The ‘standard of civilization’ in international law: intellectual perspectives from pre-war Japan

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This article establishes the normative connection between Japan's responses to regional hegemonic order prior to the nineteenth century and its subsequent engagement with the European standard of civilization. I argue that the Japanese understanding of the 'standard of civilization' in the nineteenth century was informed by the historical pattern of its responses to hegemony and the discourse on cultural superiority in the Far East that shifted from Sinocentrism to the unbroken Imperial lineage to the national-spirit. Although Japanese scholars accepted and engaged with the European standard of civilization after the forced opening up of Japan to the Western world in the mid-nineteenth century, they did so for instrumental purposes and soon translated 'civilization' into a language of imperialism to reassert supremacy in the region. Through intellectual historiography, this narrative contextualizes Japan's engagement with the European standard of civilization, and offers an analytical framework not only to go beyond Eurocentrism but also to identify various other loci of hegemony, which are connected through the same language of power.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-32
Number of pages20
JournalLeiden Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Early online date19 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • history and theory of international law, standard of civilization, imperialism, Eurocentrism, Far East, Imperialism, Standard of civilization, History and theory of international law