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  • The Futility of Law and Development: China and the Dangers of Exporting American Law by Jedidiah J. Kroncke
  • Margaret K. Lewis (bio)
Jedidiah J. Kroncke. The Futility of Law and Development: China and the Dangers of Exporting American Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. xiii, 358 pp. Hardcover $74.00, isbn 978-0-19-023352-5.

The Futility of Law and Development: China and the Dangers of Exporting American Law presents, as its title suggests, a somber view of America's involvement in the course of legal history in China. Jedidiah J. Kroncke succinctly states, "the history of exporting American law is one of loss" (p. 8). Yet all is not lost. His cautionary tale contains an aspiration that we, as Americans, might grow from a process of intense self-reflection to embrace "a studied cosmopolitanism" (p. 9). Rather than the dominant one-way-street approach of exporting law, an enhanced receptivity to foreign legal ideas should accompany America's long-held interest in engaging with legal systems abroad.

Kroncke's work is both sweeping and intimate. He deftly covers a wide swath of history beginning with the early Jesuit observers of China and ending with the resurgence of American legal engagement with China following Deng Xiaoping's rise to power. Along the way, Kroncke highlights a colorful and varied cast of characters, such as Caleb Cushing, a congressman sent by President John Tyler to negotiate the Treaty of Wanghia; Thomas Jernigan, a Civil War veteran turned scholar of Chinese commercial law; and Father André Bonnichon, a missionary imprisoned in the early years of the People's Republic of China who became a vocal critic of the PRC legal system.

Kroncke also unearths detailed portraits of complex historical figures who have received short shrift in the literature on American interaction with Chinese law. Frank Goodnow is well known as a founding figure of the American study of administrative law, but relatively little attention has been paid to his time in China as Yuan Shikai's legal advisor. There are volumes on the life and work of renowned legal scholar Roscoe Pound, but Kroncke sheds new light on Pound's late-career stint as advisor to the Guomindang Party. The book's explicit focus is on Good-now, Pound, and other American individuals who played roles in the historical narrative, with Kroncke noting that "[t]he relative presence of Chinese voices in this book speaks not to their relevance, but to an attempt to most directly stir American reflection" (p. 10). Kroncke addresses several prominent Chinese figures such as Sun Yatsen, Yuan Shikai, and Chiang Kaishek in some detail. And one book can only cover so much turf, with The Futility of Law and Development already weighing in at 358 pages using a highly compact font. Nonetheless, the lopsided emphasis on American actors may leave readers with an exaggerated sense of Chinese passivity unless they are familiar with the growing body of Chinese legal historiography noted by Kroncke, including the writings of William Alford, Madeline Zelin, and others. [End Page 47]

Accompanying Kroncke's rich analysis of lesser-known figures are a host of unexpected vignettes about historical heavyweights: Benjamin Franklin "steadfastly extolled aspects of Confucian statesmanship" (p. 24), Franklin Delano Roosevelt's grandfather made his fortune in the Chinese opium trade, and Mark Twain strongly critiqued the missionary movement in China, even becoming vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League.

Building on Twain's perceptive linkage between the missionary movement and secular foreign policy, Kroncke explores strands of missionary fervor—both in religious and secular forms—throughout the time periods covered in the book. Kroncke convincingly details how the missionary spirit undergirded the United States' involvement in the trajectory of China's legal development, even at times when Americans did not recognize this continuity. At points, however, the book's emphasis on this theme teeters on the excessive, as when Kroncke describes American legal scholars who visited China after the fall of the Qing dynasty as comparativists who "became unrepentant missionaries" (p. 130). Kroncke later depicts the American experience with China in World War II as follows: "Once again, the tangential nature of America's material interests...


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