Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan

By Fernsebner, Susan R. | The Historian, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan


Fernsebner, Susan R., The Historian


Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan. By Par Kristoffer Cassel. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 260. $39.95.)

In this well-researched book, Par Kristoffer Cassel offers an eloquent study of extraterritoriality, one of the central features of the "unequal treaties" of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both of these terms--extraterritoriality and "unequal treaties'--have become synonymous with narratives of Chinese "failure" and Japanese "success" in dealing with Western imperialism. With an extensive reading of primary and secondary sources in diverse languages, Cassel deftly challenges this paradigm.

One of the work's central arguments is that extraterritoriality was not a fixed instrument in East Asia but "developed in dialogue with local precedents, local understandings of power, and local institutions, which are best understood within the complex triangular relationship between China, Japan, and the West" (180). Cassel begins by exploring the significance of legal pluralism in both Qing China and Tokugawa Japan prior to nineteenth-century encounters with Western powers. Although the Meiji Restoration replaced the Tokugawa system with the more uniform legal jurisdiction of the nation-state, the Qing's plural system was remarkably durable. Western gunboats did not cause a reinvention of this system but rather "added another layer to the plural legal order of the empire" (37). Indeed, the Qing maintained legal pluralism because of its own imperialist interests. As Cassel details, the Qing's earlier treaties with the Romanov Empire and the Uzbek khanate of Khoqand [1830s] also contained extraterritorial privileges amid a system of tribute-state relations. Qing initiative and adaptability, hallmarks of its state formation in earlier centuries, would also be seen in the context of nineteenth-century Western imperialism as the history of the Mixed Court and British Supreme Court in Shanghai reveals. …

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