Event — IIAS Lunch Lecture

Reimagining Beauty and the Beast: social stratification through human - animal metamorphosis at the Sino-Russian border

Dr Sayana Namsaraeva will discuss dehumanising narratives and new “bestiary” vocabularies at the Sino-Russian border

In this lunch lecture, IIAS fellow Dr Sayana Namsaraeva (Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge) will discuss dehumanising narratives and new “bestiary” vocabularies at the Sino-Russian border.

Following the ancient Greek and Roman traditions other accounts of imaginary beasts were added in medieval European bestiaries mostly to talk allegorically about immorality of the non-Christian Pagan world by depicting them as wild beasts, non-human or half-human creatures. On the contrary, China also has developed its own symbolic system  to depict their China-centered cosmology tianxia (all under Heaven) as being divided between those who lived according “Chinese ways” and those who didn’t follow “Chinese ways”  and live in beast-like condition in barbaric (藩部)peripheries of Chinese civilization. However, the myths of monstrous creatures inhabiting borderlands still persists, and the Sino-Russian border is a vivid example how  human-animal mythology produces new monsters at the borders of modern states.

Based on Georgio Agamben’s concept of “anthropological machine” (2004), my presentation analyses  dehumanising narratives and new “bestiary” vocabulary developed by Chinese and Russians, who are involved in border trade in a border city Manzhouli (满洲里), to talk about race, ethnicity and their  social status in the local border society. Who are these “shaved pigs”, “old cats”, “old half-cats”, “camels” and “half-camels”, “devils”, “snakes”, “werewolves” and “dogs” the border society comprises of here?  And why border politics as an “anthropological machine” contrasts humanity and animality, and  divides border society into humans and less-humans ?  

In addition, my presentation discusses other narratives, such as shape shifting (from Ugly to Fairy) mostly widespread among Russian female traders, new Chinese beauty ideas expressed locally in the notion of the “Russian Beauty”.   

About IIAS Lunch Lectures

Every month, an IIAS researcher or visiting scholar will present his or her work-in-progress in an informal setting to colleagues and other interested attendees. IIAS organises these lunch lectures to give the research community the opportunity to freely discuss ongoing research and exchange thoughts and ideas.