scan of book chapter from 1628 China showing images of "fantastical beasts" and "foreign and mythical peoples"

Image from the chapter “Various Foreign Things,” featuring fantastical beasts and foreign and mythical peoples, in "The Newly Carved, Mr. Chen Meigong’s Complete Compilation of the Strange/Noteworthy from Ten-Thousand Scrolls 新刻眉公陳先生編輯諸書備採萬卷搜奇全書" (1628), digitized by the Harvard Yenching Library – National Taiwan University Library.

Project (2023-2025)

The Strange as Knowledge: Collecting the Anomalous and Marvelous within Late Imperial China

In this project, I am interested in how the strange was conceived as an ontological, epistemological, and moral category within Chinese encyclopedias from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What did the strange consist of and in what ways did it constitute knowledge? Starting with the late-Imperial vernacular encyclopedias—the Wanbao Quanshu (Complete Book of Myriad Treasures)—this project will attempt to situate attitudes and strategies of defining, presenting, and using the strange within the encylopedic, taxonomic, and vernacular natures of these texts. The project proposes that looking at the strange in the encyclopedia is not only an opportunity to delineate the normal and obvious and understand how the bizarre and marvelous were objects of knowledge, but also a way to see sites of contention about what there is, what can be known and experienced, and how one should be in the world.