China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: “Destruction” is widely perceived as a negative event that leads to abandonment and obliteration. However, a closer look at the concept reveals its complicated relationship with time, space, and memory. This panel seeks to conceptualize destruction with three case studies: Shih-han Wang discusses the act of destroying grave goods found in the lower Yangtze region during the Bronze Age; Chu Hsien-min examines the representation of destroyed sites in gazetteers compiled during the Middle Ages; Ted Hui investigates how destroyed gardens are restored and remembered by the literati after the Yuan-Ming transition in the 14th century. From actions to representations, ruinations to restorations, this panel looks into the multiple meanings of destruction in both the material and the literary world. In contrast to the stereotypical impression of destruction as a negation of value, this panel showcases how destruction can provide the impetus for the resistance of change in time: to connect the living and the dead, to express the emotion created by the rise and fall of dynasties, and to affect the construction of social memory. Such a positive indication of seemingly violent actions invites us to problematize how the utility of things is defined, and, in response, we suggest that the value of things and sites comes from not only their practical functions but also their users’ and viewers’ perceptions and interpretations. To some, destruction is annihilation; to others, destruction is construction.
Paper Presenter: Shih-han Wang – Columbia University
Paper Presenter: Ming Tak Ted Hui – University of Oxford
Paper Presenter: Hsien-min Chu – National Taiwan University