Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | LIAS Lunch Talk Series

A Social History of Elephant Watching and Elephant Keepers in Early Modern China

Thursday 23 November 2023

1.04 (Verbarium)


This talk examines the social history of washing elephants and elephant keepers in late imperial China. Elephants were native to early China, but they had migrated to the southwest margin of the country and Southeast Asia by the tenth century. After the Song dynasty, they were brought back to the capital as tributary animals or diplomatic gifts. They entered the public arena as being used in imperial rituals such as court audiences and processions. The first half of the talk examines how washing elephants in the capital's city moat underwent a transformation, evolving into a captivating urban spectacle. This phenomenon not only instigated the creation of various artworks but also took on additional layers of social significance. The second half of the talk traces the etymology, social identity, and material life of elephant keepers as well as their representation in various modes of visual imagery. 

About the speaker

Fan Lin is an art historian at the Institute of Area Studies at Leiden University. She earned a Phd in Art History and East Asian Studies at McGill University, Montreal. Her research interests focus on mapmaking and material culture in middle period China. Her recent publications include The Shadow of Prosperity: Fake Goods and Anxiety in Song Urban Space (2019), Knowledge, Power, and Technology: Diagrams of Troop Formation in Early Song Military History (2021), and Bifurcated Memory: A Cultural Biography of the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing (2022). 

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