Is China being transformed by international law, or is it the one doing the transforming? To seek answers to this question, this presentation examines key episodes in China’s interactions with the system of public international law before 1949. It notes a pattern of “reception and contention” that has recurred at various turning points, and arguably continues today.
First, the seminar will cover the Qing Dynasty’s belated embrace of treaty law following the Second Opium War, its first foray into multilateral diplomacy during the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and its subsequent unlikely rise to “great power” status during the years of civil war and invasion by Japan. Then, the seminar will ask how these precedents compare with and reflect upon the PRC’s international legal practice since 1949, particularly the significant embrace of global institutions that China has undertaken since the late 1990s. The resulting picture is one in which fundamental aspects of China’s political and legal system have been reformed due to its international legal activities. However, these changes have at the same time always been associated with the project of reforming international law itself to better match successive Chinese governments’ visions for global order.