- Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-century China and Japan by Pär Kristoffer Cassel
Pär Kristoffer Cassel’s monograph, Grounds of Judgment aims to understand how Chinese and Japanese actors grappled with “extraterritoriality,” but not simply as passive actors coming to terms with an alien, Western concept. Using the concept of legal pluralism, where “different bodies of law” are applied to “different groups of the population” in accordance with ethnic, religious, or other identity signifiers (p. 9), Cassel argues that Qing China and Tokugawa Japan had traditions of legal pluralism, and for this reason both states did not immediately see the granting of extraterritoriality as much of a problem. On the basis of this finding, Cassel argues that the “extent to which a controversial practice such as extraterritoriality managed to take root in China and Japan depended on the degree to which it did … resonate with the indigenous legal order, and on how that legal order changed over time” (p. 179).
In exploring just how extraterritoriality resonated with Japanese and [End Page 417] Chinese legal orders, Cassel does a magnificent job in recovering the agency of both Japanese and Chinese statesmen, which have all too easily been neglected in conventional historiography. His impressive linguistic abilities give him access to primary documents in Chinese and Japanese (as well as multiple European languages), and his meticulous research successfully demonstrates that “[e]xtraterritoriality was not implanted into East Asia as a ready-made product but developed in a dialogue with local precedents, local understandings of power, and local institutions” (p. 180). In the case of Qing China, statesmen were able to deal flexibly with the string of diplomatic difficulties surrounding the issue of extraterritoriality precisely because they had access to a rich heritage of practicing legal pluralism. Rather than ignorance or inertia, it was this tradition of legal pluralism that weakened the desire and need to undertake sweeping legal reforms. As Cassel convincingly argues, the tendency to focus on the “impact of the West” has “produced a skewed narrative that attributes too much importance to the agency of foreign actors … and has failed to see that consular jurisdiction rested not only on the presence of Western gunboats but also on the active participation and cooperation of Qing authorities” (p. 182).
It goes without saying that the Japanese, who were keen to sweep away the remnants of Tokugawa feudal rule, were much quicker in abandoning their accommodation of extraterritoriality after the Meiji Restoration. This also signified the end of legal pluralism in the country. Because of the author’s own interests in examining the negotiated process of extraterritoriality, the book’s empirical emphasis on domestic debates concerning extraterritoriality is (perhaps inevitably) weighted slightly more on the Chinese side. Yet, given the previous Eurocentric tendency to focus on China’s “failure” to overthrow extraterritoriality, Cassel’s attempts to relocate Chinese agency are particularly welcome.
To say that more weight is given to Chinese debates on extraterritoriality is not to suggest that this book is Sino-centric, however. This monograph also contains a detailed and valuable discussion of Sino-Japanese relations on the eve of the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95. Studies on the bilateral relations of this period have tended to be overlooked in the literature because those in the field have been more interested in disputes between China and Japan that resulted from the latter’s imperial expansion.1 Cassel pays particular attention to the 1871 Sino-Japanese Treaty of Tianjin, which allowed the Qing a degree of extraterritorial privileges. In particular, the Qing government was able to bring in its own system of legal pluralism by [End Page 418] insisting that consular jurisdiction was exercised in legal cases involving Chinese nationals. Cassel provides a fascinating account of how the Japanese, who were anxious to end the practice of extraterritoriality, attempted to use Western concepts to prevent the Chinese from exercising their extraterritorial privileges.
While this monograph is primarily intended to appeal to readers...