everyday citizenship, fragmented sovereignty, constitutional history, popular constitutionalism

Suggested Citation

Dale, Elizabeth, Pushing the Boundaries of the Public Sphere: The Su Bao Case and Everyday Citizenship in China, 1894-1904 (April 29, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1825954 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1825954

Elizabeth Dale (Contact Author)

Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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