China and Comparative International Law: Between Social Science and Critique

Matthew S. Erie

June 22, 2021

Chicago Journal of International LawVol 22: No.1


This article is published in the CJIL Symposium 2021 Special Issue on "The Transformation of International Law Scholarship."



This essay brings Chilton et al.’s article into conversation with the literature on comparative international law to ask whether the social scientific approach to international law is “international.” In particular, this essay takes the case of scholarship on international law in China to examine why or why not particular methodological and theoretical perspectives on international law may gain traction in certain jurisdictions’ legal academies. There are a number of linguistic, pedagogic, institutional, and, ultimately, political reasons why the Chinese scholarship that uses social science to understand international law is still nascent. At the same time, critical approaches to international law in the Chinese literature are ascendant. This essay explains these divergent trends through a sociology of knowledge lens, and offers provisional thoughts about future trajectories for the study of international law in a period during which China’s influence on the international system will most likely grow.