Prospective Students

GUC24S342C | Law in Transnational East Asia

About the lecturer

Kentaro Matsubara (LL.B., Tokyo 1992, D.Phil. Oxford, 2004)
Research Associate in Comparative Law, University of Tokyo, 1992-1997
Lecturer in Comparative Law, University of Tokyo, 1997-1999
Associate Professor of Legal History, 1999-2011
Exchange Professor, Columbia Law School, 2002 /2003 /2005-2006 /2011 /2014 /2016 /2018
Visiting Fellow, Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2004-2005
Visiting Fellow, Yale University, 2011-2012
Professor of Law, University of Tokyo, 2011-present
Visiting Research Professor, National University of Singapore, 2019
Prof. Kentaro Matsubara

Introduction video

Law in Transnational East Asia


1 Subject Law in Transnational East Asia
2 Field Law, History, International Relations
3 Key words Transnational Law, International Relations in East Asia, Legal History, Historiography
4 Global Unit 1
5 Lecturer Kentaro Matsubara
6 Period July 22-26, 2024
7 Time 15:00-16:30, 17:00-18:30 (Japan Standard Time)
8 Lecture style In-person (on Hongo Campus)
9 Evaluation Criteria Excellent (S) 90 –100%; Very good (A) 80–89%; Good (B) 70–79%; Pass (C) 60–69%; Fail (D) 0–59%
10 Evaluation methods Attendance and participation 40%, term paper 40%, oral examination 20%
11 Prerequisites N/A, but it might help if you’re able to articulate what the word “orientalism” means.  Even if you’re not (yet), all that is really required is a legitimate interest in how East Asian societies relate to each other and to other parts of the world, and how (notionally separate) areas of knowledge such as law, politics, history, and culture might fit together to form some kind of coherent whole. 
12 Contents Purpose
This course aims to give the student an overarching perspective of the historical dynamics that formed the East Asian world of today, with its primary focus on the formation of a transnational socio-legal order. 

For students beginning their studies on East Asian societies, it will provide a foundational narrative on East Asian history that integrates the diversity and intricacies of traditional East Asian societies on one hand, and the dynamics of change brought about by war, revolution, and decolonisation on the other.  Versing themselves in such a foundational narrative should facilitate further studies, in that it will serve as a framework into which they could integrate their deeper inquiries, and create their own context of understanding that is relevant to the present-day world.

For students already familiar with some of the subject matter, this course will offer an opportunity to reformulate their knowledge in accordance with some
new perspectives, as well as familiarising themselves with developments in different strands of scholarship conducted in languages other than English, including Japanese, Chinese, and French.

Finally, this course is designed to be a part of, or a preparation for, serious studies into law. By focusing on the formation and operation of a transnational legal environment in East Asia, it aims to deepen the student’s understanding of the relationship between the operation of legal systems and different social cultures.

In the first instance, this course will trace the historical processes of modernisation and change in East Asian societies from the 19th century to the present day. In the earliest stages, this involved how the diverse domestic socio-legal orders of the pre-19th century underwent changes responding both to internal social tensions and the external forces of imperial expansion, colonisation, and westernisation. Moreover, this was a process whereby the relations between these diverse societies were reformulated and re-configurated, giving rise to a new transnational order that was integrated in a wider, global order. The following stages of historical development saw Japan’s rise as a local imperial power and its failed attempt to create an East Asian “Co-Prosperity Sphere”, revolutions and the internalisation of the Cold War in the area, followed by the ascension of local economies as a global economic force.

The focus of this course will be the institutional changes and developments, both at domestic and international levels, that underpinned such a dynamic historical process.

At a deeper level, this course is an enquiry into how legal systems with Western origins could or could not take root in societies with very different sociolegal
traditions. Such attempts at introducing and operating a Western legal system would have at least three separate yet interrelated aspects. Firstly, while these societies are transformed through such a reception, this interaction causes these societies to redefine and reformulate what their traditions might be, with an incentive to preserve and integrate such traditions in the newly created legal system. Secondly, the different East Asian societies each undergoing such transformation would formulate a new type of relationship with each other, based on the notion of sovereignty, which in turn newly integrated these societies into a wider global order. Thirdly, through the operation of these legal systems, and the interaction between these societies and others, the notion of Law itself is changed, signifying how the involvement with East Asian societies changes the world.

After two years of online teaching, this course will, for the second time, be taught in real life. Each session will begin with a lecture on the subject matter of the day, after which a related topic would be introduced for group discussions. In the past three years the course has benefitted from a diverse group of students enabling some fascinating cross-cultural discussions, and it is hoped that this year will be no different. Moreover, each student will be asked to identify a theme around which they could develop their personal academic interests in the field, and the course will involve individual presentations regarding such themes. It is hoped that these discussions and presentations will work in such a way that one enriches the other, and that these interactions will provide a basis for further exchange among participants in the future.

1. Introduction: The Dynamics of East Asian History and the Modern Formulation of Traditions
2. East Asian Anciens Régimes 1: Domestic Organisation 
3. East Asian Anciens Régimes 2: the International Order
4. The Opium Wars, the Perry Expeditions, and Unequal Treaties
5. The Meiji Restoration and Japan as a Regional Power
6. East Asian Nationalism and the Chinese Republican Revolution
7. World War II, East-Asian Regionalism, and the Foundations of Post-WWII Society
8. Decolonisation, the Formation of the PRC, and the Not-So-Cold War in East Asia
9. Economic Ascent and the “Asian Century”
10. East Asian Societies and the Transnational Legal Order

Students will be assigned a reading-list, and asked to prepare for each class by reading the assigned articles / book chapters.  Each session would typically include a 10-minute discussion in small groups, followed by a 15-minute discussion with the whole class, which will be built on the foundation of the earlier small-group discussions. 

Students will also be asked to write a term paper on a topic agreed with the instructor, the minimum length for this paper will be 3,000 words. Evaluation will be based on participation, the term paper, and a final (probably online) oral examination.
13 Required readings N/A
14 Reference readings A reading list will be provided in the UTeLF, once the student is accepted to participate in this class.
15 Notes on Taking the Course -
UTokyo Global Unit Courses (GUC)
International Education Promotion Group, Education and Student Support Department,
The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8652 JAPAN

For inquiries regarding GUC, kindly direct them to the following email address:
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