China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This panel explores the vivacity and dynamic force of stones in Chinese visual and material cultures. Too often stone has been treated as a basic metaphor for durability, silence, and inertia. Instead we re-examine stones as active protagonists in shaping human understandings of the natural world in pre-modern China. How, we ask, did stones challenge and reconfigure conceptions of time, place, and the limits of the human? How has stone disrupted and transformed the possibilities of art-making? Working with textual, visual, and material sources, the panelists move beyond predictable approaches to stones in Chinese culture, looking at the travels of transparent crystals along the medieval Silk Road, decorative stone screens in Song antiquarian circles, the relationship between soft-stones and the human corpse in the early modern period, and the secret lives of rocks in Chinese painting. Seeking connections across time and space, the panelists look to develop a more nuanced account of stone's multi-faceted social lives. Engaging with recent scholarship in the environmental humanities, we seek to develop comparative insights into the changing place of stone in visual, religious, and literary practices. Taken together, the papers show that what might seem to be a lifeless substance has sustained dynamic modes of thinking about vitality and agency in pre-modern China.