The Face of the Nonhuman: Human-Animal Encounters in Pu Songling’s Liaozhai Zhiyi

In: Society & Animals
Thomas William Whyke Institute of China Studies, Zhejiang University International Business School Haining, Zhejiang China

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Melissa Shani Brown Sektion Politik Ostasiens, Ruhr-Universität Bochum Bochum Germany

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In this article, we expand the scholarly investigation of the representation of nonhuman animals (henceforth, “animals”) in historic literature, specifically focusing upon Pu Songling’s Liaozhai Zhiyi [Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio]. This is partially a response to other scholars who argue that blurred boundaries between human and nonhuman in this genre challenge anthropocentrism by rendering humans and animals as basically the same. This point is often contextualized with reference to traditional Chinese philosophies including Daoism. Drawing upon various tales within Liaozhai, we explore the forms of ethical reciprocity that are enabled through shapeshifting; however, we trouble the assertion that blurred physical boundaries necessarily de-center the human. We argue that despite the fact that animals can become human and vice versa, Liaozhai depicts a natural world which privileges “becoming-human” and naturalizes “human virtues.”

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