Tom Ginsburg


To what degree can traditional Asian political and legal institutions be seen as embodying constitutionalist values? This question has risen to the fore in recent decades as part of a new attention to constitutionalism around the world, as well as the decline in orientalist perceptions of Asia as a region of oppressive legal traditions. This article juxtaposes East Asian analogues or antecedents of constitutionalism with a particular set of recent theoretical understandings of the concept of constitutionalism. After conducting a historical review of political and legal institutions in China, Japan and Korea, the article argues that we can indeed speak of an East Asian constitutionalist tradition. East Asia has long had notions of limited government and constraint on authority and had, at certain times and places, genuine institutional constraints on authority.