September 3, 2019

Legal Pluralism in Asia and Global Histories of International Law(s)

September 6, 2019|8:15am - 4:30pm

Location: S010, Tsai Auditorium, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA

Sponsor: Harvard University Asia Center

The history of international law has been limited by its eurocentrism and teleological vision of history. In the light of the recent developments of the scholarship on global history of international law, ‘Legal Pluralism in Asia and Histories of International Law(s)’ takes a broad and inclusive approach to international law(s) and its histories. The point of departure of this conference is that there co-existed several regional systems or traditions of international law throughout history, prior to the emergence of a global system of international law. The latter is situated near the end of the 19th century.

Studies on the history of international law in Asia have focused primarily on the Western encounter, especially during the nineteenth century. While there is a rich area studies-literature which describes the social and political evolution in East Asia before Western models arrived, the research on these processes from a genuinely legal and norm-theoretical perspective is by far less developed. The aim of this conference is to gather scholars that describe and analyze inter-polity relations in Asia without using a particular model of the law as a point of reference, allowing to give voice to a legal plurality.

Taking research on global legal history as a vantage point, the understanding of international law is highly inclusive and pluralist. This is expressed in the notion of inter-polity law which aims at going beyond a reductionist understanding of international law that is state centred and prioritizing particular actors. The non-reductionist understanding of inter-polity law instead, includes all kinds of normative orders which integrate separate polities, and which regulate their relations by rules and practices which are understood as normatively binding.


8.15 AM Introduction, by Maria Adele Carrai (KU Leuven-Harvard University Asia Center) and Keynote Speech Interpolity Law: Asia in Global Legal History, by Lauren Benton (Vanderbilt University)

9.00 AM Panel 1. International Law(s) in East Asia during the Middle Ages and Antiquity

Chair: Mark Elliott (Harvard University)


Jonathan Skaff (Shippensburg University), The Medieval Practice of Eurasian Diplomacy and its Codification in Tang China (618-907)

Yonglin Jiang (Bryn Mawr College), Legal Pluralism and International Law in the Ming

Christopher P. Atwood (University of Pennsylvania), International law and the Mongol Empire

Motegi Toshio (Tokyo Woman's Christian University), Diplomatic practices in East Asian antiquity

11:00 AM Coffee Break

11:15 AM Panel 2. International Law(s) in East Asia during the Late Imperial Period I

Chair: Madeleine Zelin (Columbia University)


Stefan Kroll (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt), International Orders in Late Imperial Period

Nianshen Song (University of Maryland), Territory, jurisdiction and dispute settlement in Late Imperial East Asia

Chen Li (University of Toronto), The Western encounter

13:15 PM Lunch

14:30 PM Panel 3. International Law(s) in East Asia during the Late Imperial Period II

Chair: Timothy Brook (University of British Columbia)


Lkhamsuren Munkh-E. (National University of Mongolia), Mongolian Universal World Order: The Two Laws and the Five Colours and Four Aliens

Masaharu Yanagihara (Open University of Japan), Japan

Peter Borschberg (National University of Singapore), South-East Asia