Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"Reimagining Beauty and the Beast: Social Stratification Through Human Animal Metamorphosis" Lunch Lecture Oct 18 2016 by IIAS

Polish Tales - Justyna Patecka - Dobrochoczy
You may wonder why we are highlighting this lecture when its purpose is primarily to better understand Asian social realities in a global context, but bear with us. The way this lecture presents and discusses animal descriptions of peoples (groups on the fringe of accepted society, for instance) to shed light on societal thinking, dovetails very well with fairy tale studies of tale types using transformed people, beast-people and even talking beasts. Try to have this in mind when you read the abstract.

Psoglav (Serbian: Псоглави, literally doghead)
Artist Unknown

First a little about the IIAS, as their knowledge sharing and collaboration is inspiring, and is similar to the philosophy held by fairy tale scholars and enthusiasts we greatly respect.

The International Institute for Asian Studies researches humanities and social sciences, encouraging global knowledge exchange with both academic and non-academic institutes, linking expertise around the globe. Almost all they do is collaborative in nature and inclusive. Based in the Netherlands, they hold international conferences, workshops, seminars, roundtables, and interactive think-tanks for a wide diversity of scholars and experts as well as public lectures. (Sounds great doesn't it?!)

This particular presentation is Lunch Lecture* by visiting scholar Dr Sayana Namsaraeva.

Below is the abstract. We have put in bold the aspects that piqued our interest:      
Reimagining Beauty and the Beast: social stratification through human - animal metamorphosis 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.

Dr Sayana Namsaraeva
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.

Ve, Marian Murawski
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”.   

You can get more information and register for the lecture HERE.
Beauty and the Beast by Gabriel Pacheco

* 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.


  1. Sounds fascinating! Would love to hear this...

  2. Fascinating. The belief in vampires also seemms to increase in regions wheredifferent cultures clash. For examle the vampire pandemic after the Ottoman-Venetian War. Parts of Serbia and Bosnia were forcefully integrated into the Austrian Empire amnd orthodox refugess were located in this area. And it is exactly in this area that reports of vampire attacks suddenly started to be reported by the natives. The orthodox peasants and catholic governors saw the practices of the natives - to dig up the corpses of alleged vampires and cut off their heads as grave desecration and multiple laws were passed to contain the phenomenon. Which eventually worked, but not before many fruitless attempts.