China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Studies of the relationship between the center and periphery in imperial China tend to hinge on the tenuous assumption that there exists a clear-cut distinction between two stagnant geographic entities and their populations. This presumed duality between static concepts is inherently problematic. Our interdisciplinary panel demonstrates that the travel of objects, texts and practices profoundly altered the center-periphery dynamics as the travelling agents assumed new social meanings upon their entry into novel cultural spheres, particularly at times when the border-periphery relationship was instrumental to political discourse.
Andreeva’s study proposes the concept of a “double periphery” in the Warring States as sedentary elites in the northern frontier zone consolidated their political clout by adapting elements from nomadic art, thus envisioning themselves as a center with a nomadic periphery rather than a periphery to a single Chinese center. Zhang explores an Inner Mongolian cemetery dated to the Northern Wei as evidence that the fusion of burial concepts from various external origins turned the imagined periphery into a center in its own right. Mi examines how structural innovation of the “fu” (rhapsody) lent marginalized literati in Yuan authority to destabilize correlations between cultural and geographic centers. While they elevated the first-time imperial capital Dadu as the empire's cultural hub during political stability, this geographic association immediately dissolved after the Dynasty fell into disorder. Pratte’s study of Qing mapping projects related to the Mongolian frontier territories shows the crucial role and agency of local actors in the negotiation of mapping practices endorsed by the imperial center.