Li Chen

Associate Professor
Humanities Wing, 1265 Military Trail, Room 528 (UTSC)



Faculty of Law
Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies

Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

Late imperial and modern China (14th-20th centuries), international law, East Asian legal cultures, comparative law.


Professor Li Chen (陈利) is currently Associate Professor of History, Global Asia Studies, Faculty of Law (cross-appointed) and Criminology and Sociolegal Studies (Cross-appointed) at the University of Toronto. He was the founding President of the International Society for Chinese Law and History (2014-2017) and is a member of its Board of Directors as well as a member of the Editorial Board of the Law and History Review (since 2013). He served as Associate Chair (2015-16) and then Chair of the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies (2016-19) at University of Toronto Scarborough.

His research focuses on critical analysis of the intersections of law, culture, and politics in the context of Chinese and international history since 1500. More specifically, he is interested in the social, cultural, political, and legal history of late imperial and modern Chinese history, critical history of international law and relations, comparative law and empire, power/knowledge and modern governmentality, cultural encounters and Orientalism, postcolonial studies and critical historiography.

Book: Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes: Sovereignty, Justice, and Transcultural Politics (Columbia University Press, 2016) (recipient of Honorable Mention of the 2017 Peter Gonville Stein Book Award of the American Society for Legal History, and of the 2018 Joseph Levenson Book Prize for Pre-1900 China of the Association for Asian Studies.

Edited book (with Madeleine Zelin), Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice, and Transformation, 1530s-1950s (Brill, 2015).

Another book, funded by a SSHRC grant, tentatively entitled "Invisible Power, Legal Specialists, and the Juridical Field in Late Imperial China, 1611-1911" (which he expects to complete in 2019-20.

Other selected publications (articles and book chapters):

(1) "Legal Specialists and Judicial Administration in Late Imperial China, 1651-1911," Late Imperial China 31, no. 1 (June 2012), 1-54 (Chinese translation: 清代中国的法律专家与地方司法运作(1651-1911),” in Journal of Legal History Studies (2016), and in Jianpeng Deng, ed.,Qing diguo sifa de shijian, kongjian yu canyuzhe清帝国司法的时间、空间与参与者 (Shehui kexue chubanshe, 2016-17);

(2) "Law, Empire, and Historiography of Modern Sino-Western Relations: A Case Study of the Lady Hughes Controversy in 1784," Law & History Review 27, no. 1 (2009), 1-53 (which won Honorable Mention for the Law and Society Association's 2011 Article Prize, and was translated and published by the Peking University Law Review in 2011, as "法律、帝国与近代中西关系历史学:1784年‘休斯女士号’冲突的个案研究,” 北大法律评论 [Peking University Law Review] 12, no. 2 (Sept. 2011): 437-81));

(3) "Universalism and Equal Sovereignty as Contested Myths of International Law in the Sino-Western Encounter," Journal of the History of International Law / Revue d'histoire du droit international 13, no. 1 (2011), 75-116 (translated and published in Chinese by 法律史译评 (Legal History Studies: Translation and Critiques) in 2017).

(4) 知识的力量:清代幕友秘本和公开出版的律学著作对清代司法场域的影响 [Power of Knowledge: The Role of Secret and Published Treatises of Private Legal Specialists in the Qing Juridical Field],” Zhejiang daxue xuebao浙江大学学报 [Journal of Zhejiang University] 45, no. 1 (Jan. 2015).

(5) “Affective Sovereignty, International Law, and China’s Legal Status in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Scaffold of Sovereignty: A Global Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Stefanos Geroulanos and Nichole Jerr (Columbia University Press, 2017);

(6) “Regulating Private Legal Specialists and the Limits of Imperial Power in Qing China,” in Li Chen and Madeleine Zelin, eds., Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice, and Transformation, 1530s-1950s (Leiden: Brill, 2015) (Chinese translation published by the Fudan Law Review, 2016)

(7) Book Chapter: “Traditionalizing Chinese Law: Symbolic Epistemic Violence of the Discourse of Legal Reform and Modernity in Late Qing China,” in Chinese Legal Reform and the Global Legal Order: Adoption and Adaption, eds., Michael Ng and Yun Zhao (Cambridge University Press, October 2017) (Chinese translation will be published in 2019).

(8) Book Chapter: “The State as Victim: Ethical Politics of Injury Claims and Revenge in International Relations,” in Injury and Injustice: The Cultural Politics of Harm and Redress, edited by Anne Bloom, David Engel and Michael McCann (Cambridge University Press, January 2018).

He is also one of the contributors to Official Handbooks and Anthologies of Imperial China: A Descriptive and Critical Bibliography, ed., Professor Pierre-Etienne Will of the College de France (forthcoming, Brill).

He is revising a few articles for publication, dealing with issues such as imperial sovereignty and capital punishments, Confucian literati identity, and dynamic politics of the cultural or juridical fields in late imperial China. He is also working on another book project critically reexamining the history of modern international system of the Law of Sea and China's role in it in relation to the recent and ongoing international disputes over maritime borders and territorial claims in the Asia Pacific and beyond.


PhD, Columbia
J.D., Illinois