“The ‘Travelling Monk with Tiger’ paintings of Dunhuang Caves: Rethinking a Pan-Asian nonhuman”
The paintings of the ‘travelling monk with tiger’ found in the Dunhuang caves, China, believed to be from the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties raise questions as to the symbolism of the tiger and its supposed relation to the spread of Buddhism to that part of the world. Through a keen study of the image of the tiger in pre-Buddhist times and the symbolism of the tiger in ancient China, this paper suggests that these Dunhuang paintings need to be understood in a more ‘cosmopolitan’ light. Blending anthropological studies on nonhumans with studies in history and art history, this paper suggests that the trope of the ‘travelling monk with tiger’ might have just as much to do with the arrival of Islam in the Tang dynasty than with the spread of Buddhism. But beyond this, the paper will also look at how the image of the tiger has been deployed in political contexts all through Asia, both in pre-modern as well as in modern times.
“(Un)Charted Waters: Hydraulic Infrastructures in Zaanheh and Shanghai”
Zaanheh, the romanization of contemporary Shanghai’s pronunciation in the local Wu dialect, is proposed as a heuristic device to help recover a glimpse of the complex historical contingencies that no longer exist. Zaanheh envelops a set of historically verifiable cultural practices, social relations, political institutions, ecological landscapes, and moral sentiments. Taken together, Zaanheh represents an urban contingency that was once lived but is now long forgotten. Illustrated with examples from seemingly discrete episodes about hydraulic infrastructures, my presentation juxtaposes Zaanheh and contemporary Shanghai, and examines the longue durée through which native ways of water stewardship in Zaanheh were challenged and ultimately conquered by European means of water management in Shanghai. In Zaanheh, generations of people pursued water as an integrated component of infrastructure, whereas in Shanghai, infrastructural projects were pursued to overcome and tame water. Clouded by racial and imperialist impulses, European settlers looked but could not see Zaanheh. They looked at a land with some of the most established systems of hydraulic infrastructures, but only saw uncharted territories. There, they saw fit to begin to transform a supposedly blank slate into the city of neon lights.
Annu JALAIS is an anthropologist working on the human / animal interface, on migration and Bengali identity and on environmental questions focusing particularly on Bangladesh and India. She is the author of Forest of Tigers: People, Politics and Environment in the Sundarbans (Routledge, 2010) and the co-author of The Bengal Diaspora: Rethinking Muslim Migration (Routledge, 2015) and is Assistant Professor at the South Asian Studies of the National University of Singapore.
Yifei LI is assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU Shanghai, and Global Network Assistant Professor at NYU. Prior to joining NYU Shanghai, he taught sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research examines environmental governance in China, focusing on questions about bureaucracy, urban sustainability, and disaster resilience. His recent work has appeared in CUrrent Sociology, Environmental Sociology, Journal of Environmental management, and other scholarly outlets. He has received research support from the United States National Science Foundation, the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, the China Times Cultural Foundation, The Shanghai Municipal Government and other extramural sources.