The 2021 MLA Call for Papers

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
LLC Pre-14th-Century Chinese Forum
contact email: 

The 2021 General Call for Papers

 (LLC Pre-14th-Century Chinese Forum)

(MLA Annual Convention Jan 7-10, 2021, Toronto) The following is a summary of call for papers from three panel sessions. The deadline of abstract submission is March 15, 2020. Abstract submission details are at the end of each panel description.


1.      Panel Title: Animal Perversions


Short description:

This session will examine the eroticization (or non-eroticization) of particular animals within the pre-14th century Chinese cultural sphere, with specific attention to questions of sexuality, fetish, ethics, and species identity.



Why are certain animals eroticized in particular literary and cultural traditions, but not in others? Spurred on in part by the aesthetic disaster and troubling eroticism that is Tom Hooper’s Cats, it is perhaps time to question the erotics of the animal in literary traditions, taking the Chinese literary tradition as a case in point. Here, we find a clear fetishization of the fox, whose mammalian attributes, graceful movements, and perceived intelligence make for a seductive and charming allure. At the same time, other animals, including the snake and the mythical dragon, are also fetishized, despite their cold bloodedness and scaliness, which makes for a radical alterity to the human, yet constitute a related cultural erotics. We may then ask why other animals are not fetishized in premodern China, from the horse to the bear to the fish, even as they are fetishized in other traditions. This session proposes to consider problems of animal sexualization, the ethics of bestiality, and imagined kinships and alterities.


Papers should address some aspect of the above session description and may take perspectives from outside of what is normally delimited as the “Chinese” tradition (i.e., from premodern Japan or Korea) or take comparative perspectives in terms of other historical periods or non-East Asian cultural traditions.


Please submit abstracts of ~250 words by March 15, 2020 to Sarah Allen (





2.    Panel Title: Questioning Harmony: Ecocritical Perspectives on Pre-14th Century Chinese Literary and Visual Culture


Short description:

This session questions the often-repeated “harmonious” view of human-nature relations to reveal the mutual impacts of human cultures and the earth’s systems in the interpretation of literary and visual works from pre-14th century China.



The ever more frequent environment crises that have led to our current era being coined the “Anthropocene” have also spurred reflection on the part of humanists in a search through premodern literary traditions for alternative ideas and models of the relationships between humans and nature. This includes promising recent work by scholars of East Asian literary traditions. Yet, even in the face of abundant historical evidence for the steady march of environment degradation in the pre-modern period, scholars in the humanities still must wrestle with the persistent view that East Asian traditions project a monolithic and essentialized “harmonious” relationship between humans and nature. We seek to question this ahistorical view of harmony and invite papers that adopt ecocritical perspectives on pre-14th century Chinese literary and visual culture. Without denying that the “harmonious” view is one stream among many in elite and popular discourses on the place of humans in nature, we look forward to papers that will take into consideration the dynamic interactions and mutual impacts of human cultures and the earth’s systems in the interpretation of literary texts or a combination of literary and visual evidence from the pre-14th century period in China.

Topics on how works from premodern Chinese literary and visual culture can be productively brought into dialogue with ecocriticism could include:


1- Persistence in the face of environmental crisis in premodern Chinese literary and visual texts

2- Interactions and confrontations between the human and non-human in poetry, prose, or narratives, such as the genre, “records of anomalies.”

3- Humanistic investigations or discoveries in the plant and animal world in poetry and prose on flora and fauna

4- Connections and tensions between development and nature in new genres on urban space or the frontier

5- The Gendering of the Nature/Culture binary or the deconstruction of this binary

Guidelines for proposal submission:

Please send your proposal to by March 15, 2020. In your paper proposal please include your 1) paper title, 2) email address, 3) institutional affiliation, 4) short bio of 50 words; and 5) 250-word abstract.


Suggested Readings:

Elvin, Mark. “Three Thousand Years of Unsustainable Growth: China’s Environment from Archaic Times to the Present.” East Asian History 6 (1993).

Hudson, Mark J. “Placing Asia in the Anthropocene: Histories, Vulnerabilities, Responses.” Journal of Asian Studies 73.4 (2014): 941-962.

Lee, De-nin. “Domesticated Landscapes of Li Gonglin: A View from the Anthropocene.” Journal of Song-Yuan Studies 45 (2015): 139-174.

---, ed. Eco-Art History in East and Southeast Asia. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019.

Tuan, Yi-fu. “Discrepancies between Environmental Attitude and Behaviour: Examples from Europe and China” Canadian Geographer 12.3 (1968).

Zhang, Ling. “Traditional Chinese and the Environment” in Demystifying China, New Understandings of Chinese History. Naomi Standen, ed. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013): 79-87.


3.    Panel Title: Standing Alone: Constructing Literati Persistence


Short description:

This session looks at literati responses to times of crisis in pre-14th China and explores the political, cultural, and literary meanings of “standing alone” (acting morally at the risk of alienation) in literary works.


State-centered discourses dominated public textuality in premodern China, but there was also always space for different voices to be heard in more private genres such as poetry and belletristic notebooks. In times of dynastic crisis, how did the Chinese literati respond to the call for political loyalty to a monarch? In face of a dominant literary tradition, how did individual talents articulate different perspectives and voices? And in particular, how did those advocating unpopular political positions or defending unpopular modes of inquiry and expression create their own spaces for thinking and writing?  These are very old questions endemic to the Chinese tradition, but this panel seeks to revisit them in the light of our contemporary “crisis of the humanities”: what are the resources which premodern literati drew upon, and how might their strategic situations and ours mutually illuminate one another? Proposals using various methodological approaches are most welcome.

 Guidelines for proposal submission:

Please send your proposal to Daniel Fried ( or Xiaowen Xu( by March 15, 2020. In your paper proposal please include your 1) paper title, 2) email address, 3) institutional affiliation, 4) short bio of 50 words; and 5)  250-word abstract.