China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In response to a “sensory turn” that has occurred in the humanities over recent decades, this panel aims to contribute to historical research into the sensory by bringing to light Chinese concepts, practices, and experiences with a focus on the late imperial and early Republican eras. We propose an approach that stresses a (re)thinking of the senses, with an emphasis on social and cultural constructions of the senses. Instead of privileging vision, this panel asserts the equal importance of ocular, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory senses, as well as cross/multi senses, for a more profound understanding of embodied Chinese experiences and their modern transformations. Both Widmer and Huang engage in the re-reading of Honglong meng from overlooked perspectives to reconstruct sensory experiences in the 18th century. Garnering the evidence of the blind female singers in the novel, Widmer examines how the characters with impaired sight find enhanced musicality as a way of coping with their situation. Through delineating intricate details of aroma and their symbolic meanings associated with female characters, Huang delves into the role of smell and its connection with interiority and the literary imagination. Both Isaacson and Wu examine sensory experience evoked through and beyond modern visuality. Isaacson argues that the hybrid image-text in the Dianshizhai Pictorial created a sensorium of time and space, through which new aesthetic experience of development was rendered. Wu’s paper sheds light on romantic intimacy and tactile experiences in relation to modern affective life through the cultural practices of translation, moviegoing and mimesis.