The seventh and early-eighth centuries have often been considered the period of “China’s Cosmopolitan Empire” on account of their relative tolerance of religious and ideological diversity, their acceptance of significant “foreign” populations in the capital and on the borderlands, and their active recruitment of non-“Han” ethnicities into the military and civil ranks. At the same time, however, surviving texts from this period also evince attitudes no less xenophobic than those found in texts from the ninth through eleventh centuries, when scholars have often claimed that China became less open to ethnocultural others. This talk will argue that what changes between these periods are not, in fact, contemporary attitudes towards “the barbarians,” who were almost universally reviled in surviving texts from throughout the Tang. Instead, changing ideas about texts themselves, and about the ways that texts should ideally operate within the world, produced a transformation in how longstanding and relatively unchanging tropes about ethnocultural others were understood and deployed. The apparent decline of elite “cosmopolitan” attitudes from the seventh century to the tenth thus reflects, in significant part, a shift in literary theory.
This talk is part of the Harvard University China Humanities Seminars series, sponsored by the Mahindra Humanities Center and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.
【Please note that Professor Bender's talk will be recorded and archived on the MHC and EALC website. If you do not feel comfortable being recorded, please disable video for yourself. The Q&A session will not be videotaped. 】