OPAL Webinar: Law and Slavery in Early Modern Asia

Event date
24 February 2023
Event time
13:30 - 14:30
Oxford week
HT 6
Online - Zoom

Speakers: Eugénie Mérieau (Paris 1), Lucio de Sousa (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), & Claude Chevaleyre (ENS Lyon)

Chair: Maayan Niezna (Oxford)

Photo of Eugenie Merieau

Eugénie Mérieau, Self-Enslavement as Resistance to the State? Siamese Early Modern Laws on Slavery

I examine slavery laws, as reproduced in the 1805 Three Seals Code, as well as accounts of Europeans, to compare the legal conditions of enslaved people and serfs in early modern Siam. I argue that the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya (1350
1767) was a slave society where contractual self-enslavement was a widespread means for serfs to escape required corvée and military service to the state. I also suggest that differentiating indigenous contractual slaves (temporary, collateral, and permanent), who were protected to various degrees by the law, from enslaved foreign war captives, who were potentially outside of any legal framework, invites us to rethink freedom and slavery as a continuum rather than a dichotomy.

Eugénie Mérieau is Associate Professor of Public Law at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a member of the Sorbonne Institute of Philosophical and Legal Research (CNRS). She is the author of "Constitutional Bricolage: Thailand's Sacred Monarchy vs. the Rule of Law" (Oxford: Hart, 2021).

Photo of Lucio De Sousa

Lucio de Sousa, Japanese Slavery and Hapsburg Legislation

The Portuguese participation in the slave trade in Japan was spontaneously initiated by the Iberian merchants settled in Kyūshū. However, unlike the African slave trade in the Atlantic Ocean, these slaves were transported to Macao, Malacca, Manila, Acapulco, Kochi, Goa, and Lisbon without official authorization. At that time, the so-called license was a mandatory provision to import slaves and take them from one place to another. As a way of managing this situation in Japan, the Jesuits began to issue slave licenses, legitimizing this trade. These licenses did not have royal approval from Portugal, or ecclesiastical endorsement from Rome. Despite the connivance of the Society of Jesus with the slave merchants, some members of this group, urged the King of Portugal, Sebastian I, to prohibit it. Efforts to create a law to protect the Japanese and the interests of the Society of Jesus in Japan were rewarded, in 1570, with the publication of a law against Japanese slavery throughout Portuguese territories. However, despite its publication in the European metropolis, this law was never implemented in Goa, then the center of Portuguese administration in Asia. Negotiations between the king and the Goa City Hall High Court eventually led to an agreement whereby the law against Japanese slavery officially came into force in Goa, in theory from 1605 and in practice from 1607.

Lucio De Sousa is Associate Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (Japan). He obtained in Ph.D. course in Asian Studies at University of Oporto (Oporto, Portugal). He is member founder of the steering committee of Global History Network. He was a Post Doctoral Fellow at European University Institute (Florence, Italy); and Research Associate at Historiographical Institute (史料編纂所), University of Tokyo, Department of Foreign Materials. He was a book winner by the Macao Foundation, the Social Science in China Press and the GuangDong Social Sciences Association (2013), the Portuguese Academy of History and the Gulbenkian Foundation Award (2019). More recently, De Sousa is the editor-in-chief of the Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History

His primary field of research is the Asian slave trade and Jewish Diaspora in Asia in the Early Modern Period.


Photo of Claude Chevaleyre

Claude Chevaleyre, Domestic Law and Slavery in Late Imperial China

Over the past century, the late imperial Chinese nubi system has been the subject of numerous studies. Depicted as a highly exploitative mode of labor coercion, it has nonetheless been radically differentiated from slavery. In this article, I explore how nubi were conceptualized in late imperial China through the lens of lineages’ domestic regulations and admonitions. Nubi bondage was first and foremost a living experience of strong asymmetric dependency. However, as a de jure institution, its conceptual and normative dimensions do matter as they justified the enslavement of human beings and contributed to shaping household practices. Domestic regulations reveal a process that transformed outsiders into absolute inferiors. This consideration alone is an incentive to reconsider the alleged disqualification of nubi as a form of “slavery” and to engage broader comparisons with slavery in a more global perspective.

Claude Chevaleyre is CNRS Research Fellow at Lyons Institute of East Asian Studies (ENS Lyon, France), Vice-Director of Lyon Institute of East Asian Studies (IAO), and Research Group Leader “Dependency in Asian History” at Bonn Centre of Dependency and Slavery Studies.


Photo of Maayan Niezna.jpg

Chair: Maayan Niezna

Maayan Niezna is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Modern Slavery and Human Rights at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, and a Fellow of the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Her socio-legal research focuses on trafficking for labour exploitation, the regulation of labour migration, and the rights of non-citizens. She holds PhD in Law from Kent Law School, MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics, and LL.B in Law and Philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a Visiting Research Fellow at TraffLab: Labor Perspective to Human Trafficking (ERC project).

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Legal History