Animals and Human Society in the Sinitic World

Animals and Human Society

Animals and Human Society in the Sinitic World

March 1, 2021 – July 31, 2021

Organizers:

Gideon Shelach Lavi (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Nir Avieli (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Research Group Assistant: Azri Amram

The proposed research group will fill a gap in the global history of the human interaction with non-human animals. It will examine the diverse roles that animals – real and metaphorical – have played in Chinese history, society, and culture. Bringing together scholars working in the diverse disciplines of archeology, history, anthropology, art, religious and literary studies, the group will provide a comprehensive picture of the representations, roles and attitudes towards animals in Sinitic world (including not only China proper but other regions that were in contact with it and adopted elements of the Chinese culture). Extending from prehistoric times animals, through dietary practices and sacrifice, to the representation of pets in Chinese literature and art, the research group will make multiple contributions to Chinese studies. At the same time, it will provide a crucial and hitherto neglected perspective on the human interaction with the environment. In recent decades the humanities and social sciences have become increasingly aware of the significance of the interactions between human and non-human animals.

Anthropologists have termed the growing interest in human-animal relationship the "animal turn," the "trans-species turn" or the "post-human turn." This new perspective is transforming our understanding not only of animals’ effects on the development of human society and culture, but also of the rigid hierarchy where humans are on top and the rest of the natural world is subordinate to them.

The "animal turn" has largely passed China by. We still lack detailed studies not only of the literary and artistic representation of animals but also of the roles they have played in practice during the temporally long, and throughout the geographically vast, Chinese universe. Moreover, no integrative research have been carried on the complex networks of human-animal interactions, including the influences of those interactions on the shaping of human society and culture in the Sinitic world. The proposed interdisciplinary research group will fill this scholarly lacuna.

Anthropologists and historians alike have noted that the self-definition of humans is inseparable from their conception of non-human animals. Similarly, human attitudes towards beasts all too often tell us how they perceive fellow humans. In this respect, it is important to compare the Sinitic worldview to the Western one. Unlike the monotheistic faiths that have humans fashioned in god's image, the Chinese philosophical tradition holds that humans and beasts differ in degree, rather than essence, of spirituality. Imported from India, the Buddhist theory of transmigration contributed to the Chinese tendency of minimizing the existential divide between human and non-human animals. Does this theological affinity between people and their beasts of burden have any bearing on the latter's fate in human hands? Dose it create specific types of human-animal interactions that are Sinitic and different from Western types? The research team intends to investigate these questions, which answers are likely to be complex.

 

Members

fellow

Nir Avieli

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Ben-Gurion University
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Prof. Nir Avieli is a cultural anthropologist. Avieli has been conducting ethnographic research in Vietnam since the late 1990’s, focusing on food and foodways. Within the research group he will expand the scope of his research on animals in contemporary Vietnamese society in several directions. He will further explore the social categorization of the edible and inedible in Vietnam and the social and cultural contexts that allow and even enhance transgression of prohibitions and taboos relating to animal meat, emphasizing the role played by age and gender in such processes and contexts. He will study the changing cultural meanings and social positions of water buffaloes, a central pillar of traditional Vietnamese farming and farming society, vis-a-vis agricultural modernization. He will explore the changing trends regarding animals in the domestic sphere in contemporary Vietnam and the shift from “decorative animals” (such golden fish and songbirds) to pets, mainly dogs and cats. He will also investigate continuity and change in rituals that involve dragons and unicorns, mythical animals that materialize in various ways in contemporary ritual.

 

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david bello

David Bello

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Washington and Lee University
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Prof. Bello's research focuses on the Qing Empire as a Human-Animal Construct. The Qing dynasty (1644-1912) governed a variety of ecologies and cultures across East Asia, Inner Asia and Southeast Asia. This required Qing environmental orchestration of human relations with livestock and game in Inner Asia, with insect herbivore predators and agricultural domesticates in East Asia and with insect disease vectors in Southeast Asia, to name only the major categories.

Read more about Prof. Bello here.

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fellow

Noa Grass

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Independent Scholar
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Noa Grass is working on the horse administration of Ming China. She has recently completed an article on frontier horse ranches in the early decades of the dynasty. During the time at the institute of advanced studies, she plans to work on temples to the horse god that were constructed near ranches both on the border and inland. Built and maintained by local official or military units, these temples were visited regularly by chief military officers that visited periodically to preside over rituals, and provided lodgings for officials that came to inspect the horses. They therefore served as a meeting point between local social and national administrative elements of the horse administration.

Read more about Noa Grass here.

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jianxiong ma

Jianxiong Ma

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The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
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Prof. Ma Jianxiong is a specialist in the history and anthropology of Southwest China, especially the borderlands between China and Myanmar. As part of the research group he will work on the mule caravans that acted as the transportation links that integrated the mountainous zones of subtropical Southwest China, tropical Southeast Asia and highland Eastern Tibet. This transportation system provided a multi-layer social and physical networks of political, social and economic exchanges and mobility. A fundamental part of this network were the human-animal relationships.

 

Read more about Prof. Ma Jianxiong here.

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Marchina Charlotte

Charlotte Marchina

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INALCO
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Charlotte Marchina is an anthropologist and Associate Professor in Mongolian Language and Culture at INALCO (National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations), Paris. After graduating in both Mongolian and Russian Studies, Charlotte Marchina obtained her PhD in anthropology. Her doctoral research focused on human-animal coexistence, communication and collaboration in nomadic pastoralism among the Mongols of Mongolia and Southern Siberia.

Read more about Dr Charlotte Marchina here.

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Hien Minh Ngo

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University of Da Nang
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Prof. Ngo Minh Hien focuses on the manifestations of nature and nature symbolism in modern (mostly 20th century) Vietnamese literature. While working with the research group, she will explore human-animal relations in late colonial, Socialist and post-revolutionary Vietnamese literature and follow the changes and developments in these relations in different political and social contexts. Specifically, Hien will engage with domestic animals: water buffaloes, pigs, chicken, ducks, dogs and cats. These animals were, and still are, essential components of Vietnamese rural system, food culture, myth and religion.

 

 

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meir shahar

Meir Shahar

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Tel Aviv University
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Prof. Shahar Meir is a historian of Chinese religion. He intends to focus upon the representations, roles, and attitudes towards animals in the Chinese religious tradition. Meir intends to pay special attention to the tutelary deities of draft animals, such as the Horse King (which protects horses, donkeys, and mules), the Ox King (which protects oxen and water buffaloes), and the Silkworm Goddess (which protects silkworms). These deities are widely worshiped by people whose livelihood depends upon their beastly protégés. Furthermore, human and animal tutelary deities are often worshiped side by side, indicating an existential affinity between draft animals and their human masters. Human and non-human animals are equally vulnerable and similarly in need of divine protection.

Read more about Prof. Shahar here.

 

 

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Gideon Shelach-Lavi

Gideon Shelach-Lavi

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Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Prof. Shelach-Lavi is an archaeologist who specialized in the Neolithic and Bronze Age of North China. His project will focus on the process of animal domestication in north China and how this fundamental process shaped the nature of human-animal relations. On one level, this research addresses the interdependency that was forged between humans and animals in this region. On another level, through the examination of the depiction of animals in prehistoric art, the treatment of animals in ritualistic contexts, and in written sources (such as the Oracle Bones documents) it will also address the formation of animal categorization by human and the powers and supernatural traits attributed to animals by different societies in North China during the Neolithic and Bronze Age (c. 6000-500 BCE). The work of Prof. Shelach-Lavi will contribute to our group by broadening our chronological scope to include the prehistoric and protohistoric periods, and by addressing the formative period in the development of animal-human relations in the Sinitic world.

 

Read more about Prof. Shelach-Lavi here.

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