China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Living on China’s borderlands involves not only geographic marginality from political and economic power, but also diverse language use, ethnicities, and competing forms of regional identification. In light of recent studies of eco-literature, poetics, regional studies, and sociology of literature, this panel explores ways in which representations of “people on the margins” in poems, short stories, and novels conform to and challenge the State’s orthodox discourse. Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani examines how Tibetan authors inject new meaning into traditional tropes of sacred landscapes by co-opting official discourse on ‘Ecological Civilization’ and, at the same time, denouncing the unprecedented environmental destruction mainly orchestrated by Han outsiders. Similarly, Simon Wickhamsmith studies how the themes of Mongolian oral tradition promote the notion of Mongol ethnicity within China’s political borders but also connect Inner and Outer Mongolia via shared cultural heritage. Next, Levi S. Gibbs investigates the mingling in northern Shaanxi of nomadic rebelliousness with Confucian agricultural civilization which generates a culturally-hybrid region that ultimately defies easy-made categories of self-identification. Finally, Mario De Grandis analyzes how geographic references in Hui literature highlight Chinese Muslims’ rootedness in specific localities but also connect Hui at the national level and with their ancestral ties to the Middle East. In each case, the representation of marginal positions suggests an ongoing dialectic between top-down State ideology and bottom-up discursive sites of regional, ethnic, and religious identifications. Together, these studies challenge the center/periphery dichotomy in favor of more fluid, non-linear forms of identification.