Queering the late imperial Chinese Zhiguai tales: strange encounters in the non/human realm

  • Thomas W. Whyke

    Student thesis: PhD Thesis


    This thesis uses critical theory to examine animal–human relationships in the zhiguai tales [志怪小说], using Deleuze and Guattari as the theoretical framework alongside which I draw on aspects of queer theory and animal studies to think through several intersecting ‘othernesses,’ including the ‘queer,’ the ‘animal,’ and the ‘strange.’ Zhiguai is a well-known transliteration for “Tales of the Strange,” a genre of writing featuring ghosts, magical animal–human shapeshiftings, dreams that intervene in reality, and other supernatural characters and events. In this thesis, the strange comes to the forefront in the figure of the non/human – a two-fold figure made up of both ‘human’ and ‘animal.’ Throughout this thesis I appropriate the term ‘queerkind’ to foreground this ‘strange’ figure, which cannot be wholly generalized as ‘the animal,’ but is instead a magical creature most often existing between ‘human’ and ‘animal.’ The traditional scholarly approach to the zhiguai tales has been to understand the non/humans in these tales as purely allegorical representations of humans and human society. This thesis, however, does not only consider the figurative potential of non/human figures as questioning social and political issues, but also approaches them from the perspective of their distinct supernatural qualities, or the importance of “non/human” bodies in the stories, to complicate anthropocentric readings of the zhiguai tales. In this thesis, while broadly informed by queer theory and animal studies, I am specifically using Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of becoming, affect, and assemblage to argue for a rhizomatical reading and approach to the zhiguai tales, aimed at exploring the affects of ‘queerkind’ ‘animals.’ I therefore also use Noreen Giffney and Myra Hird’s concept of “queering the non/human” as a foundation which finds an affable conjunction with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theories, to provide a space for thinking about the fragile and porous boundary between human and animal in the zhiguai tales. I suggest that the blurring of the boundary between animal and human is crucial in shaping the non/human realm of zhiguai through the strange animal-human kinships and erotic encounters we discover there. I specifically argue that affects of these ‘queerkind’ are firstly within the text, as figures of boundary-crossing and ambiguity (humans/animals, alluring/dangerous, just/violent, strange/familiar); secondly beyond the text, affecting the reader through enchantment, anxiety, and titillation. I contextualize kinship and erotic relationships through the competing classical Chinese philosophies of naturalistic Daoism and humanistic Confucianism, which I read alongside Deleuze and queer theory.
    Date of Award8 Jul 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Univerisity of Nottingham
    SupervisorLily Yu (Supervisor)


    • Zhiguai Tales
    • Non/human
    • Deleuze
    • Queer Theory

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