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Project Details
Funding Scheme : General Research Fund
Project Number : 741012
Project Title(English) : The Impact of Western International Law on the Disintegration of the late Qing Empire and the Continuing Consequences for East Asia in the 21st Century. 
Project Title(Chinese) : 十九世纪国际法对清帝国及二十一世纪东亚的影响 
Principal Investigator(English) : Prof Lim, Chin Leng 
Principal Investigator(Chinese) :  
Department : Faculty of Law
Institution : The Chinese University of Hong Kong
E-mail Address : cllim@hku.hk 
Tel : 39172936 
Co - Investigator(s) :
Prof Carty, John Anthony
Dr Ko, Humphrey
Panel : Humanities, Social Sciences
Subject Area : Social Sciences
Exercise Year : 2012 / 13
Fund Approved : 1,954,084
Project Status : Completed
Completion Date : 16-9-2016
Project Objectives :
 To ascertain exactly the international law aspects of the modifications of the extent and power of the Qing Empire till its end;
 To accumulate and analyze precisely from official records the consciousness and critical awareness of Qing officials about these events;
 To explore the reflections of the main intellectuals of the late Qing about the impact of the West and its international law on late Qing China
 To analyze and evaluate the understanding of both officials and intellectuals with respect to the relationship of balance of power, Western international law and traditional Confucian understanding of virtuous rulership;
 To assess the continuing influence of all of these factors on the contemporary Chinese intellectuals in the same historical geo-political space at present.
Abstract as per original application
(English/Chinese):
The late Qing international law and relations history is the key to an understanding of the trouble spots of East and South East Asia and a framework within which to guess at how the present PRC will deal with them. The hot spots are the Korean mainland, Dokdo/Takeshima, Senkkaku/Daoiyu, Okinawa/the Riyuku Kingdom, Taiwan, the South China Sea Islands and the North Eastern Indian Frontier/the MacMahon Line. This was the Chinese Empire’s system of Vassel States or actual territory (Taiwan, the South China Seas Islands and the Tibet Frontier). Its replacement by the Westphalia nation-state system brought with it the Western colonialism. Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam were annexed or put under protectorate.UK annexed Burma and left an undetermined North Eastern Frontier to India. The Chinese relationship to the South China Seas was destabilized in the late 19th century and remains so. The project will study, as international legal history, the process whereby the Chinese imperial system was broken up. The USA did not leave in place after 1945, a complete alternative international legal order, a feature of PRC and USA relations now. The project will trace in Western (mainly UK) as well as official Qing sources the all the major conflicts with the West and Japan from 1839 till 1912. It will trace the attitudes of Qing officials in terms of their growing awareness of the nature of Western international law and the comparisons they make of it with their own traditional concept of Confucian order and justice. It will consider the reactions of the wider Chinese intelligentsia about the nature of this international law and its relationship to Chinese civilization in terms of classical Chinese civilization versus Western modernity. It will not go beyond the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, e.g. to Mongolian independence in the 1920s. The hypothesis of this research is that the Chinese then evolved the idea that international law has no autonomous cultural or ethical pull, but rests upon a balance of strength, which consequently obliges China to strengthen itself industrially and technologically, before it makes any appeal to international law. Hence the dominant intellectual heritage of Qing China to the present is a “realist” attitude to the role of law, priority to self-strengthening and, while international law will be used prudently within limits, many Chinese still prefer the model of Confucian virtue among its leaders, exercised from an independently acquired position of strength.
Realisation of objectives: Brief Overview Objectives 1-4 have substantially been completed, the result being the Carty & Nijman book by Oxford. There has been genuine progress in respect of the fifth objective, concerning how the results under the first four objectives may yet exert an influence on present-day events. The last objective was helped by an extension of one year following the original Principal (now Co-) Investigator’s retirement and entry of the new Principal Investigator. The new PI specializes in China’s effort to integrate into the global economic order and a new focus on contemporary economic treaty relations became a crucial supplement. China’s current initiatives present a fast moving picture, not only in respect of the Belt and Road Initiative (the BRI) but also in relation to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, and the proposals for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and a multilateral investment treaty. Although there was an expansion into the economic aspects we did not consider this to be an additional objective because the economic aspects too have a political and diplomatic dimension. Objectives 1 to 4 The premise of the original proposal in 2012 was that late Qing international law and relations history is key to understanding the trouble spots of East and South East Asia, and provides a framework within which to guess at how the present PRC will deal with these trouble spots. The methodology proposed involved archival work as well as an evaluation of how international law was thought of flowing from events in the late Qing period, and how that may have a present impact. Briefly, this study sought to confirm that China adopted a realist approach in international relations following the late Qing engagement with Western imperial international law. Considering the history of China's experience of that law in the 19th century Sino-French and Sino Japanese Wars, Chinese thinkers and officials had begun with a belief, encouraged by US missionaries, that international law was a form of natural law akin to Confucianism but gradually came to believe that the balance of power governed world society and international law worked only among those equal in strength. Moreover, following the Second World War, no Western order through a multilateral peace treaty based upon the sovereign equality of states was properly established in East Asia. This incomplete order leaves important questions about China’s future international law positions in East Asia, especially in connection with Chinese territorial disputes. If the dominant intellectual heritage of Qing China to the present is “realism”, and priority is given to the self-strengthening of China, then international law will be used prudently within limits, exercised from an independently acquired position of strength. However, questions remain about the old Confucian worldview that was so disrupted. It is also safe to say that the Chinese do not consider any of the diplomatic/international law events of the late Qing as absolutely just or settled. These events have simply happened because of a balance of forces. International law is not to be discounted, but a measuring of its actual importance continues to be a matter of judgment as to the real relationship between three elements - the balance of power, international law and guidance from traditional Chinese culture. This study had culminated, in the Summer of 2015, in a workshop which mainly covered 1870s – 1890s East Asia, focussing on the Sino-Japanese and Sino-French relationships in the areas of politics, diplomacy, sovereignty and jurisprudence. Scholars from the United States, the Netherlands, and Germany were invited to evaluate the achievements of this project with positive results. That workshop is now captured in the coming Oxford book. The Fifth Objective But how does all this sit with a broader and deeper appraisal of China today? Particularly with China’s international economic relationships and economic treaty arrangements, as well as the range of choices China faces in the WTO, in the sphere of regional trade arrangements, in China's investment treaty policy, in the field of international financial institutions and in the developmental field? After all, the main weight of China's recent strategy for relating to and integrating with the world currently relies upon economic development cooperation and even integration – trade, investment and financial - with important implications for how China perceives itself. There were other subsidiary concerns and left-over puzzles. What we had ended up with in 2015 was a realistic view that international law was simply not fairly applied to China at the time and cannot be expected to be applied fairly now. This argument is represented most strongly in the theses of Zhang Xiaoshi and Xu Bijun. An alternative view, however, is that international law was applied at the time of the late nineteenth century in the terms in which it was understood at that time. Times have changed and international law has changed with it. Therefore there is little point in blaming the West or what it did in the nineteenth century by the standards of the twenty-first century. Therefore this history would itself have little significance or interest. Significantly, this view is not held in China where the whole subject is connected with the Chinese concern about its “Century of Humiliation”, also especially in relation to Japan. In legal terms, a first issue is whether there is a doctrine of unequal treaties, starting in the nineteenth century and continuing today. Secondly, was it the case that “unjust war” was an unknown concept in the nineteenth century, and therefore the justice or injustice of the use of force at that time does not continue to have any legal interest? Zhang and Xu argue to the contrary. The EU and the US position on China’s market economy status in the WTO is similarly problematic today, as is the US position concerning the South China Sea. The Research cannot resolve such present controversies but it does help to put them in a longer perspective. These controversies drove the international conference held at HKU in September 2016, which was the principal aim of the one-year extension granted in 2015 following the compulsory retirement of the original PI which had been disruptive. In 2016, we were in a position again to explore what, at bottom, is a tension between a “backward-looking” and a “forward-looking” focus. We can summarise the issues thus. Should China concentrate strongly on its past and look for apology or recompense? Can international law envisage or conceive of such an approach? Or should China “forget the past”, treat it as relatively insignificant compared to the possibilities it enjoys, especially economically, in the present world? Should China not recognize that the West accepts it into the international economic and financial system? How does China see itself now in 2016 compared to 1906? So doubt lingers. It is easy to caricature our own position as a tension between the forward and backward-looking aspects but the PRC now also emerges as an inheritor and proponent of globalization. Much of the past continues still to be invoked while the separation of law, diplomacy and economics seems artificial. We are at 80% in terms of realising the fifth objective as originally conceived. This is because the size and enormity of the work needed to address that objective changes and grows with fast-moving events.
Summary of objectives addressed:
Objectives Addressed Percentage achieved
1.To ascertain exactly the international law aspects of the modifications of the extent and power of the Qing Empire till its end; Yes95%
2.To accumulate and analyze precisely from official records the consciousness and critical awareness of Qing officials about these events;Yes100%
3.To explore the reflections of the main intellectuals of the late Qing about the impact of the West and its international law on late Qing ChinaYes100%
4.To analyze and evaluate the understanding of both officials and intellectuals with respect to the relationship of balance of power, Western international law and traditional Confucian understanding of virtuous rulership;Yes95%
5.To assess the continuing influence of all of these factors on the contemporary Chinese intellectuals in the same historical geo-political space at present. Yes80%
Research Outcome
Major findings and research outcome: For Objectives 1-4, and to an extent objective 5 as well, the principal outcome – aside from the conferences detailed in this report - is the Carty and Nijman book, Morality and the Responsibility of Rulers, in Press, November/December 2017. Part I includes texts by Anthony Pagden, Joseph Canning, Susan Kerr, John Witte on Renaissance European Legal Thought, etc. Part II and Part III of the book are conceived, edited and partially written by Carty.The concept of the book is that as Western international law fell away from natural law in the 17th century and became positivist and modernist it also became imperialist. What China experienced is the later imperialist international law. Part II looks critically at this historical interaction, but also in the context of the earlier more cosmopolitan Western traditions. The book asks whether West and East bear any constructive comparison now, in light of what the Oxford Handbook of International Legal Theory calls the Carty-Nijman “postmodern natural law approach” to international law. There is, secondly, Carty’s and Zhang’s Irish Yearbook piece, which develops a theory of unequal treaties from the Chinese and UK archives and monographs on Chinese unequal treaties. It also describes the bitter Anglo-Irish negotiations especially in the 1930s in an effort to have many clauses of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 rescinded. Finally, a piece by Lim is in press with the Yearbook of International Investment Law and Policy (Oxford, forthcoming, December 2017). This piece describes two tribunal awards and a Singapore Court of Appeal judgment which rejects the prescription of the Sino-British and Sino-Portuguese Joint Declarations on treaty succession in respect of HK and Macao. Instead, the moving treaty frontiers rule is favoured. This ends up rejecting Beijing’s view that the relevant territories were not ceded lawfully in the 19th century in the first place, that there was no cession of these territories to the PRC, no succession, and no question of treaty succession. The article tries to explain, in nineteenth century terms so-to-speak, Beijing’s contemporary treaty view and the recent official reaction to what essentially are “private” international investment claims today.
Potential for further development of the research
and the proposed course of action:
At the time of completion, the senior research assistant who had presented on the Sino-Japanese relationship in 2015, and a new French speaking research assistant working on the Sino-French materials, continued to explore their areas. The former has been working on Gu Hongming Tomson (1857-1928), while the latter has been adding to the archival work of Lucy Qi on Sino French relations. Two PhD students worked within the grant’s framework of inquiry – one on the Sino-Japanese War, (Xu Bijun), another on the Sino French War (Zhang Xiaoshi). The second has now obtained her PhD while the first awaits confirmation that her resubmission with amendments is satisfactory. Two others came later within the framework, one works on the educational formation of late Qing officials (Tan Jing) and another on China’s economic treaty initiatives (Chao Junqing) but are left out of the PhD students' section as they were brought in only peripherally. The new PI now explores nineteenth century events which have a contemporary significance for Bejing’s economic treaty policies, such as in the Yearbook piece. We are exploring having a new grant take the 2016 Conference further, or perhaps publishing the papers now.
Layman's Summary of
Completion Report:
We ask whether the past matters in Beijing’s contemporary official view, and in the views of the intelligentsia, of international law. China’s international legal disputes deal with historical issues left over from the past, as with many international law disputes in the world. But we ask a more fundamental question about how the past, if at all, has shaped – and even if it has, whether it ought to shape – China’s overall approach to international legality itself. It matters because we hear statements like these: “China does not comply with international law”. We find that Chinese official and unofficial attitudes were shaped by China's experience of Western international law as it occurred at the end of the 19th century, going into the early 20th century. This was characterised by considerations of power, a conception at odds both with Western international law’s view of itself as a civilizing mission and the Chinese Confucian worldview. The question is, understanding this, how should we now approach the past, and whether Beijing’s official view and general opinion should not simply – or perhaps already does - look forward, shaping how we look at some major issues in the world we live in today.
Research Output
Peer-reviewed journal publication(s)
arising directly from this research project :
(* denotes the corresponding author)
Year of
Publication
Author(s) Title and Journal/Book Accessible from Institution Repository
2014 Anthony Carty Zhang Xiaoshi  Unequal to Equal Treaty: From the Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921 to the Belfast Agreement 1998 - in a Chinese Perspective in Irish Yearbook of International Law 2012 vol.7  No 
Anthony Carty and Janne Nijman editors  Morality and Responsibility of Rulers: European and Chinese Origins of the Rule of Law as Justice for World Order  No 
C. L. Lim  Fragrant Harbour and Oyster Mirror: China's Investment Treaties, Hong Kong and Macao  No 
Recognized international conference(s)
in which paper(s) related to this research
project was/were delivered :
Month/Year/City Title Conference Name
September 2016, HK China's Identity in International Law, Chaired by Carty and Lim  China's Identity in International Law, Chaired by Carty and Lim 
June 2015, HK Morality and Responsibility of Rulers-International Order: Confrontations of Western and Eastern Humanism, Chaired by Carty and Nijman  Morality and Responsibility of Rulers-International Order: Confrontations of Western and Eastern Humanism, Chaired by Carty and Nijman 
October 2014, Montreal Western International Law and the Collapse of Imperial China: Continuing Controversy over the “Century of Humiliation”, Workshop by Carty, Xu and Zhang  Western International Law and the Collapse of Imperial China: Continuing Controversy over the “Century of Humiliation”, Workshop by Carty, Xu and Zhang 
Other impact
(e.g. award of patents or prizes,
collaboration with other research institutions,
technology transfer, etc.):
1. Carty's collaboration with the University of Amsterdam through Prof. Nijman, and with McGill University through the platform McGill provided for the 2014 workshop. 2. The two students listed above have presented at other conferences but as this is one step removed and they were separately funded we do not list such other conference attendance above. 3. Two other HKU PhD students (in addition to the two listed above) also came within the framework of this research subsequently but in only a peripheral way. Both are at a less advanced stage. Both of these, two other recent PhD graduates, a further on-going PhD student from HKU as well as a PhD student from CUHK all presented at the 2016 Conference at HKU, which provided a prominent outlet for their work. We feel that the HK research graduate training aspect has also, certainly been one of the significant benefits of this grant. 4. The turn to China's contemporary economic and economic treaty policies in the 2016 Conference and the papers produced at that Conference are currently under active discussion. We are still exploring either a separate grant, or merely publishing the papers as they stand.

  SCREEN ID: SCRRM00542