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October 21, 2011

International Conference: Imperial China and Its Southern Neighbours

Imperial China and Its Southern Neighbours
Organized by the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS, Singapore
Location: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
Dates: 28-29 June, 2012

A. Rationale:
The northern periphery of China, from the late Neolithic and the Bronze Age up to modern times, has been carefully scrutinized, both by Chinese scholars and foreign researchers. Even traditional Chinese sources, such as the standard histories, devote considerable attention to the peoples, cultures, and states of the northern and northwestern border regions of the Chinese heartland. Since the Chinese state began in the northern portion of its current configuration and received demonstrable, formative inputs from the north and northwest, it is understandable that correspondingly greater attention would be paid to the north than to the south, particularly during the early periods of the development of the Chinese nation. In contrast, the southern rim of China has been relatively poorly studied, despite the fact that the languages, ethnic groups, and cultures of the south are every bit as complex, interesting, and important as those of the north.

In this conference, we propose to remedy this disparity by giving due emphasis to the south as a vital region of social, economic, and cultural interaction between Sinitic and non-Sinitic peoples. First, however, we must recognize that “the south” has not been a fixed entity or a static, well-defined region during the last three millennia of Chinese history. Rather, it has been defined by a continuously changing, amorphous boundary with the north. Indeed, there has been a gradual encroachment of the north upon the south. This has been documented in modern scholarship already more than half a century ago by Harold J. Wiens, China’s March Toward the Tropics (1954; also published under at least one other title), and C. P. Fitzgerald, The Southern Expansion of the Chinese People (1972).

A dramatic change occurred around the time of the fall of the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316) and the founding of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420). This was a time of crisis in the northern heartland, one which was precipitated by climatic distress and consequent geopolitical realignments. The net effect was to catapult large numbers of northerners southward, quickening the pace of expansion and assimilation.

The aim of this conference is to go beyond the bare facts of history in an attempt to understand the dynamics of north-south interaction and exchange. Through examination of art, literature, material culture, trade patterns, and other cultural and economic manifestations, we seek to show that the communication between north and south was by no means unidirectional and that it had profound consequences for diverse aspects of society throughout East Asia, Southeast Asia, and beyond. For example, much of what is referred to as Taoist religion actually consists of elements and practices transmitted from the south. Another salient characteristic of late medieval Chinese culture was tea drinking, but this too was brought from the “barbarian” south. Such conspicuous instances of the northern assimilation of southern culture prompt us to ask precisely what were the mechanisms whereby such aspects of culture were transmitted and what were the processes by means of which they became a part of the national culture.

We wish to emphasize that, although we begin with the premise of an originally northern-based China interacting with and encroaching upon the south, it is not our intention for this to be a China-centered conference. Instead, we would also like to investigate how the south viewed the north and assimilated aspects of northern culture. Only through a balanced approach that gives due recognition both to the north and to the south do we feel that full justice can be done to the theme of our conference.

This conference will bring together scholars who work on various groups living in the southern reaches of China and in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Our focus will not be restricted only to contiguous land masses, but will also take into account the burgeoning ocean trade and migration that have occurred during the last two millennia and more. Naturally, both insular and continental societies will be taken into consideration.

We do not want to give the impression that our subject area is one of virgin territory. Indeed, much valuable scholarship on the relationship between the north of China and the south has accumulated during the last couple of centuries. A good indication of the state of our field may be had by perusing the classic work by Wang Gungwu entitled The Nanhai Trade: Early Chinese Trade in the South China Sea (1954) and the collection of materials in China and Southeast Asia, Routledge Library on Southeast Asia, 6 vols. (London: Routledge, 2009). Nonetheless, we believe that the time is ripe to take stock of the current level of knowledge and bring to bear new bodies of evidence from diverse disciplines.

Our overall purpose is to better understand the nature of the societies and cultures that lie to the south of the Chinese heartland and to bring the south into the mainstream of historical studies.

B. Keynote lecture
The keynote lecture for this conference will be given by Professor Wang Gungwu, Chairman of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

C. Call for papers
This 2-day conference will examine the following questions and problems that are germane to understanding the relationship between north and south: geographical terminology (e.g., China, Jiangnan, East Asia, the East Asian Heartland, the Extended East Asian Heartland, the Yellow River Valley, the Yangtze River Valley, Southern China, Lingnan); transmission of literary themes and genres; linguistic interactions; artistic and musical interplay; folkloristic motifs; trade and migration patterns; religious missions and pilgrims; etc. The timeframe of the conference covers from the earliest periods of interaction between the Yellow River Valley and the lands to the south up to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1911).

Paper proposals are invited from scholars engaged in any aspect of related studies. Proposals should be received by no later than 19 November 2011, and successful applicants will be informed of their acceptance by 10 December 2011. Proposals should include a title and a 400-word abstract, together with a short biography of the applicant.

Selected papers from the conference will be published in a volume edited by Victor H. Mair.

All participants will be provided with three nights accommodation in Singapore. Requests for assistance with airfares, especially from participants based in Asian countries, will be sympathetically considered.

Proposals should be directed to:
Imperial China and Its Southern Neighbours Conference
Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies
30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace
Singapore 119614
e-mail: nscconferences@iseas.edu.sg

Please note the conference title in the Subject line of your email

Organizing committee:
Victor H. Mair
Tansen Sen
Geoff Wade
John Miksic
Lu Caixia

Posted by katemw at October 21, 2011 11:40 AM

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