Vast Imperium: The Origins of Modern Chinese Concepts of Sovereignty and International Law in Guangxu Era Geopolitics
Created on:2023-05-09 21:09 PV:111
By Ryan Martínez Mitchell | Article | 14 Tsinghua China L. Rev. 23 (2021)   |   Download Full Article PDF


Accounts of the transmission of Western notions of sovereignty and international law to China often focus heavily on Anglo-American initiatives in the period of the Opium Wars, skimming over the complex transnational interactions of the late 19th century. However, key events of the 1870s–1890s played a crucial role in rapidly hanging discourses of international legal order and statehood in China. Only then were important terms for concepts such as "autonomy," "territory," and indeed "sovereignty" (zhuquan, ) itself, first used in official contexts with their current implications. Such uses were prompted by encounters between Qing officials and various foreign empires, often revolving around competition to define and control the vast but loosely governed Qing space. This article suggests a new emphasis upon these transnational encounters, especially certain diplomatic interactions between the Qing and Meiji Japan, as pivotal and paradigm-changing moments in China's modern legal history. Analyzing sources from the period across six different languages, China’s modern zhuquan discourse is revealed to have diverse and highly globalized origins.