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98. Power, People, and Animals in Asia, Part 2 of 3

Fri, March 17, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Lower Concourse, Grand Ballroom West

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel

Abstract

People throughout Asia have harnessed some animals’ physical capabilities for menial tasks or economic gain and used others to represent or enforce political, military, or spiritual influence. Animals and power are inseparable, from war horses, battle-ready elephants, and tributary dogs and falcons in royal retinues and imperial armies, through yoked bullocks in the humblest of homes across Asia’s mainland and island territories.

But how have individual species actually related to power and the more or less powerful? In what ways have animals created Asian worlds or reshaped Asian experiences? How have different cultures come to understand what animals (and humans) are, in terms of a monkey’s intellect, a tiger’s emotional range, a large bovid’s spirituality, a mule’s capacity for suffering, a fisherman’s relationship with his catch, or the value-adding potential of a civet’s digestive tract? Conversely, how have animals experienced these relationships? Under what circumstances have populations collapsed, territories contracted or expanded, ecologies altered, and new breeds (or other culturally specific groupings) such as the zebrule, pet tiger, or quasi-sacred buffalo come into being?

Focusing on non-Han China and South and Southeast Asia from colonial times through the present, and crossing the fields of history, art history, and anthropology, the goal of this three-part panel is to think beyond human exploitation of animals as mere symbols and bodies. Power is mutually constituted and therefore we start from the premise that animals are co-agents, so much a part of “human” experience that no scholarly discipline can afford to discount their importance.

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