China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Undeclared Wars, Paper Blockades and Civilian Spies: The International Laws of War in Treaty Port China, 1884-1895

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Jacaranda I, First Floor

Qing China faced two serious conflicts in the late nineteenth century, the Sino-French (1884-1885) and Sino-Japanese (1894-1895) wars. During these conflicts, other nations with treaties with China, particularly Britain and America, had to protect their citizens residing in the war zones and to defend their trading interests. What followed appears to contradict much of the traditional narrative about China’s exemption from the scope of international law until the country met a European-defined ‘standard of civilization’ in the twentieth century. This paper uses British, French, American and Qing correspondence to explore legal controversies thrown up by the wars and their implications for our understanding of the development of international law in the extra-European world. China, like the Ottoman Empire, but unlike formal colonies, was not subject to domination by one European power but rather had to negotiate with several powers. In the case of the Sino-French and Sino-Japanese conflicts, this dynamic led to a negotiation of legal rights and precedents that involved Qing actors as much as Europeans and Americans. The need for European consuls and military officials to act within the confines of internationally recognized norms when dealing with other European powers created space for Qing officials to participate in international legal discourse. However, this space was not provided by law per se but rather by the state’s increased ability to take advantage of divisions among and within foreign states. International law thus became the language through which the uneasy compromises arising from these delicate power dynamics were justified.

Jonathan Carl. Chappell

London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom

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1 - Undeclared Wars, Paper Blockades and Civilian Spies: The International Laws of War in Treaty Port China, 1884-1895



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