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The Reception of Chinese Law in Western Academia

Aggiornamento: 12 dic 2023

A joint scholarly seminar by the Lanzhou University Center for Italy Studies and the IUC Center for Chinese Studies


December 4, 2023

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Welcome from Prof. Liu Guanghua, Seminar Moderator

Director of the Lanzhou University Law School Center for Italy Studies

A warm welcome to the webinar on the Reception of Chinese law in Western Academia. It's my great honor to be your moderator for this important event. In 2013, the Belt and Road initiative was launched with the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits with the goal of realizing a community for a shared future of humankind. This initiative has greatly promoted the economic development and social upgrading of participating countries and has increasingly received positive response from countries around the world, attracting great attention from the International Community. This year, 2023, is the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road initiative, and it is for international law scholars engaged both in China and in Western academic circles you to revisit the original intention of the initiative, learn from the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, and further strengthen academic communication, infrastructure connectivity, trade integration, and exchange among peoples and countries along the Belt and Road. In particular, we need to strengthen our confidence in the rule of law on the basis of exchange and mutual learning among the world's outstanding civilizations. On the Chinese side, we need to actively explain to foreigners the concepts and successful practices of the rule of law with Chinese characteristics, and tell the story of the Chinese rule of law, actively promoting the creative transformation and the innovative development of Chinese fine traditional legal culture. To this end, today the Law School of Lanzhou University, with its Center for Italy studies, and the Center for China studies of the international University College of Turin in Italy under the support of the National Foreign Study Program “Global geopolitical transformation: China and the new international law”, are jointly hosting the seminar on “The Reception of Chinese law in Western Academia”, with the participation of Professor Ugo Mattei and his international team from Italy and the United States. These scholars are among the top contemporary ones of international law and comparative law to focus on China's participation in global governance against the background of the geopolitical pattern of globalization in the post-pandemic era, with the aim of exploring new international law as distinct from Euro and Western centralism. Our joint project wants to systematically examine the impact of China's growing economic and political power and comparative legal systemology. This term, borrowed from Professor Ugo Mattei, reveals the contribution of a Chinese solution to global governance. Our seminar today is divided into four sections. My welcome remarks will be followed by the opening remarks of two distinguished guests and then followed by the presentations by four keynote speakers. After this, there will be a free panel discussion and question section. Finally, Professor Ugo Mattei and I will briefly conclude.



Keynote Speech by Professor Ugo Mattei

International University College of Turin

It is a great pleasure and honor finally to be able to kick off this seminar, which I really consider the first step hopefully in a long project of cooperation between our institutions in order to understand the current situation in comparative and international law from the perspective of the dramatically changing role of China in the global legal landscape. More than holding a formal speech, I would rather throw some insights for our discussion and especially for what we would like to do next. I will share with you what I'm currently concerned about and the lines of research that I'm pursuing. I've been very briefly in China in 2005 with Professor Ignazio Castellucci - we went from Macao to Hong Kong and then a little farther inland; thus, my experience of China is very limited, and I can’t say I’ve ever been a sinologist. However, my attention to China has greatly increased in recent years, not because of a choice but because of a scholarly necessity, since anybody who is a comparative lawyer or an international lawyer today must start to think thoroughly about the role of China. This is certainly the most important transformation that I have seen in my adult life. I haven't witnessed directly any other large transformations except the one that was supposed to be final: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the the Soviet Union back in December 1991. What is happening today in terms of transformations and changing hegemony in the global landscape might possibly be an even more important event. I'm referring to the fact that today China is for the first ranked in the world as GDP per person, and this change occurred in a very short period of time, and happened in spite of a lot of ideological resistance from many parts of the West to consider China for what it is today, that is to say the first largest economy in the world. I would like to take now to think about the role of comparative and international law these days. Before getting into that let me thank particularly Professor Liu Guanghua: I've seen him flourishing from a young student in Hastings, California, into a full-fledged intellectual and international academic, traveling the world and organizing important scientific events. We have remained friends ever since, and I really hope that some of the ideas that we shared a long time ago have remained somewhere in his heart. China has been for a long period of time an object of observation with some sort of detachment by Western academics, and scholars like Professor Teemu Ruskola wrote beautifully and masterfully about legal orientalism, that is to say an attitude towards China that ultimately ends up to be a positional superiority of the West. Now, positional superiority is never something that is justified in social science; however, positional superiority is just absurd and ridicule when it occurs with a culture and a country like China today, which might well be the candidate to become in the next few decades the torch of global development as the United States are today. Certainly, what we have today is a candidate for succession to global legal hegemony, and this is a big statement because just 30 years ago this was something that we could not possibly imagine. When the Berlin Wall fell, the rhetoric in the West was that communism fell with the Berlin Wall. China was not even considered in the picture as a place in which Marxism and Leninism remained as the official doctrine of a State and a country that was actually producing and offering alternatives to the single thought. In 2010, I wrote with Boris Mamlyuk, a Russian former student of mine at the University of California, an article called “Comparative International Law”, saying at the time that there was not just one international law. International law, as every other branch of the law, in spite of its claim of being universal in fact is interpreted in many different fashions in different areas of the world. Therefore, comparisons can happen: international law as developed in the Soviet Union after the October Revolution, I and Mamlyuk argued, was something deeply different from international law as applied and interpreted in the western block, but these two visions had to communicate to each other to try to find some common grounds and principles in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the Cold War. In our article, we actually showed that the comparative international law community, a small group of scholars belonging to the West and to the Soviet Union, had been crucial in accompanying the process of reciprocal knowledge in the Cold War period. That project was first developed by Professor William Butler, who was a Soviet law scholar at the University College in London. He entered in relationship with the Moscow State Law University, and they organized a series of meetings and seminars in Moscow and in London in order to discuss international law from both the perspectives, and to build bridges between one culture and the other outside of the caricatures used in both sides of the Cold War context. Today, what is going on is that the United States and the West are finally perceiving that the economic conditions of China make it a strong candidate for future hegemony. Thus, a strategy of downplaying China is deployed that is absolutely dangerous and we should try to overcome. On the other hand, it seems to me that China is showing more maturity in its attitude to the West, perhaps because it has come from a long period of being not a hegemonic country, but a country that was intellectually and economically on the receiving side of Western imperialism. I think that our ambition in this seminar series is to play the same role that Butler and the Moscow Law University played. At least, this is the ambition of the International University College of Turin, to play the same role that the University College of London played in the dialogue with the Soviet Union. We are in an advantage position, since we are not in the United States. Yes, we are in Italy, thus detached but still very much part of the West, still colonized by the US and the NATO, and therefore able to understand the legal and geopolitical culture of the United States that we've been studying for a long period of time. But we can also be in the condition of trying to understand the idea of international law of China, and how China is actually playing its very important role in trying to organize multi-centrism, and lay the bricks of a pluralistic system of sovereignty as opposed to the Western block that is more and more tightly integrated with the United States. What is going to happen is something that we have to understand by considering that international law is the most politicized field that we can possibly imagine. But the law has always its own logic; the law is always capable in some way of autopoietic phenomena; it is always possible that the law offers some contribution even if it is limited in steering towards peace rather than towards a complete clash. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the West it was clear that history was over, and the idea that there was another very important communist country such as China was actually downplayed in every possible way. Many western scholars have said that China was just hypocritically communist, and in fact China was just another capitalistic system with the same traits and conditions of capitalism in the West. I have never believed that vision; I have always believed in a different story that comes from the reading of the classics of marxism-leninism: I believe that every transformative project of the magnitude of trying to construct a full-fledged socialist system capable of universal emancipation requires a lot of time, and I believe that the Chinese culture has always showed that the long term and patience are extremely important in the history of the people. A long time is required in order to make transformations, because transformations that occur in short periods of time usually evaporate after short periods of time. I'm putting it as a question for all of you: Is it true that the perception of the dimension of time in global transformation seen from Chinese eyes is different than the one seen from the West? If my hypothesis that the perception of time can be actually different in these different civilizations is well grounded, then we can really read the current phase and even China’s overtaking of the US in the GDP as a moment of accumulation of capital that as Lenin explained is necessary in order to actually move a step further in the direction of the full-fledged construction of an emancipated socialist society. So, this dimension has to be taken in consideration, and those that look at China as yet another capitalist system are simply losing sight of the long-term trait of the evolution of China. Can we see what China and Chinese international law are today as the substitute of the Soviet international law that declined after 1992? If so, then my 2010 little article on “Comparative International Law” has to be rewritten; in fact, I am now in the process of revising it, and reflecting on what is really happening 15 years after that article in the global perspective. This is what I'm trying to do in international law. Of course, this is also something that I'm trying to do in comparative law, because keeping separate comparative and international law is again a sort of culturally specific move but is not something that is ontologically necessary at all. Comparative law and international law share so much of the common ground and the common concerns that if we move away from disciplinary formalism we have to look at them both with the same kind of tools. Now, in comparative law China emerged after 2001. I would say that in the period between 1990 and 2001, when there was the rhetoric of the end of history and of the single thought, there was a big attempt to attract China to the same idea of the rule of law of the West and to bring China into the World Trade Organization in order to impose on China a legal system that showed a break with its past. The attitude that China didn't have the rule of law and the West had to provide China with it lasted for at least 10 years, together with what I considered a very unfair treatment, that is to say the obligation to translate its laws into English, an obligation that other countries don’t have. However, at the beginning of the new millennium big global changes occurred: the very idea of the rule of law deployed as a tool of humanistic propaganda by the West in order to impose on the world the notion that Western civilization is better than that of the others suffered a deep crisis, first of all in the US. After September 11, the number of emergency transformations in the United States was substantial, and it appeared very clearly that even in a highly professionalized context the idea of the law yields to political necessity and to the state of exception. After that, I don't think that the prestige of US law and US academia has ever really recovered, since rather than making some serious self-analysis of how academia had departed from any contact with the political process there was a big rush to pretend that nothing had occurred, that business was as usual, and what was happening was part of the transformation of law into technology, which is part of that vision of the rule of law that West-controlled institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were trying to export globally. I started arguing that for China the Western rule of law didn't have much of a meaning as a notion for comparative law quite early in my career, in 1997, when I published a paper called “Three Patterns of Law: Taxonomy and Change in the World’s Legal Systems”. In that paper, I identified three patterns of law that I believed could explain many unconscious assumptions and much of the behavior of social actors, and I tried to show a general taxonomy of global legal systems. There, I refused the use of the notion of rule of law per se, and I always added to “rule of law” something before the term law, so that the Western legal tradition to me was not just the “rule of law” but was the “rule of professional law”. There were other rules of law, I wrote, and the Chinese experience was somewhere between two models that I tried to identify at the time: on the one hand, the so-called “rule of traditional law” that would put together countries that had not professionalized their legal systems but were losing the use of either religion or long tradition as tools to manage everyday social conflicts. Similarly, I called “rule of political law” the one in post-socialist systems that maintained certain aspects of the critique that scholars like Evgeny Pashukanis and others moved to Western legality in the Soviet Union. These scholars claimed very openly that the rule of law is just false consciousness, just a technical system to dispossess the people of their sovereign will. Therefore, I believe that we should not use in our research the term “rule of law” per se. On the contrary, I think that we have to qualify what we are talking about, as much as we don't want to talk about international law as a singular word, as if there were only one system of international law. We all know that whenever there is law there will be interpretation, and whenever there is international law there will be a politically guided interpretation, and that those interpretations will become part of the law. In 2020, together with Liu Guanghua and Emanuele Ariano, we published a paper called “The Chinese Advantage in Emergency Law”, where we investigated the idea of emergency and particularly the phase of global emergency generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We found that a major technological transformation was occurring, and that the law itself was moving steps backwards, while communication technology based on a completely different logic was moving steps forward. This was the “Chinese advantage”, in our opinion, that is to say the advantage of a system that concentrates the power in an institutional organization such as a Communist Party, which enjoys a level of trust and confidence from the people and a capacity of controlling and centralizing what happens with technology that a system like the Western one will not allow. In the Western system, in fact, technology is controlled by very opaque structures of private capital that will prevent any kind of political control by the people. In other words, our idea was that the emergency phase and the increase in the role of technology can actually be the turning point that will make us witness China’s overtaking, moving from being a context of legal reception to become a context of production of law. Then, in 2021, I delivered my farewell address at the University of California, when I left my chair of international comparative law, whose title was “The Death of the Law”. In that address, I defined the law as a construct of the western legal tradition made on professionalism, and explained that its use might become much less determinative and important to explain and predict political, economic, and even legal transformations in the future. So, this is where I am now, and this is the extremely ambitious research program that I am openly proposing to you. I am old, so I feel I will not have either the time or the energy to carry on all this by myself, but I believe that this is the frontier of research we should try to pursue in our moving ahead together: a research that tries to understand and explain global and geopolitical transformations both in comparative law taxonomy and in international law taxonomy to reassess the role of China and build possible bridges so that these developments will happen in a framework of conversation and reciprocal understanding, outside of any renewed orientalism. I think that the most important thing we can offer is mutual respect.




Keynote Speech by Professor Teemu Ruskola

IUC Team of Scholars


The topic of “Reception of Chinese Law in Western Academia” presents already in its title a lot of key terms. I'll focus first on “law”, a term which is not as obvious as it appears, and then on China and on what it is that makes law “Chinese”, and on what “reception” of Chinese or whatever law means. To do that, I'll be talking a little more historically and theoretically, which is not to say that I want to step away from politics. In fact, I want to politicize both history and theory. Just to anticipate my conclusion, in my view the reception of Chinese law however you define Chinese law is not that there is a reception of a thing out there that exists and is just waiting for us to discover. What we conventionally might call the reception of Chinese law is not just a mechanical act of importation: it's necessarily a question of intercultural interaction not exclusively but partly ethical and political as well. So, I would say that reception is always part of a larger process of cross-cultural engagement that I will call for lack of a better word “comparison”. I do realize that the question really is how to compare, which is to say that reception is really a question of method, and that in what way a legal system is received is always a question of comparative law. So, in recognition of our being hosted by the Center for Italian Studies, let me start by reading a short excerpt from a novel by Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”. In that amazing novel, the great Kublai Khan asks Marco Polo to describe all the cities that he has seen in his travels.


"Did you ever happen to see a city resembling this one?" Kublai asked Marco Polo, extending his be-ringed hand from beneath the silken canopy of the imperial barge, to point to the bridges arching over the canals […]. The emperor, accompanied by his foreign dignitary, was visiting Kin-sai, ancient capital of deposed dynasties, the latest pearl set in the Great Khan's crown. "No, sire," Marco answered, "I should never have imagined a city like this could exist." The emperor tried to peer into his eyes. […] “Tell me another city," he insisted. Marco resumed saying, enumerating names and customs and wares of a great number of lands. His repertory could be called inexhaustible, but now he was the one who had to give in. Dawn had broken when he said: "Sire, now I have told you about all the cities I know." "There is still one of which you never speak." Marco Polo bowed his head. "Venice," the Khan said. Marco smiled. "What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?" The emperor did not turn a hair. "And yet I have never heard you mention that name." And Polo said: "Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice." "When I ask you about other cities, I want to hear about them. And about Venice, when I ask you about Venice." "To distinguish the other cities' qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice."


So the point seems to be that you can never leave home. Using Calvino’s excerpt as a template for thinking about what we are trying to do here, I think we should note in that novel the protagonist is a sovereign, the Great Khan, who is trying to understand places beyond his realm: China. Of course, historically China has been one of Europe's key civilizational others against which Europe has defined itself, except that here of course the Chinese Emperor is a projection of a European author's imagination. In fact, there are a lot of different levels of projection going on here: you have a 20th-century European author who's imagining a late medieval Chinese emperor who is try trying to understand foreign cities through the eyes of a 13th-century European visitor. To me, that really illustrates several important things about comparative law: first, it's always an imaginative enterprise; it's always or nearly always refracted through the eyes of a sovereign whether real or imagined, and it's always a historical act that takes place within a kind of political and cultural context. So, for my remarks today I'll start with literally a global view of the historic enterprise that today we call comparative law, and I want to talk about its relationship to international law like Ugo Mattei just did. Then, I'll focus a bit more on China. But let me start with a little bit of intellectual biography: I grew up in Finland, but I came to the United States for college, and to the study of law indirectly by way of area studies. When I was an undergraduate in California, I studied Chinese history and Chinese philosophy, and later I got a graduate degree in those fields as well. Thus, when I eventually went to law school, I was naturally led to the study of Chinese law. Of course, in the US and Europe the study of Chinese law belongs under the rubric of comparative law. As Ugo just said, I too have come to believe that it's very difficult to do comparative law well, especially in the age of globalization, without thinking about its relationship to international law as well. That’s why I have come to believe that a truly comparative understanding of China and Chinese law must account for China in terms of international law as well, which is to say we have to think of China itself as an international legal subject. I believe that there is a kind of conventional wisdom and division of labor, where international law tends to focus on the universal and the supranational whereas comparative lawyers tend to focus on the local and the particular. I've always been more interested in the latter, presumably that's why I've been doing comparative law and not international law. I resisted the call or lure of international law for a long time: universals have always seemed just so abstract to me, but I came to appreciate the relationship between the comparative and international law kind of accidentally. Since I'm interested in the history of the museum, I was reading a book by the art historian Douglas Crimp called “On the Museum's Ruins”; in that book, Crimp talks about how his own scholarship has moved in time: he used to focus on the artwork, but then he became more interested in the museum itself. I thought that my growing interest in international law, moving from comparative law, was not dissimilar to Crimp’s move from the artwork to the museum. The museum is a kind of representational matrix that constitutes certain objects of art: a soup can in a store is a soup can; on the contrary, a soup can in a museum is a piece of art. Similarly, we could say international law constitute certain nordic communities as States, and just like art critics are called to critique the objects inside a museum, comparative legal scholars are called upon to analyze the national legal systems that international law frames for our consideration. So, from that perspective, when you think of these fields together, I think they form part of a joint cultural political epistemological project that has transformed the entire planet into a judicial formation that consists of nation States. It’s an enterprise that basically nationalizes or privatizes culture by delegating to the domestic sphere of each State, and then it leaves international law in this kind of ostensively a-cultural or super-cultural space. In this, I find there is a particular kind of dialectic of universality and particularity in which there's very little room for a radical political or cultural difference. There's only room for a difference that fits within a certain larger state-based liberal logic: we could think of that framing as a part of a larger style of political organization, which sociologist Timothy Mitchell has called “The World as Exhibition”, a way of thinking about the world as if the world were a kind of art gallery, or maybe a living museum, to go back to my earlier metaphor. Basically, international law provides provides the frames, the structure, for displaying the pictures at this global exhibition. Comparative lawyers, instead, are asked to paint exotic little portraits of each national jurisdiction in these prefabricated frames. Well, I think that the conventional opposition between universal international law versus particular national legal systems must now be challenged. Universal Norms can never be considered only in the abstract: to be understood, they always have to be ultimately translated into a particular legal idiom of some actor somewhere on planet Earth. So, without the mediation of comparative law, international law would be literally unintelligible. At the same time, comparative lawyers’ descriptions of the local and the particular are also exercises of translation explaining one legal system in terms of another, which assumes the possibility of communication across local difference. Therefore, conceptually as well as practically, the universal and the particular are here part of a single dialectic. But that is a very particular way of visualizing the world, which made me think about a famous essay by Martin Heidegger called “The Age of the World Picture”, in which he observes that modernity is defined by the emergence of the world as a visual object. So, when he talks about the world picture, Heidegger is talking about the specifically modern idea that the world can be conceived of and grasped as a picture. It's not that there's an old world picture that becomes a modern one: it's the very fact that the modern world becomes a picture that distinguishes the modern notion from the old one, and so now we can think of law as a transnational political and cultural form that imagines and organizes differences among peoples in a particular way. Therefore, it's from that perspective in which law is a kind of grid of intelligibility that the modern world itself is made thinkable, and embedded in this worldview is the assumption of a certain kind of global commensurability in the field of international law that gives us for example the idea of human rights as universal standards. in the field of comparative law, it has given us what is sometimes called the western model of comparison, which is drawing up tables of taxonomies of legal systems that include list of similarities and differences, which is one way to do comparison but maybe not the most fruitful one. Now, where do we go from here? Well, importantly, Heidegger's analysis of this idea of modern world picture actually also includes a political claim in addition to his philosophical one. Heidegger claims that “the fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as picture”. That conquest has not been just metaphorical, since modernity was accompanied by the West colonial conquest of the rest of the world, which was justified and ratified by the emerging system of international law. Modern international law, thus, is no accident. I think that both international law and comparative law became professionalized in their modern form precisely in the second half of the 19th century, at the height of Western imperialism. This was also the period of world affairs and of the institutionalization of the museum and the institutionalization of the zoo. All these cultural forms follow a similar logic: they display diversity and difference in an objectified and flat form for the visual enjoyment of Western viewers. They do all of that by bringing the world to the West. So, the division of the world into formally equal nation states that constitute a global gallery of sovereigns is a European notion that has been globalized by means of colonialism and imperialism. Accordingly, European notions of sovereignty, of law, of political subjectivity have become the basis for standardized global ones in the 19th century. This standard was called the standard of civilization. Today, as I said, we call it human rights or some such thing, which gets us to the question: What is law when we do comparative law? Well, that's especially relevant if you step outside Europe, or North Europe, or North America, and come to China, for instance. In fact, it was when I started studying and teaching Chinese law that I became interested in understanding what motivates the persistence of that question, and more importantly who gets to decide what law is and why, and what is at stake in asking the question, which is why I wrote the book called “Legal Orientalism: China, the United State, and Modern Law”. Now, I think the issue is that the idea of law assumes that a polity is organized in the manner of a Euro-American nation state, so the fact that historically the Chinese imperial legal system didn't fit that model was one problem: China was an Empire, not a national state, and it was assumed under the idea of Oriental despotism. However, if we come back to the notion of what comparative law is, look at what I’ve done: I just compared comparative law and international law, which I think is doing a certain kind of comparative law. There's no reason why comparison has to be horizontal on the national level among formerly similar entities, so the units of comparison are never predetermined. To be sure, what we find is determined or at least constrained by what we're looking for. However, we're allowed to look for whatever we want, wherever we want: so, even to do comparative law, we have to have some idea of what law is. As my China example suggests, as far as law is concerned we can compare it across regions, which gets us to the question of comparative international law, so the nation to nation comparison is hardly self-evident. Now, where does this leave us, then? I don't believe there is an objective way to compare: we all have histories, backgrounds, experiences, and we have no choice but to bring those things to the table, which is Italo Calvino’s point: we can go all the way to China without ever really having left Venice. Yet, there are different ways to compare: we do have choices, and they do matter. Sometimes, people complain that my comparisons are comparing apples to oranges, which apparently is “illegal”. I do think comparing apples to apples is important, but we can't really know what an apple is in the first place unless we can compare it to and distinguish it from an orange or something else. This is to say that in order to make “a” and “b” comparable and to make them commensurate, we imagine that there has to be some objective third term that will allow us to identify “a” and “b” in the first place. Well, let's take “water” in English and “acqua" in Italian, two different words: do they mean the same thing? Well, water means one thing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and another thing in the middle of a desert, but there is still a scientific way to define it H2O. When we're talking about global legal political terms, there are no universal standards: all we can do is to translate “a” to “b” or vice versa. We're not discovering anything objective, yet we are doing something that is socially and ethically important: we are relating two things to one another, whether for better or for worse. Now, it's not that anything goes, it does matter how we compare, but the key point to me is whatever is comparison is always an act. Which means that the reception of Chinese law, or the reception of any foreign law, is an always an act of engagement. It's a dynamic undertaking with political and ethical consequences, whether the objects we choose to compare are pre-given to us or we have actually chosen them. I would say that the most fundamental effect of any act of comparison is that it produces and affirms the objects that are being compared. It is ultimately through such acts of comparison that we create and maintain our others as well as ourselves. Now, in my field in the United States it's a common complaint about people who study Chinese law in the legal academy that we kind of live in a ghetto: we talk to each other, and we're unable or unwilling to make ourselves available for mainstream law people who do American constitutional law for example. That criticism is not untrue, but I think it is unfair. It is true that as American scholars of Chinese law we often fail to articulate just how and why what we do matters not just for ourselves, not just for the field of Chinese law, but for others too. What is problematic, however, is that the people who study Euro-American law are not subject to the similar demand: they are not asked to explain how and why their work is relevant for understanding the rest of the world, and of course the reason for that is as profound as it is simple. People who study European law or legal theory are not doing “area studies” because Europe is not just an area: it is the home of the disciplines including law, so studies of European law or European philosophy are just studies of law and of philosophy. But I do think that to the extent that law matters today, and it does matter, it's not the only thing that matters: I think that we all must not remain just curators of cultural difference in a political structure that has been built for us by international law. Why is it that China, even within the field of comparative law, yields only comparative and not absolute legal knowledge? Why can't the study of Chinese law generate primary knowledge, instead of being just an “area study”? Why can't it generate theory, rather than just secondary data that would either disprove or confirm theories that have been developed elsewhere? To conclude, my hope is that if we allow Chinese law and other non-western legal fields to do so, this will liberate us from some of that historical heritage, and maybe give us expanded different notions of sovereignty, political space, and political time.


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