Virtual Symposium: The Margins of the Human in Medieval China

Date of event:   01/06/2022 − 03/06/2022

Title: The Margins of the Human in Medieval China
Series: Harvard-Yale Symposium Series on Middle Period China – A series of symposia on the first through tenth centuries CE
Format: Online over Zoom
Duration: 1st to 3rd June 2022
Organized by: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA


What constitutes being human? What are the boundaries or fuzzy edges of humanity? What can we learn from exploring the margins of humanity? These questions lie at the heart of this symposium, which will bring together twelve scholars across a variety of fields to consider how concepts analogous to our contemporary idea of “the human” were defined and debated in Medieval China. We hope that the papers assembled for the symposium will open new, interdisciplinary vistas on the ways in which ethnocultural others, sociological underclasses, striking and different individuals, animals and gods, and ex- and future-humans were conceptualized and written about in the medieval period, and on the ways in which these marginal beings expressed and challenged the self-understandings of the authors of the materials that survive to us.

The symposium will be held via Zoom from 10am to 1pm, EST, on June 1st through June 3rd, 2022. Registration is free and open to the public. Questions and comments can be directed to the symposium’s graduate coordinator, Baiqian Bian, at, or to the organizers, Luke Bender and Xiaofei Tian.


Wednesday, June 1 – Panel One: Transformations

10:00 am EST – 10:35 A Cosmos of Self-Cultivators: Encounters and Transformations across Kinds in China, 100 BCE–700 CE
Robert F. Campany
10:40 – 11:15 On the Brink of Godhood: The Investiture of Extraterrestrial Titles in 4th century CE Daoism
Jonathan Pettit
11:30 am – 12:05pm Skilled Imposters: Animals in Human Bodies
Sarah M. Allen
12:10 – 12:45 The Human to Tiger Transformation in Tang Narratives
Manling Luo
12:45 – 1:00 General Discussion


Thursday, June 2 – Panel Two: Shifting Geographies

10:00 am EST – 10:35 The Ghost at the Margin of the Human
Jack W. Chen
10:40 – 11:15 Monstrous Islands in the Tang-Song Maritime Imaginary
Shao-yun Yang
11:30 pm – 12:05pm The Shifting Geography of the Human in Tang Times
Lucas Rambo Bender
12:10 – 12:45 Human Anomalies and the Temporality of Norms in Ancient and Medieval China
Hsiao-wen Cheng
12:45 – 1:00 General Discussion


Friday, June 3 – Panel Three: Barbarians and Slaves

10:00 am EST – 10:35 From Outlanders to Slaves: The Subjugation of Kunlun Peoples in Tang China
Don J. Wyatt
10:40 – 11:15 Wuman(s) and non-Wuman(s) in medieval China: Classifying People in Fan Chuo’s Manshu (Book of the Barbarians)
Alexis Lycas
11:30 – 12:05pm Making Commoners from Slaves and Indigenous Peoples: Liu Zongyuan and the Tang State’s Efforts to Classify Humans in the Lingnan Region, 800–900 CE
Zekun Zhang
12:10 – 12:45 The Marvelous, the Quotidian, the Macabre: Discovering Humanity in Tang Representations of Slaves
          Xiaofei Tian
12:45 – 1:00 General Discussion