This paper uses the concept of the “rule of law” to compare Qing China and British India. Rather than using the rule of law instrumentally, the paper embeds it in the histories of state power and sovereignty in China and India. Three themes, all framed by the rule of law and the rule of man as oppositional yet paradoxically intertwined notions, organize the paper's comparisons: the role of a discourse of law in simultaneously legitimizing and constraining the political authority of the state; the role of law and legal procedures in shaping and defining society; and the role of law in defining an economic and social order based on contract, property, and rights. A fourth section considers the implications of these findings for the historical trajectories of China and India in the twentieth century. Taking law as an instrument of power and an imagined realm that nonetheless also transcended power and operated outside its ambit, the paper seeks to broaden the history of the “rule of law” beyond Euro-America.

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