Papers on Premodern History III

Encounters
Tuesday
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room 2

  • Bryce Heatherly, “Commentaries Illustrated: New Methods for Visual Exegesis in a Ming (1368–1644) Woodblock Print of the Diamond Sutra”
  • Sebestyén Hompot, “Zheng He’s Missions: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Current Mainland Chinese Historiography”
  • Xiaobai Hu, “Exploring the Foreign Land: The Founder of Ming China and His Tibet Experiments”
  • Leiyun Ni, “Provision as a Negotiation Site: Sino-Anglo Encounters in Canton”

Bryce Heatherly, “Commentaries Illustrated: New Methods for Visual Exegesis in a Ming (1368–1644) Woodblock Print of the Diamond Sutra”

This paper examines a specific mode of illustration designed to accompany printed editions of one of the most widely-recited sutras in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Diamond Sutra (Jin’gang jing 金剛經). In a rare illustrated edition of this sutra, printed four times throughout the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), the sutra text itself is imbedded with 46 full-page “commentarial illustrations,” which visually interpret various historical commentaries on the Diamond Sutra. Since the advent of woodblock printing in China, printed illustrations of the Diamond Sutra have employed a variety of para-sutraic visual modes, yet previous studies have focused either on sutra frontispieces (feihua 扉畫) or on illustrations of miracle tales (lingyan gushi tu 靈驗故事圖). To date, no comprehensive study has been conducted on the role of commentarial illustrations in these sutra prints. This essay, while examining the textual origins of the commentaries – some penned by religious luminaries like Huineng 慧能 (638–713), others by little-known lay scholars – demonstrates that these illustrations are not subordinate to their texts, but rather constitute their own “text,” which serves the dual functions of edification and entertainment. Setting these illustrations within the development of the illustrated sutra in China, this paper engages with the broader scholarly discourses on the aesthetic dimensions of woodblock printing, and the shifting relationships between text and image, readership and viewership.

Sebestyén Hompot, “Zheng He’s Missions: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Current Mainland Chinese Historiography”

The present paper investigates the mainland Chinese academic discourse of the last 20 years on the Zheng He missions (1405–1433) of the early Ming period. The theory and methodology of the relevant research project is based on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), most notably the approach of the Duisburg School (Margret Jäger, Siegfried Jäger, et al.) and the Discourse-Historical Approach of Ruth Wodak et al., with further insights gained from scholarship on CDA in the Chinese context. The research project involves quantitative analysis relying on digital tools (publication statistics, citation networks, word frequencies), CDA-based qualitative analysis of a selected number of relevant academic works, as well as expert interviews as part of a research stay in China (March–April 2020). The research project is intended to explore the recent trends in mainland Chinese research on the Zheng He missions, the underlying global and domestic power relations and ideologies, in order to analyze the relevance of Zheng He historiography for the framing of national and global history in China, as well as for the country’s cultural diplomacy.

Xiaobai Hu, “Exploring the Foreign Land: The Founder of Ming China and His Tibet Experiments”

Between the two founders of Ming China, Zhu Yuanzhang and Zhu Di, scholarly attention has been quite imbalanced when it comes to their relationships with Tibet.
While Zhu Di showed great enthusiasm toward Tibet and frequently invited Tibetan hierarchs to his court, Zhu Yuanzhang’s attitude for this westerly foreign land remained understudied. This paper examines Zhu Yuanzhang’s Tibet policies in the context of Yuan-Ming transition. Being a spiritual realm during the Yuan era where Mongol Khans’ theocratic legitimacy came from, Tibet was hard to position in the Ming founder’s imagined world. Therefore, Zhu Yuanzhang constantly improvised his Tibet policies in the wake of changing geopolitical situations and for different audiences and pragmatic reasons. The first section scrutinizes Zhu Yuanzhang’s early diplomatic contacts with Tibet and challenges the tributary interpretation that dominated the scholarship of Ming-Tibet relationship. The second section examines how Zhu Yuanzhang roped Tibet with the Mongol issue from 1375 to 1380 and resorted to military and coercion policies with an aggressive attitude; The third section studies the shift of Zhu Yuanzhang’s reliance from Tibetan secular rulers to spiritual leaders. By the end of the 14th century, Hezhou–Taozhou region was chosen to be the new Tibetan Buddhist centre in contract to the previous one at Lintao during the Mongol era. It is the back-and-forth in Zhu Yuanzhang’s Tibet policies that constituted his preliminary empire-building agenda and laid the foundation for Ming-Tibet interaction in the following centuries.

Leiyun Ni, “Provision as a Negotiation Site: Sino-Anglo Encounters in Canton”

This paper aims examines the structure of food supply system of the English East India Company in Canton and its role in the power dynamics between China and Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. Previous studies on provision for EIC focused on its features as a trade and its impact on the entire Canton system. Rather than merely regarding the food supply as a business, this paper argues that it was the provision that linked different groups of people involved in this trade. Provision kept them alive, not just physically, but also politically, socially and culturally. Provisions were essential not only because they nourished human bodies, but also because of their cultural, social and political meanings and functions that channeled this trading system. Communications, negotiations and conflicts were permeable in every process of provision system. People involved in this trade had to tackle with linguistic, geographical and cultural barriers to ensure food and drink were provided sufficiently and satisfactorily. It involved interpersonal relationships but also international and global networks. By examining the system of provision, it will help us understand the complexity of the mechanism of this global trade. I will use travel writings of individual British merchants, officers and sailors, official records of EIC in British library and National Archives and some American company’s accounts. Dictionaries in both English and Chinese published by Westerners and Chinese will also be used as my primary sources.

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Room 2
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Encounters