Li Chen

Headshot of Li Chen
Associate Professor
Telephone number
(416) 287-7128
Global Asia Studies / History


Professor Chen is currently Associate Professor of History and Global Asia Studies at the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies (UTSC), Graduate Department of History, and Faculty of Law (Cross-Appointed) at the University of Toronto.

He has served as Associate Chair (2015-2016) and then Chair of the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies at UTSC (July 2016-June 2019). After completing two terms of service as President (2014-2017) of the International Society for Chinese Law and History, he has been a director of that scholarly association, and has been a member of the editorial board of the Law and History Review since 2013.

His research and teaching interests include late Imperial and modern China (15th-20th centuries), Chinese law and society, Sino-Western relations, international law and history, and empire and postcolonial studies. He presented his research at various institutions, including Harvard University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, Duke University, University of Hong Kong, Peking University, Tsinghua University, College de France, and University of Helsinki, National University of Seoul.

His recent publications include:

“Law, Empire, and Historiography of Modern Sino-Western Relations: A Case Study of the Lady Hughes Controversy in 1784,” Law & History Review 27.1 (2009): 1-53 (won honorable mention for the Law and Society Association’s 2011 Article Prize, and translated into Chinese as “法律、帝国与近代中西关系历史学,” 北大法律评论 (Peking University Law Review) 12.2 (Sept. 2011): 437-81).

“Universalism and Equal Sovereignty as Contested Myths of International Law in the Sino-Western Encounter,” Journal of the History of International Law13.1 (2011):75-116 (translated into Chinese by 法律史译评 (Legal History StudiesTranslation and Critiques).

“Legal Specialists and Judicial Administration in Late Imperial China, 1651-1911,” Late Imperial China 33.1 (June 2012): 1-54 (translated into Chinese as “清代的法律专家与地方司法运作 (1651-1911),” 法制史研究 (Journal for Legal History Studies 28 (Dec. 2015).

“Power of Knowledge: The Role of Secret and Published Treatises of Private Legal Specialists in the Qing Juridical Field” (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), Journal of Zhejiang University 45.1 (Jan. 2015): 13-32 (in Chinese).

“Contestation over Legal Knowledge and Limits of Imperial Power in Qing China,” in Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice and Transformation, 1530s-1950s (Brill, 2015), 254-86 (translated into Chinese in 复旦法律评论 (Fudan Law Review), March 2016).

“Rethinking Chinese Law and History: An Introduction,” co-authored with Madeleine Zelin, in Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice, and Transformation, 1530s-1950s, edited by Chen and Zelin (Brill, 2015), 1-14.

“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), 421-39.

“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 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), eds. Michael Ng and Yun Zhao, 181-210.

“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, eds., Anne Bloom, David Engel, and Michael McCann (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 293-316.

He is also author of Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes: Sovereignty, Justice and Transcultural Politics (Columbia, 2016) (available here), co-editor of Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice and Transformation, 1530s-1950s (with Madeleine Zelin, Brill, 2015) (available here), and contributor to Pierre-Etienne Will’s Official Handbooks and Anthologies of Imperial China: A Descriptive and Critical Bibliography (forthcoming, Brill).

His first monograph, Chinese Law in Imperial Eyes, received the Association for Asian Studies’ 2018 Joseph Levenson Book Prize (for pre-1900 China) and Honorable Mention for the 2017 Peter Gonville Stein Book Award of the American Society for Legal History.

He is finishing up a SSHRC-funded book project on the legal culture and juridical field in late imperial China, and several book chapters and articles on international law and empire, Chinese modernity, or Qing jurisprudential politics. More information about his research can be found here.


B.A. in English (Beijing Foreign Studies)
M.A. in Political Science (SUNY Buffalo)
J.D. in Law (Illinois) (magna cum laude)
M.A., M.Ph., Ph.D. in Chinese History (Columbia)