Jennifer Wells

Publication Date

Winter 2011

Document Type


First Page



This essay blends history, law, and politics in considering the role of legal imperialism nineteenth-century English extradition law in colonial Hong Kong. Building upon the pioneering work of Jerome Cohen, this essay enhances and clarifies our understanding of Chinese legal history and its continued (and future) influence on Sino-Western relations. By focusing upon the series of In re Kwok-a-Sing decisions as they traversed courts from colonial Hong Kong to imperial London, this study analyzes how, through skilful legal reasoning, the British courts managed to circumvent laws and assert their political domination in Southeast Asia by repeatedly refusing to extradite Kwok-a-Sing to China. In the process, the paper considers how Britain and other Western powers (including the United States) invariably used law to subordinate China, facilitating a cultural alienation and humiliation whose effects continue to dog Sino-Western relations. It accordingly makes legal history relevant to understanding contemporary international politics.

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