China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Serious engagement with material culture could contribute to the development of agency theories, the concepts of which have been enthusiastically adopted and hotly debated in many disciplines. Action and practice are important components of agency theories, but how do artifacts reflect intentionality of their creators and users? How do they both serve as material records of human actions and constitute the social and cultural framework in which those actions took place? Do artifacts have an impact on human actions, cross-cultural contact, and social change? These questions have rarely been systematically investigated in the study of early China; the case studies in this panel, focusing on interaction between dynastic China and other cultures, will try to address these questions critically and reveal the intricate relationships between artifacts, cross-cultural contact, and the human factors behind them. Investigating the artifacts from three Upper Xiajiadian Culture tombs, Sun Yan reveals their impact on social complexity and cultural exchange between the Zhou and the northern frontier. By analyzing some Warring States period artifacts with named manufacturers, Xiaolong Wu highlights the role of artisans’ agency in shaping elite material culture and trans-Eurasian cultural exchange. Examining the stone sarcophagus of Li Dan, a sixth-century Brahmin buried in Xi’an, Mandy Wu argues that its hybrid pictorial program shows the journey of a Brahmin’s soul to brahmaloka. Sheri Lullo’s paper historicizes the shifting agency of a Chinese stone lion as an enduring ritual symbol, both in China and later on a college campus in the US.