Abstract

What is AmericaÕs place in the history of international law, and what is ChinaÕs? From the beginning, international law was premised on the exclusion of those outside of Europe, first on the basis of religious, then cultural, difference. In declaring its independence in 1776, the United States overthrew its colonial yoke and insisted on political parity with the sovereign states of Europe. Yet it remained an open question how the young nation would organize its political relations with the extra-European world. The United States rejected (ostensibly) all forms of territorial imperialism, and it appeared during the first decades of the nineteenth century that it would in fact treat ÒOrientalÓ states as sovereign equals. However, in its first treaty with ChinaÑa Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce, signed in 1844Ñthe United States obtained the right of extraterritorial jurisdiction in China. For the next century, Americans in China were subject only to the laws of the United States, each U.S. citizen becoming effectively a floating island of American sovereignty in the middle of the Chinese empire. Ultimately, the expectation of ÒextraterritorialityÓ in dealings with states of the Asia-Pacific region became a hallmark of American-style non-territorial imperialism through the beginning of the twentieth century. To explain the ideological transformation in American diplomacy from an assumption of equality among states to an Orientalist expectation of extraterritorial privileges for American citizens among ÒuncivilizedÓ peoples, this essay first considers AmericaÕs place in the global expansion of (Western) international law and then analyzes how the United States re-configured its legal relationship to Europe and the rest of the world in the post-Revolutionary era. After a short account of AmericaÕs early trade relations with China, Ruskola analyzes the conventional narrative about BritainÕs aggressive role in opening China for free trade in the Opium War, and then contrasts it with the received wisdom about AmericaÕs Òspecial relationshipÓ with China. Questioning the latter view, the essay suggests that the 1844 Treaty of Wanghia was a constitutive moment in U.S. political relations with Asia. By re-narrating the early history of American foreign relations, the main author of the treaty, Caleb Cushing, invented a historically unfounded but politically potent form of American imperial sovereignty, which became dominant in the Pacific in the second half of the nineteenth century. Moreover, this practice of American imperial sovereignty became a model for various European imperial nations that entered into their own extraterritoriality treaties in the following years, thus signaling AmericaÕs rise to the status of imperial state in its own right. Finally, the essay turns to the Chinese Exclusion Laws in the United States, to analyze how the differential construction of sovereignties operated on this side of the Pacific. Remarkably, the law of nations was seen to give Americans both the right to ÒopenÓ China for the entry of Americans and the right to exclude Chinese from the United States.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 859-884
Launched on MUSE
2005-10-10
Open Access
No
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