Monsters on the Margins: Tales of the Extrahuman on the Periphery (and Outside) of Mediaeval China

This talk will look at how the concepts of the human and extrahuman are manifested in the dominant psychospatial concepts of the centre and periphery, and the outside, of the empire in tales from the early mediaeval period of China. It will focus particularly on how locales such as ‘Persia’ (波斯) and ’Sichuan’ (蜀/劍南道) illustrate the understanding of the periphery and outside of the empire as realms of extrahuman activity in a variety of complex and dynamic ways ranging from the surreal to the subtle. Where these tales provide interesting insight into what was considered extrahuman at the time, they also help illustrate the boundaries and limitations of what their creators understood it meant to be human and thus of the empire and the centre.

Justin Winslett is a lecturer of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield and teaches Classical Chinese at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has a long standing engagement in teaching classes related to premodern China and his recent co-authored monograph A Spiritual Geography of Early Chinese Thought: God, Ancestors, and Afterlife looks at the representation of deities and concepts of divinity across a number of texts from Early China.