Maria Adele Carrai

Maria Adele Carrai

Research Interest

Legal history, Conceptual history, International relations, China foreign policy, US-China relations, China-EU relations, Law and development, Foreign direct investments

Maria Adele Carrai is an Adjunct Associate Research Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and an Assistant Professor of Global China Studies at NYU Shanghai. She is a sinologist and political scientist with a strong interest in conceptual history and history of international law. Prior to joining NYU Shanghai, she was a recipient of a three-year Marie-Curie fellowship at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance – KU Leuven and a Fellow at Harvard University Asia Center.

Her book Sovereignty in China, A Genealogy of a Concept Since 1840 (Cambridge University Press, 2019) looks at the way Chinese intellectuals, political figures, and diplomats appropriated and articulated the notion of sovereignty in their foreign policy within the new discourse of international law in the period between 1840 to the present. By tracing a genealogy of the notion of sovereignty in China from the earliest introduction of international law until the present, the book provides a historical perspective through which to better understand the path China is taking as a normative actor within the international global order.

Along the line of her research on the history of international law in China, she has published various articles and book chapters. Selected publications include “China’s Unilateral Abrogation of the Sino-Belgian Treaty: A Case Study of a Deviant Transplantation” in Michael Ng and Zhao Yun, Chinese Legal Reform and the Global Legal Order: Adoption and Adaptation (Cambridge University Press, 2017); “Learning Western Techniques of Empire: Republican China and the New Legal Framework for Managing Tibet” in the Leiden Journal of International Law (2017); and “China’s Malleable Sovereignty Along the Belt and Road Initiative: The Case of the 99-year Chinese Lease of Hambantota Port” in the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (2018). 

One of her new research projects investigates how China’s rise as a global power is shaping norms and redefining the international distribution of power. In light of the development of Belt and Road Initiative, she is looking in particular at the economic, legal and political repercussions of Chinese investments and economic engagement in Europe and Eastern Africa, where she conducted fieldwork supported by the Orrick Fellowship. She edited with Jan Wouters and Jean-Christophe DeFraigne the volume titled The Belt and Road Initiative and Global Governance, that is forthcoming with the Edward Elgar Press. Her article “It Is Not the End of History: The Financing Institutions of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Bretton Woods System,” was published in Julien Chaisse and Jędrzej Górski’s The Belt and Road Initiative: Law, Economics and Politics (Brill, 2018).

Carrai completed her PhD at the University of Hong Kong where she was Swire Scholar, and a recipient of the Hong Kong Government PhD Fellowship and the Award for Outstanding Research Postgraduate Student for 2015-16. She was a fellow at Columbia University’s Italian Academy, Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, European University Institute of Florence, and New York University Law School.


Carrai, Maria Adelle. Sovereignty in China, A Genealogy of a Concept Since 1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Carrai, Maria Adele, Jean-Christophe DeFraigne & Jan Wouters (ed.), The Belt and Road Initiative and Global GovernanceEdward Elgar Publisher, February 2020.

China’s Malleable Sovereignty Along the Belt and Road Initiative: The Case of the 99-year Chinese Lease of Hambantota Port, N.Y.U. JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW & POLITICS 51 (2019).

Which Humanity? From Cultural to Racial Ethnocentrism: The Chinese Perspective on Universal History on the Threshold of the Twentieth Century TELOS 186 (Spring 2019).

Prospettive cinesi sulla storia del diritto internazionale, JOURNAL OF CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY 38 (2019).
It Is Not the End of History: The Financing Institutions of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Bretton Woods System,

Learning Western Techniques ofEmpire: Republican China and the New Legal Framework for Managing Tibet, 4 LEIDEN

Current Chinese Approaches to a Global History of International Law, 22 STORICA 64 (2017).
Yijie ‘quanwei’: zai ‘zhuquan’ yu ‘tianxia’ zhong xunqiu gong du xing, 译介「权威」在「主权」与「天下」中寻求公 度性, 2 ZHENGZHI SIXIANG SHI 政治思想史 7 (2016).

China and the ‘Third World’ in International Law – On Bandung and Beyond, in Ignacio de la Rasilla, THE ENIGMA AND CHINA AND INTERNATIONAL LAW. HISTORICAL, CONTEMPORARY AND PROSPECTIVE EXPLORATIONS, Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2021

Measuring China’s influence in Europe: Contextualizing the impact ofthe Belt and Road Initiative, in Suthiphand Chirathivat, CHINA’S RISE, VOL. 3, World Scientific Publishing, forthcoming 2020.

Chinese Investments Screening Mechanisms and its New Foreign Direct Investment Law, in Giulio Napolitano, THE GLOBAL RUSH TO FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT SCREENING, Bologna, Il Mulino, forthcoming 2020.

China and the Histories of International Law, in Chris Shei (ed.), THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF CHINESE STUDIES, Routledge, forthcoming 2020.

La Jurisdicción del Mar: Reclamaciones chinas a derechos históricos en el Mar del Sur de China, in Basia Steipen (ed.), MARE NOSTRUM-NUESTRO MAR: ESTUDIOS SOBRE EL DERECHO DEL MARE, Tirant lo Blanch, 2019.

It Is Not the End of History: The Financing Institutions of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Bretton Woods System, in Julien Chaisse and Jędrzej Górski, THE BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE: LAW, ECONOMICS AND POLITICSBrill, 2018.

China’s Unilateral Abrogation of the Sino-Belgian Treaty: A Case Study of a Deviant Transplantation, in Michael Ng and Zhao Yun (ed.), CHINESE LEGAL REFORM AND THE GLOBAL LEGAL ORDER: ADOPTION AND ADAPTATION, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Translating Authority: In Search of Commensurability between Tianxia World Order and Western Sovereignty, in Lawrence Wang-chi Wong (ed.), TRANSLATION AND MODERNIZATION IN EAST ASIA IN THE 19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY, Hong Kong: Research Centre for Translation and the Chinese University Press, 2017.

Asian Values, in Andreas Joh. Wiesand, Kalliopi Chainoglou and Anna Śledzińska-Simon (ed.), CULTURE AND HUMAN RIGHTS, THE WROCLAW COMMENTARIES, De Gruyter Publishers, 2016.

Zhongguoshi ziranfa: lun lizuowei ziranfa duiyingti de juxian, 中国式自然法:论作为自然法对应体的局限 [Chinese Natural Law: On the Limits of the Association of Li to Natural Law] in Qu Wensheng (ed.), LEGAL TRANSLATION AND LEGAL TRANSPLANTATION, China Law Press, 2014.

Review of Natalie Lichtenstein, A Comparative Guide to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, 1 PACIFIC AFFAIRS JOURNAL 92 (2019).

Confucianism reconstructed: the violence of history and the making of constitutionalism in East Asia (review essay of Jiang Qing. A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China’s Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future. Princeton University Press, 2012 & Son Ngoc Bui. Confucian Constitutionalism in East Asia. Routledge Law in Asia, 2016) 1 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 16 (2018).

Marta Cartabia and Andrea Simoncini (eds.), Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought, A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law, Cambridge University Press, 2015, L’IRCOCERVO. RIVISTA ELETTRONICA ITALIANA DI METODOLOGIA GIURIDICA, TEORIA GENERALE DEL DIRITTO E DOTTRINA DELLO STATO 2 (2016).

Italy joins China’s Belt and Road Initiative: A Grand Awakening for the EU? 4 CHINA’S WORLD 1 (2019)

Chinese Weaponized Investments and the Rise of Screening Mechanisms in Europe, OXFORD UNIVERSITY, CHINA LAW AND DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH BRIEF NO. 6/2019

Conversation on EU-China relations, ChinaFile Conversation (April 2019)
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From Defensive to Assertive: China’s White Paper on Human Rights, Verfassungsblog (March 2019)

Will the Belt and Road Initiative change China’s stance on sovereignty and non-interference?, GlobTaxGov, Leiden University (Feb. 8, 2019) on-sovereignty-and-non-interference/

The China Model and its Discourses, 3 CHINA’S WORLD 2 (2018).

In the Eye of the Beholder: The China Model as a discourse, Fairbank Center Blog, Harvard University (May 2018)

Sogni cosmopoliti: il costituzionalismo globale e le sfide dell’eccezionalismo cinese, 8 ORIZZONTE CINA 5 (2017)

China’s Dream of Great Rejuvenation: Deconstructing Its Historical Myth, 2 CHINA’S WORLD 2 (2017).

Global constitutionalism and Chinese exceptionalism, EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE WORKING PAPERS (2016).

Il riconoscimento del Market Economy Status alla Cina e l’interpretazione dell’Art. 15 del Protocollo di Accesso: sfide e possibilità per l’Unione Europea, OSSERVATORIO COSTITUZIONALE AIC (2016).