Law and Colonialism in China: A German Perspective

No. 2022-06

The thematic horizon of this article is the colonial expansion of Western powers in China in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. The focus is on the legal strategies deployed by Germany when it occupied the bay of Jiaozhou and obtained a settlement in Tianjin. This episode illuminates Western strategies of colonial governance and the role played by legal discourse in the process of production of a new social space. At the same time, taking a closer look on the history of international law and on the relationship between law and violence, this article aims to reveal the darker (and hidden) side of modern international law. The «strange» legal tools that allowed Germany to transform Jiaozhou into a colony and inaugurate a settlement in Tianjin are an extraordinary point of observation for reading the theoretical discussions of European jurists on the exceptional nature of non-Western spaces and their populations as well as for analyzing the changes of the concept of sovereignty beyond Western borders.

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