China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
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 early 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 inclusion of exotic predatory animals in the tomb of Tang Crown Prince Yide with a particular emphasis on the interrelationship between animals and their trainers and the creation of the prince’s post-mortem estate.
Sikri investigates the problem of species difference across a selection of 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.