Where is Asia? When is Asia? Theorizing Comparative Law and International Law

19 Pages Posted: 8 May 2011 Last revised: 28 May 2014

See all articles by Teemu Ruskola

Teemu Ruskola

Emory University School of Law


Ever since Henry Luce pronounced the twentieth century an American one, numerous critical observers have predicted that Asia will preside over the twenty-first one. Yet even today, that prediction still confronts us as a question: Asian Century? In this Essay, I approach the question by disaggregating the way it conflates space and time. I ask, separately, Where is Asia? and When is Asia? I seek to answer the first question in terms of cultural geography and the second one in terms of historiography. Effectively, I suggest that the problem of Asia is an epistemological one. I also consider what it means for comparative lawyers and international lawyers to take that problem seriously. I so do by using the so-called Asian Values debate as a point of entry to consider the methodological relationship between comparative and international law as disciplines. Both the Asian Values debate and the two legal disciplines are structured around a dialectic opposition between universal and particular values. Rather than positing preconstituted objects of legal knowledge and seeking to classify them as either universal or particular, I urge that we examine the worldview that gives rise to such binaries and makes them intelligible: How do the entities we analyze come to be seen as distinctive and oppositional to each other in the first place? Focusing on Chinese law, I consider an approach that is neither Eurocentric nor Sinocentric but de-centers both axes of comparison.

Keywords: Asia, Europe, China, time, space, comparative law, international law, legal theory, culture, Eurocentrism, Sinocentrism, Asian values

Suggested Citation

Ruskola, Teemu, Where is Asia? When is Asia? Theorizing Comparative Law and International Law. UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 44, p. 102, 2011; Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 11-155. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1832721

Teemu Ruskola (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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