Law across imperial borders

British consuls and colonial connections on China’s western frontiers, 1880–1943

Author: Emily Whewell

This book tells the story of British imperial agents and their legal powers on the British-Chinese frontiers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It offers new perspectives on the British presence in Yunnan and Xinjiang in western China and the legal connections to the British colonies of India and Burma. It examines how the mobility of people across borders forced consuls to adapt and shape law to accommodate them. Salt and opium smugglers, Indian and Afghan traders, and itinerant local populations exposed the jurisdictional gaps between consular and colonial authority. Local and transfrontier mobility defined and shaped British jurisdiction across the frontier in complex ways. It argues that frontier consular agents played key roles in creating forms of transfrontier legal authority in order to govern these migratory communities. Consular legal practices coexisted alongside, and often took advantage of, other local customs and legal structures. The incorporation of indigenous elites, customary law and Chinese authority was a distinctive feature of frontier administration, with mediation an important element of establishing British authority in a contested legal environment. The book is essential reading for historians of China, the British Empire, and socio-legal historians interested in the role of law in shaping semicolonial and colonial societies.

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