China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: Following the recent environmental turn in the humanities, this interdisciplinary panel directs its focus toward imagined fauna as a co-agent in the construction and visualization of human experience in early and medieval China and Inner Asia. Drawing from methodologies in history, philosophy, art history, and archaeology, the four papers offer complementary perspectives on the relationships between animals and the people whose livelihood, cultural endeavors, and spiritual systems were inextricably linked to the surrounding biota. Animal-human interactions emerge in various pre-modern contexts, from economic ventures and migration patterns to funerary art and literary discourse.
Daniels discusses the presence of dragons in Warring States and Han-dynasty texts illustrating the imagined ecology of liminal spaces between the natural and supernatural world. Swimming in the deepest pools or pulling chariots through the highest heavens, dragons in early China were viewed as chaotic beasts inhabiting a special ecological zone.
Andreeva’s study of composite beasts in Iron-Age Central Eurasia offers a glimpse into a shared (elite) visual vocabulary dominated by zoomorphic junctures at a peak of mechanical reproduction in several interconnected cultural spheres.
Wallace’s paper addresses the occurrence of predatory animals in hunt scenes depicted on murals and burial goods in Tang-dynasty tombs with a particular emphasis on foreign tribute and the element of the exotic.
Sikri investigates the problem of species difference across a selection of classical Chinese philosophical texts by identifying a blurred distinction between animal and human species and relating the conceptualization of animal experiences to the assumed normativity of human experience.
Paper Presenter: Petya Andreeva – Parsons School of Design, The New School
Paper Presenter: Leslie Wallace – Coastal Carolina University
Paper Presenter: Benjamin Daniels – University of California, Berkeley
Paper Presenter: Rohan Sikri – University of Georgia