CFP: China and the History of International Law

Posted by Tsinghua China Law Review, community karma 45

China has a complicated relationship with international law. The country encountered international law much earlier than commonly imagined. The Italian Jesuit Martino Martini had begun to translate the Tractatus de Legibus ac Deo Legislatore (A Treatise on Laws and God as Legislator), composed by the Spanish theologist and jurist Francisco Suárez, with Cosme (Zongyuan) Zhu in Hangzhou in 1648, a significant year in the European history of international law when the Peace of Westphalia was signed. Unfortunately, there is no record on whether they finished it or even published it. Forty years later, China concluded the Treaty of Nerchinsk with Russia in 1689, under the assistance of another two Jesuits, Thomas Pereira and Jean-François Gerbillon. This is the first international treaty in Chinese history, which astonishingly has an official Latin text.

However, China became a victim of Euro-centric international law after 1840. Since losing the First Opium War against Great Britain, China had paid a huge price as a result of the international Realpolitik and insufficient knowledge of international law. Chinese people had not attained a systematic understanding of international law until the Elements of International Law (Wan Guo Gong Fa, 
万国公法), written by the American jurist Henry Wheaton, was translated into Chinese by the Presbyterian missionary William Martin in 1863 and published in the country one year later. At that time, international law in China was only used as a tool of colonization by the West to subjugate and exploit China.

Indeed, there were practices of China making use of international law and the disharmony among Western powers to preserve its legitimate rights in modern Chinese history. For example, starting from Great Britain in 1842, more than twenty states had successively obtained the consular jurisdiction (
领事裁判权) in China. Nevertheless, after a long time of struggle, China finally managed to abolish these unilateral privileges step by step by taking the opportunities of World War I and World War II.

Besides, China has also contributed a lot to the development of international law. For example, after World War II, China participated in the establishment of the United Nations as a founding member. Peng Chun Chang, the Vice-Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, motivated to incorporate “conscience” as well as “social and economic rights” into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and made a great contribution to the universality and diversity of the Declaration. Moreover, the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” (
和平共处五项原则) initiated by China also set an example for international relations, and the term “Third World” canonized by Mao Zedong has become a catchphrase in international law.

Therefore, there is so much to study under the topic of “China and the history of international law”. Given the status quo of insufficient researches and China’s rising influence in the international society, Tsinghua China Law Review here calls for papers on this topic. The following sub-topics can be chosen (but not limited to):

  1. The conflict between traditional tributary system and international law;
  2. China’s acceptance and practice of international law;
  3. China’s contribution to international law;
  4. The translation in the international treaties, documents, and textbooks, etc.;
  5. The role of missionaries in the dissemination and practice of international law;

Meanwhile, submissions on other topics are also welcomed. This call for submissions (Volume 14, Issue 1) will close on November 10, 2021.

over 1 year ago