Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Emergence and Transformation of International Order: International Law in China, 1860-1949

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Emergence and Transformation of International Order: International Law in China, 1860-1949

Article excerpt

The interaction between global and local norms is the key issue of sociolegal research on globalization and world society. The globallocal interaction of norms generally has two directions: world society theory, which discusses how global normative patterns shape the local legal systems they encompass, and how local actors and their interventions form and influence global legal developments. I argue in this article that both perspectives must be combined if we are to understand processes of global normative change. The global diffusion of normative models triggers local adaptations and reinterpretations that, in turn, have repercussions for the transformation of global normative models. The argument is developed by drawing on historical research on the introduction of European international law in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. KEYWORDS: world society, international law, China and international law.

SOCIOLOGICAL DEBATES ON GLOBALIZATION AND WORLD SOCIETY SUFFER from one-sidedly adopting either of two general positions. On the one hand, researchers in the world society school emphasize how global cultural models impinge upon local societies. On the other hand, critics of that approach highlight that global cultural models are the product of locally embedded actors, their strategies, and global interventions. I argue in this article that both positions need to be combined for us to understand processes of global normative change. The global diffusion of normative models triggers local adaptations that, in turn, have repercussions for transformation of global normative models.

I develop this argument by drawing on historical research on the introduction of European international law in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. China is of significant interest for two reasons in particular. First, it is representative of the de-Europeanization of international law in the nineteenth century. Second, considering local traditions of international legal relations in China since the middle of the nineteenth century and the cultural distinctiveness of nineteenth-century China in general, the isomorphism of international law in China is highly unlikely. Thus, the Chinese integration into the international law system can illustrate and revise fundamental hypotheses of world society research. I base this study primarily on the semantic analysis of historical legal discourses in official documents of governments and international conferences as well as on international law treatises and textbooks.

China's engagement with international law is a particularly well-suited case study since it reveals how normative models historically emerged through the gradual integration of new regions into world society. Whereas world society theory typically focuses on the post-1945 period and thus considers the world society as fully developed, the historical period I chose for this article shows how a normative order with universal ambitions yet limited regional reach superseded another regional order, thus triggering the development of global normative scripts. Chinese history helps to understand the local mediation of global scripts during the geographical extension of the world society and the accompanying intercultural contacts. A qualitative perspective on actors, scientific networks, and norm socialization contributes to better understanding the initial formation of institutional isomorphism (and variation).

I also discuss how the local reinterpretation of international law in China influenced its theoretical development. In the republican phase, Chinese international lawyers established their own international legal approach to unequal treaties and presented it at international conferences in Paris and Washington as well as in the context of the newly founded League of Nations. I show that even though the Chinese initiatives were not successful in terminating the unequal treaty regime immediately, they significantly influenced international relations and the science of international law. …

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