China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
From its inception, Chinese literature engaged with the alien and the strange as both dangerous presence and exotic attraction. While numerous studies have examined the supernatural and foreign Others that fascinated premodern readers and writers alike, less attention has been paid to animals, whose alterity is often obscured by familiarity and intimacy, by their quotidian presence in our bedrooms and backyards. Aiming to join this very rich but still much understudied arena, this panel examines animal narratives in early modern Chinese literature, bringing new understanding to the study of this era, as well as making an important intervention into the field of animal studies.
In the novels, plays, short stories, and miscellanies discussed by our panelists, the animal becomes a fruitful site of literary attention where ideas about the human and the humane are tested and contested, where traditional hierarchies and dichotomies—of human and animal, culture and nature, subject and object, self and other—are reversed, trespassed, and subverted. The papers on this panel will ask: How does humanity define itself through its relations with the animal world, particularly in fictional accounts? Within the cultural imaginary of late imperial China, what does it mean for a human to become an animal, or for an animal to become human? In what ways do gender and sexuality matter in these narratives?