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In Session: The Questions of East Asian Animalities: Capital, Politics, and Entangled Cultures across Species Boundaries
2: Epistemic Politics and Interspecies Entanglement in the Birth of Chinese Popular Science Essays: A Reading of Jia Zuzhang’s Bird Writings, 1925-37
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Tsinghua University, China
This paper examines the cultural production of animals in a specific genre of Chinese popular science essays, kexue xiaopin, which was a new literary form promoted by influential publishers such as the Commercial Press and the Kaiming Press in the 1920s and 1930s. My discussion focuses on one of the earliest popular science writers, Jia Zuzhang (1901-1988) and his early bird writings. While Chinese literary studies have focused on the role of popular science essays in mass education and knowledge dissemination, this paper attends to an unexamined aspect in the emergence of this literary form in China--the epistemic politics in representing animal bodies and lively experiences. This paper explores how traditional philological sources, folk knowledge of animals, and other forms of knowing interspecies entanglements were incorporated into this new genre of popular science essays, along with discourses and perspectives of European animal science and the technique of taxidermy. It unveils how taxidermic technology, semiotics, and visions of taxidermists inflicted physical violence on animal bodies and also generated epistemic violence against Chinese philological practices and folk perceptions of animals. Such physical and epistemic violence paved the ground for the formation of bio-political semiotic systems and the accumulation of animal capital in China. In thinking against such violence, this paper proposes to comprehend early Chinese popular science essays as a medium that was capacious for alternative explorations of affective and ethical interspecies entanglement.