Managing the Frontiers: Knowledge Production of Law and Ethnicity on China’s Coastal and Internal Frontiers

Title: 1057 | Managing the Frontiers: Knowledge Production of Law and Ethnicity on China’s Coastal and Internal Frontiers
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Fusheng Luo, The University of Michigan, United States (organizer, presenter)
Yuan Tian, University of Chicago, United States (co-organizer, presenter)
Matthew Sommer, Stanford University, United States (chair)


Frontier and borderland are arenas where imperial powers were projected, overlapped, contested. Across China’s frontiers from the southeast coast to Northeast Asia, new knowledge about law, ethnicity, and sovereignty were being produced and contested among a variety of powers. This panel integrates two types of different yet closely related frontier contact zones: the coastal frontier of Shanghai and the internal frontier of the Manchuria-Mongolia border. We examine the interactions between indigenous and foreign modes of knowledge about law, ethnic classification, and sovereignty on these frontier zones. We invite historians and sociologists to conduct an interdisciplinary discussion of frontier governance and knowledge production on China’s frontier zones. The first two papers focus on Shanghai, a coastal port which we consider as a node where the Qing Empire and other Imperial powers overlapped. The first paper, excavating the issue of land shengke, explores the way in which disputes over riparian rights between the Qing and other powers were resolved in a plural legal environment. The second paper, entitled “Death of a Journalist: Debating Legal Cruelty in Late Qing,” examines how debates over extraterritoriality and Chinese legal cruelty were mediated by global knowledge of law at the turn of the twentieth century. The third paper, entitled “From Mongol affiliate to Republic constituent: the ethnic category of the Daur people in the genealogy of knowledge contests,” provides a genealogical account for the contested knowledge over ethnic categorization of the Daur people in Northeast Asia between China and Soviet Union.

Panel Abstracts:
Excavating Shengke Rights: Property, Sovereignty, and Municipal Governance in EarlyTwentieth Century Shanghai
Shengke referred to a legal process in which the owner of the land facing the rivernotified the local authority to have the accretion measured by a surveyor. The owner then paidnecessary fee and land tax in the local land office to obtain a new title deed covering the accretion. Shengke land meant riverine accretion subject to Shengke. With access to the water and space for loading and unloading of cargo, the foreshore land became a focal point of disputes as riparian owners made conflicting claims of ownership over the same piece of land. Based on a close study of selected legal cases in Shanghai in the early twentieth century, this paper disentangles the intricate processes through which disputes over shengke rights arose between owners and were subsequently resolved by the courts and municipal authorities in the International Settlement. By so doing, this study provides a window onto the question of foreign and Chinese ownership in Treaty Ports, particularly regarding ways to acquire land and secure ownership. It delves into the legal apparatus and processes that guarantee property rights in Treaty Ports. Through a close examination of how far the Chinese law reached and where extraterritoriality intervened in settling land dispute cases, this study throws light upon the larger question of the clashes of Chinese sovereign rights and foreign extraterritoriality over the land in the foreign Concessions in Treaty Ports.

Death of a Journalist: Debating Legal Cruelty in Late Qing Shanghai
The turn of the twentieth century saw intense interests in and disputed attitudes toward Chinese law, International Law, and extraterritoriality. In 1905, the New Policy Reform officially abolished “cruel punishments” in Qing law. Focusing on a time prior to the abolition of “cruel punishments,” this paper investigates the discourse about “Chinese legal cruelty” and how it was mediated by “global” knowledge of law. It takes the death of pro-reform journalist Shen Jin as a case study. In 1903, Shen was executed by the Qing court with heavy bamboo blows in the absence of an open trial. The incident provoked vehement discussions in Shanghai about Chinese legal cruelty and whether extraterritorial immunity should be extended to protect Chinese citizens. Chinese and Western views debated whether the use of corporal punishments in the Qing law, which had long been used by Westerners as the justification for extraterritoriality, constituted barbarity. In nineteenth century Asia, extraterritoriality was a key site through which meanings of sovereignty and judicial modernity were contested. Although the New Policy reform eventually abolished “cruel punishments”, a close examination of the debate preceded it allows us to understand the complicated process of negotiating judicial modernity. The paper questions the notion of Western-defined progress in narratives of late Qing judicial reform by revealing the cultural and political dynamics behind the debate over Shen’s execution and how it was used by different individuals to make their own claims to issues such as judicial modernization, national character and civilization in the late Qing.

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 01 - Room 7

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