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Speaker Series: Johanna Ransmeier - History, University of Chicago

  • When: May 22, 2019, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th floor, Lakeside, Chicago, IL 60611

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What could they know of the law?

Legal Literacy and Constructions of “Law” in Republican China

Throughout the first decades of the twentieth century legal reformers, judges, and bureaucrats and politicians strove to create a stable legal system for a modernizing China. As people in the new republic began to understand themselves as citizens rather than subjects, their expectations of the legal system rose. For some, this was accompanied by increased awareness of the contents of the laws, and an evolving understanding of the mechanics of how the judicial system could or should function. For others, the shifting legal regimes of the Republican period proved a source of frustration and disappointment. Hardened criminals and the ordinary people who took to crime learned how to navigate this changing landscape. China’s Republican period encompassed a creative array of legal experiments and aspirations for the legal system. In this talk, Ransmeier introduces her new exploration of popular perspectives on changing laws. 

Photo and bio courtesy of the University of Chicago

Johanna Ransmeier is a social and legal historian of China. Her book Sold People: Traffickers and Family Life in North China (Harvard University Press, 2017) describes the intersection of human trafficking and family life in Republican China. She has published on subjects ranging from the lives of Beijing wet nurses, missionary perspectives on Chinese slavery, and changes to the law at the end of the Qing Dynasty. As associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, Ransmeier teaches courses exploring the history of 20th and 21st Century China through court trials, human rights, sexuality and gender, and grassroots and microhistory. Her ongoing research investigates the expansion of legal literacy in the Republican period and the development of a Chinese legal imagination. This research has received support from the Mellon Foundation, the Fonds du Recherche au Québec, and the Fulbright Foundation. At present she is vice president of the International Society for Chinese Law and History and was a fellow with the National Committee on United States China Relations’ Public Intellectual Program. Johanna Ransmeier earned her doctorate in Chinese history from Yale University and is a graduate of Amherst College. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Chicago she taught at McGill University. She serves on the faculty board of the Pozen Center for Human Rights at the University of Chicago and co-advisor for the Center’s new doctoral fellows program.

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