In Humanistic Buddhism, animals are similarly regarded as lacking introspective capabilities equal to those of human beings, although they are still worthy of respect and protection. As with all forms of Buddhism, birth as a human being is considered extremely advantageous, since only humans possess the capability to advance along the path to enlightenment. Humanistic Buddhism further emphasizes the advantageousness of human birth by calling attention the fact that Sakyamuni Buddha himself was a human being, and attained enlightenment as a human being. His human life remains our only model for how to develop our minds and conduct ourselves in this world. As Grand Master Xing Yun said in a speech in 1989, “The Buddha's very life as a human being has given us all an inspiration and a model for the spiritual path and for making our own lives a spiritual practice. The Buddhism that the Buddha gave us is humanistic” (Xing Yun, Buddha’s Light International Organization). For Grand Master Xing Yun, then, Buddhism essentially exists solely for humanity.
How then does Xing Yun reconcile this focus on humanity with his belief in animal rights? How does this attention on the here and now fit within with the Buddhist emphasis on the ideal realm, beyond the illusion of physical desires in the physical world? The simple answer lies in the title of his essay: “All have the heart of a Buddha.” The defining feature of Mahayana Buddhism, Humanistic or otherwise, is that all sentient beings have a Buddha Nature. Although animals and human beings have different appearances, behaviors, and perhaps even moral capabilities and karmic wealth, they all possess an equal potential to awaken and become a Buddha. This may happen now or in the next lifetime, or it may not happen for a thousand lifetimes, but all creatures from slugs to deer to monks all carry the latent ability to achieve enlightenment. In the introduction to Animal Essays, Xing Yun asserts that the potential Buddha Nature alone is reason enough to treat animals with compassion and respect. Every being is in a different place along the spiritual journey. Some humans can devote their lives to meditation, but for most of us, compassion and activism in this life is enough to propel us further along the path. Ultimately, this introductory essay is not a Buddhist treatise, but a comprehensive and optimistic call to demonstrate kindness towards the non-human creatures whose lives are so closely intertwined with our own. Like the other essays featured in Animal Essays and discussed in this thesis, Xing Yun simply emphasizes that “Every animal has the value of existing” (Xing Yun 8).
IV. Zhang Wei and Environmental Consciousness
Zhang Wei is a very popular writer on issues of nature and the interactions between society and the environment in China. Zhang Dan’s Animal Essays features two of his essays (including the first piece in the book), and his work is discussed in depth by Tang Kelong in The Discourse of Animals in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature. Zhang Wei is celebrated for his love and respect for 大自然—Nature. While the writers and activists discussed previously (Zhang Dan, Feng Zikai and Grand Master Xing Yun) depict animals from the Buddhist point of view, Zhang Wei’s writing is less overtly ideological. His occasional use of Buddhist terminology is tempered by allusions to environmental and secular culture, thus making his case for animal rights accessible to a broad range of people among the largely secular Chinese population. His writing, like that of all authors featured in Animal Essays, respects the inherent right of all life forms to exist in peace.
Born in 1956, Zhang was raised in the port city of Longkou in Shandong Province, in a relatively isolated cabin. His essays hint at a difficult childhood; his father, who may have been abusive, was involved in a political scandal and placed under house arrest. Zhang’s mother, meanwhile, spent all day working in an orchard, leaving Zhang alone to explore the orchards and beaches near and around the family cabin (Chung). These experiences outdoors left a deep impression on Zhang, who has written about the relationship between humans and the landscape throughout his career. After leaving home, Zhang spent several years wandering through the forested, mountainous, and coastal areas of the Shandong peninsula, exploring and writing. In 1979 at the age of 23, He enrolled in the Yantai Normal Institute of Shandong to study creative writing. Since then, he has published over seventy volumes of fiction, essays and poetry, and received over thirty national and international prizes for his writing (Words Without Borders).
Among Zhang’s most famous works are the novels September Allegory (1993), and The Song of Hedgehog (2007). Both of these novels focus on allegorical isolated villages, whose residents live closely with nature and even share characteristics with the animals around them. Some of his characters are human/animal hybrids, and Zhang sometimes switches the perspective of narration to that of the animal (Chung). Zhang Wei’s writing has been widely circulated and well-received in China. He is known as a “committed environmental romanticist” (Chung) with a “near mystical affection for nature” (Words Without Borders).
Zhang Wei contributed two pieces to the book Animal Essays. The first essay, titled ﾃﾀﾉ愠é (“Beautiful Beings”), meditates on the peaceful existence of a flock of sheep. Zhang reflects upon the interconnectedness of the plant, animal, human, and inanimate worlds, illustrating how the bodies of sheep are “stored full of sunlight,” whereupon they “present this gift of warmth and heat to humans” (Zhang Wei 4). His use of imagery throughout the essay notes the connection between sunlight and the warmth of a sheep’s wool, beginning with the sun setting behind the silhouetted flock, and ending when the bodies of the sheep “carry back the last thread of sunlight.” Ecologically, this reflects the fundamental principle that all energy on earth, living or decomposed, comes originally from the sun. The sunlight feeds the grass, which feeds the sheep, whereupon the sheep grow their wool and produce milk for their lambs. Ultimately, they “surrender their flesh” to us. All life on earth is thus confined within a complex and highly interconnected system of energy transfer. This is not the only time Zhang Wei makes the connection between sunlight and the interconnected system of life on earth. Tang Kelong quotes Zhang’s 1997 essay calledﾈﾏë (“Think Thrice”) in which he observed that “The ground lets all living things stand, and the sun gives them their warmth. Of all the things on earth, if you remove any single entity, every other thing would cease to exist” (trans. from Tang 236). ZhangWei thus views the interconnectedness of life on earth as a physical, observable reality. Every piece of the complex ecological puzzle is necessary for our own survival, right now in this life.
After examining the interconnected system of energy transfer in “Beautiful Beings”, Zhang Wei goes on to describe how human beings are abusing this system by taking wool and meat from the sheep, without giving anything in return. Such an unbalanced relationship, he argues, will ultimately lead to the downfall of humanity: “Every day that human beings get blood on their hands is a day on which they fail to earn the ultimate happiness” (Zhang Wei 2). Although Zhang Wei never mentions Buddhism outright, his broad-reaching conclusions about the consequences of human violence suggest the concept of karma. Every action has a reaction, and in Buddhism, human cruelty towards animals will result in an unfavorable rebirth, thus prolonging suffering within the cycle of samsara. Zhang increases the Buddhist tinge to this essay with the word ｱﾋｰｶ, meaning “Other Shore” (Ibid). This is a common euphemism for enlightenment that dates back to early Buddhism in India. The physical world of illusion is likened to a river that must be crossed to attain awakening. The Buddhist Eight-Fold Path is the raft one might use to cross the river, but the raft must be left behind upon reaching the other bank (Horner). This metaphor is very popular in Chinese Buddhism; it featured prominently in the 16th century novel ﾎﾎ记 (Journey to the West, also translated as “Monkey”) by Wu Cheng’en, one of China’s earliest and most celebrated works of literature.Near the climax of the novel, the fictionalized monk Tripitaka crosses a river in a bottomless boat. His mortal body falls away and washes down the river, and when he reaches the other shore, he is enlightened (Wu 281).
These Buddhist references to karma and the Other Shore are brief, however, compared to the Buddhist themes utilized in the work of Zhang Dan, Feng Zikai, or Grand Master Xing Yun. Zhang Wei does not discuss his own religious beliefs. In this essay, he may have merely resorted to the familiar Buddhist trope as a tool for expressing his belief that actions have reactions. Perhaps he alluded to the Other Shore simply because this was the best term to describe a perfect world where humans do not harm animals. He may have alluded to karma simply because these were the best words to express how human beings cannot continue abusing animals without facing moral, social, or environmental consequences; in searching for the Chinese words to express animal welfare, Zhang Wei stumbled upon Buddhist words. In fact, his allusion to karmic retribution might be interpreted ecologically, without reference to religion at all: abuse of the system of energy transfer, such as humans over-harvesting sheep resources, will put too much strain on the sheep population and eventually deplete those resources. Whether the reader of this essay is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist environmentalist, the message is still clear that the abuse of animals will result in human unhappiness.
Zhang similarly mentions but does not advocate Buddhism in his second essay in Animal Essays, titled 对ｲｻﾆÇ(“Unworthy of Them”). After describing the inhumane conditions of bears farmed for medicinal bile and caged laying hens, Zhang muses about vegetarianism, asking, “If humans could one day extricate themselves completely from the practice of eating animals, would we be able to enter a new state of perfection?” (Zhang Wei 87). He goes on to assert that, “This proposition would not only coincide perfectly with the teachings of Buddhism, but would also embody the consciousness of secular culture (Ibid).” Just as he did in “Beautiful Beings,” Zhang acknowledges the similarities between animal welfare activism and Buddhism. Traditionally in China, vegetarianism existed exclusively among devoted Buddhist practitioners, and to a large extent this association remains—most vegetarian restaurants one encounters in China are owned and run by Buddhists, and many are connected to a working temple or monastery. Zhang recognizes this association, but asserts that vegetarianism would be suitable for secular society as well, on the basis of preventing animal cruelty such as that endured by farmed bears and laying hens. He thus manages to advocate the typically Buddhist practice of vegetarianism, without alienating secular readers, and without divulging his own beliefs either.
Both of these essays reflect a very small but slowly growing environmental consciousness in China. When Zhang Wei was publishing some of his most famous novels, including Ancient Ship (1986) and September Allegory (1993), the Western environmental movement was just gaining attention in China. Environmental issues first appeared on the Chinese government’s agenda as early as 1970, when ecological disasters such as coastal pollution were increasing in frequency and severity following the growth of the economy (Economy 97). China participated in the United Nations’ first international environmental conference in 1972, The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE), which forced the Chinese government to acknowledge environmental problems and begin to search for solutions. (Ibid). Since then, however, government leadership proved largely inadequate to the task of fixing China’s ever-growing environmental problems (Economy 132). Nongovernmental organizations and grassroots movements, meanwhile, have been slightly more effective at raising environmental awareness. China’s first environmental NGO, Friends of Nature (ﾗﾔﾈｻﾖｮﾓﾑ), was founded in 1994, just a year after the publication of Zhang Wei’s September Allegory. Today there are approximately 2000 official environmental NGOs, plus countless numbers of unofficial groups and organizations (Stalley and Yang 333). In recent years, citizens, workers, and local groups have protested factory pollution, water contamination, dam projects, and other local issues, sometimes with policy results (Stalley and Yang 336). Although both government and grassroots efforts are still largely unable to provide sufficient environmental protection, consciousness of environmental concepts is increasing among the general population; terms like 环ｱ｣ (environmental protection) andｿﾉｳﾖ续 (sustainable) are widely known in China and even considered trendy. The primary reason behind this slowly emerging movement is not Buddhist; among China’s primarily non-religious population, environmental motivation is secular. People want to protect human health, conserve resources like fuel and fresh water, and ensure the continued existence of beautiful natural places.
This last motivation has had a profound effect on Zhang Wei’s writing and personal philosophy. Zhang Wei holds a deep respect for ｴﾔﾈｻ or “Nature,” defined concretely as “the extensive primitive fields and jungles, the mountains not yet sculptured nor adorned, and the ocean, as well as the endless shrubs and wildflowers on the shore” (Chung). Even if such places no longer exist, especially in Zhang’s heavily populated home province of Shandong, he still holds the firm belief that access to nature—a tree, a beach, anything—is vital to a healthy and creative human life. He maintains that nature is “the foundation of all art” (Tang 232) and that “every writer should have ‘his own tree’” from which to cultivate inspiration (Tang 234). In a November 2012 interview, Zhang lamented that “As urban places grow, our perspective is becoming increasingly obstructed by buildings; civilization becomes less visionary, causing the infertility of imagination and the superficiality of thought” (Zhongguo Zuojia Wang). Zhang’s romantic love of nature is evident in his description of the “unforgettable impression” (Zhang Wei 87) of an animal’s gaze in “Unworthy of Them,” or in his images of sheep whose “wrinkled muzzles make us understand the pure lovability of life” (Zhang Wei 2) in Beautiful Beings.
In The Discourse of Animals in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature, Tang Kelong critiques Zhang Wei’s romantic love of nature as being anthropocentrically motivated, rather than ecologically motivated. Both of Zhang Wei’s essays in Animal Essays reflect upon the unbalanced relationship between humans and animals. “Beautiful Beings”asserts that humans abuse the ecological system of energy transfer, taking wool and meat from sheep without offering a fair exchange. “Unworthy of Them” suggests imbalance in the very title (对ｲｻﾆÇ), by raising animals above the level of humans. The title references a line introduced in the first paragraph of the essay: “ﾖｻﾓﾐﾈﾋ对ｲｻﾆｷ｣ｬﾃｻﾓﾐｹｷ对ｲｻﾆﾋ”(People wrong dogs, but dogs never wrong people). Similar to humans exploiting wool and meat from sheep in “Beautiful Beings,” this line suggests an unequal relationship between humans and animals: people ruthlessly take resources from animals, exploiting their loyalty and trust, while the animals ask nothing and harm no one in return. By calling attention to this unbalance, Zhang Wei suggests that human beings, unlike animals, are able to change their moral behavior. In describing our duty to act kindly toward animals, he actually highlights the differences between us. Our own unique intelligence and self-awareness burdens us with the ability and the responsibility to check our own behavior. Animals acting “cruelly” toward humans, such as dogs biting or wild predators attacking, are presumably acting on instinct alone; they can’t help it. We, on the other hand, must constantly evaluate and improve our treatment toward animals; we have the responsibility to protect them, while animals lack the awareness to change themselves.
Tang Kelong is critical of Zhang’s suggestion that only humans possess the mental capacity to evaluate and improve their behavior. He argues that because Zhang’s love of nature is rooted in its effect on human happiness and artistic production, Zhang’s views on animals are no less shallow or misguided than those of Emmanuel Kant (Tang 238). As discussed previously with regard to criticism of Feng Zikai, the eighteenth century German philosopher Kant believed that humans have only indirect duties to animals; we must act kindly to them not for their own benefit, since they lack moral judgment, but for the betterment of our own humanity. Tang Kelong believes that Zhang’s romantic and anthropocentric view of nature ultimately does nothing to advance environmental ethics.
Indeed, within the context of modern ecology and environmentalism, Zhang’s sentimental affection for animals might be perceived as an overly simplistic representation of the relationships among species. In “Beautiful Beings,” Zhang laments that sheep provide human beings with unlimited wool and meat, but people “treat this precious gift without a hint of thanks.” Certainly even a staunch vegetarian would acknowledge that human beings provide sheep with food, shelter, and protection. Our two species have evolved together after generations of domesticity, developing a complex relationship of codependence that goes largely unnoticed by Zhang. Unlike Liu Liangcheng, who examines both sides of the relationship between humans and domestic animals, Zhang instead treats human beings as an intrusion upon the peaceful and separate affairs of animals. Ecology teaches that all life on earth is part of a highly complex and interdependent system; excluding humans from the system paints an unrealistically simplistic picture of the interdependence between humans and domesticated animals like sheep or donkeys.
Despite these criticisms, Zhang Wei’s writing represents an important bridge between animal rights and China’s secular population. Despite occasional sentimental descriptions and Buddhist terms, he relies primarily on secular language to express his love of animals and the natural world. In this way he is able to appeal to a broad Chinese audience without alienating the non-religious, emphasizing simply the respectful treatment of all living creatures. This allows China’s vast and growing urban population to experience, vicariously through his writing, the natural world he loves so dearly.
V. Liu Liangcheng: Individualized Representations of Animals
Up until this point, every author discussed has been an animal rights activist of some kind. Zhang Dan has cared about the fate of stray animals since childhood, and later in life found Buddhism as a way to express her love of non-human life. Feng Zikai and Grand Master Xing Yun both consider compassion toward animals to be a natural extension of their Buddhist beliefs. Zhang Wei holds a profound love for the non-human world, including landscapes, plants and animals. All four of these writers explicitly advocate against violence towards animals. Liu Liangcheng, born in 1962 in the northwest province of Xinjiang, is different from these other writers. He subscribes to no conventional doctrine, and his writing is devoid of explicit ideology. Liu Liangcheng writes about animals not to highlight our interconnected natures, or to advocate for their protection, but simply to observe and respect their otherness. His work is featured three times in Animal Essays, and all three pieces use startlingly sparse language and dark humor to probe the complex relationships between animals and people. His representations of the nonhuman world suggest that although we as humans rely heavily upon animals, and can even communicate with them to some extent, their minds remain fundamentally unknowable to us.
Liu Liangcheng was raised in Xinjiang, a vast and predominantly rural province in China’s northwest corner. This harsh, dry and rugged terrain is home to the Uyghur people and other Central Asian ethnic minorities, as well as Han Chinese like Liu. Although he is today a highly esteemed writer and vice-president of the Xinjiang Writers Association, Liu Liangcheng once worked as a farmer, planting crops and herding sheep (Yang). His 1998 essay collection One Man’s Village (ﾒｻｸﾋｵﾄｴ袮ｯ), his most well known publication, examines the rural lifestyle, reflecting on the importance of the homeland and the theme of loneliness, which Liu claims is a part of human nature (Ibid). Liu does not subscribe to a major established religion, but instead describes himself as an animist. Animism (ｷｺﾁ槁Û or 万物有神) is the belief that everything in the universe has a spirit and a consciousness, including plants and inanimate objects. As Liu explains, “I can talk to flowers, speak with grass, and I can understand what the wind means when it blows past my ears…animism should be a writer’s foundational belief system” (trans. from Yang). Historically, animistic and shamanistic beliefs were prevalent throughout pre-Islamic Central Asia (including Xinjiang), and were also found within various folk traditions of the Han Chinese (Zarcone). Buddhism, too, has influenced animistic beliefs in Central Asia, when the concept of reincarnation combined with mystical Islam and local traditions to create a belief in the “transmigration of souls” (Ibid).
Today, animism primarily exists implicitly among small segments of the population, underlying the more established and organized belief systems of Islam and Buddhism. Liu Liancheng’s “religion” is therefore a personal and individualistic choice, rather than adherence to an established doctrine. This independent streak is evident in his unique, honest, and memorable descriptions of animals. Sometimes Liu’s writing echoes his animist beliefs, as in the anecdote about the rapacious dragon in “The Qiuci Donkey Annals,” which reflects the concept of “transmigration of souls” as the dragon transforms and mates with various species. Most of the time, however, Liu’s representations of animals resist classification into any identifiable ideology. Liu’s representations of animals reflect the familiarity of someone who has grown up working with farm animals, but show not a trace of sentimentality. He is not a vegetarian, nor has he participated in the animal welfare movement. His writing about animals betrays no political or ideological agenda, but instead observes reality with a wry and cynical wit, drawing humor from situations of harshness and cruelty.
In the essay 龟兹驴ﾖｾ(“The Qiuci Donkey Annals”), Liu suggests that working animals—namely the donkeys used famously and extensively by the Uyghur people of Xinjiang—operate within a parallel society, coexisting with humans but remaining essentially separate. He describes in great detail the bustling confusion of the weekly bazaar, where the humans busy themselves bargaining over wares, during which the donkeys “primarily watch the other donkeys” (Liu 22). While the humans are engaged in their business, the donkeys are engaged in a separate business all their own, communicating amongst themselves. Liu even raises the question, do the people bring donkeys to the market as helpers, or do the donkeys bring the people? After all, the money earned from selling goods at the bazaar goes primarily to buying food and necessities for the donkeys themselves: “Maybe donkeys knew all along that by working themselves to the bone, they were also earning themselves money” (Liu 21).
The suggestion that people work for the donkeys as much as donkeys work for the people continues in the description of Gayiti, a ninety-five-year-old blind blacksmith who has spent a lifetime in his tiny village shop, crafting and fitting shoes for the local donkeys. Just as the donkeys work until they die, carrying loads and pulling carts for the humans who feed them, so does Gayiti work for the donkeys, hammering shoes even as his body succumbs to age. The relationship between these humans and donkeys is not one of dominance or ownership; instead, the two species serve each other and rely on each other equally. The people live in one society, shoeing and feeding the donkeys in exchange for the donkeys’ labor, which in turn provides the people with money. The donkeys, meanwhile, operate within a society of their own, working for the people in exchange for food and shoes. Each society is equally valid.
The essay ｹｷ这ﾒｻ辈ﾗﾓ(“This Dog’s Life”) similarly establishes the rural guard dog as living a life that is at once connected to and separate from that of its human owners. Although the guard dog is required to “bestow all of its love and loyalty” on its master, and not “on another dog” (Liu 118), the dog expresses its independence at night, after the people have gone to sleep. Throughout the shadowy village, the dogs all bark in “dog language” (ｹｷ语), which is “a type of sound completely different from that of humanity, drifting away; a mystery” (Ibid). The dogs thus communicate amongst themselves, maintaining an existence separate from our human society and utterly incomprehensible to us.
In the essay ﾒｰﾍﾃｵﾄﾂｷ (“The Hare Path”), Liu similarly establishes wild hares as living mysterious lives, similar to our own and yet just beyond our comprehension. The author sees evidence of the hares everywhere, and he follows literally in their footsteps, crushing their little clawed indents in the ground with his own heavy steps—but he never sees a single living hare. Like the donkeys and the dogs, Liu respects the independence and mystery of other animals. In this essay, he further asserts that the hare’s absence is purposeful: “The day [a hare] lets a person catch a glimpse just might cost it its life” (Liu 192). Such a straightforward look at the predatory relationship between humans and hares is typical of Liu’s style, which neither romanticizes nor condemns death, poverty, and the cruelty that humans can show towards other living things.
In “The Qiuci Donkey Annals,” for example, Liu equates the death of an old donkey to a “thatched house collapsing” (Liu 23). Just as a house stands upright throughout its existence, so has the donkey worked tirelessly for a lifetime on its four little feet. Eventually, the support beams rot through, the bones grow weary, and the entire structure falls. This is not tragic; it is inevitable. Liu further emphasizes the unavoidable nature of death by depicting the donkey’s corpse underground, supplying the soil with fertile nutrients and helping the crops to thrive. The donkey’s death is not only inescapable, but is in fact necessary to the continued survival of both humans and donkeys in dry, inhospitable Xinjiang.
In “This Dog’s Life,” Liu similarly depicts the death of the guard dog with calm indifference, neither glorifying nor degrading its brief life on earth: “When a dog gets old, nobody goes inquiring after its balding hide…the world can no longer hold onto it, so it had best just let go” (Liu 117). Liu admits readily that the life of a rural dog is harsh and short, and if the dog is not careful, its owners will “skin it and cook it” (Liu 117). Liu presents these statements matter-of-factly, with a touch of dark, wry humor and not a hint of sentimentality. After all, the situation he describes is reality. Humans and animals living in rural and impoverished places all encounter the same hardships of hunger, cold, and disease. Dogs die and are quietly forgotten as life moves on.
This calm, objective view of death resists anthropomorphism by refusing to project the human concept of tragedy onto the animals. The minds of animals, however communicative and familiar they might seem to us, nevertheless remain fundamentally unknowable. Liu attempts to represent this mystery as accurately as possible. In “The Qiuci Donkey Annals,” Liu states that the donkeys of Kuqa “appear to be happy”—ﾋ�ｴﾉﾏﾈ･ﾊﾇｿ炖�ﾄ (Liu 23). The word “appear” (ｿｴﾉﾏﾈ･) here is crucial, acknowledging that although in our eyes the donkeys are displaying behavior resembling expressions of human happiness, this may in fact not be the case. Liu respects the donkey’s autonomy, acknowledging that its behavior, although in many ways mysterious to us, is no less valid than our own. This occurs again in “The Hare Path”, when Liu asks, rather than states: “Wouldn’t a hare find it interesting when, in the middle of hopping about, it spots its own droppings from the previous afternoon, still on the path and emitting fresh hot steam?” (Liu 192).
While anthropomorphism in China might frequently be equated with Buddhism and the karmic interconnectedness of all sentient beings, anthropomorphism in the West is usually a pejorative term, associated with unscientific and overly sentimental representations of animals like Mickey Mouse (Garrard 154). In the West, numerous writers have struggled to represent animals without filtering them through human assumptions of emotion, communication, and self-awareness. Among the Western writers resisting anthropomorphism was the English novelist and poet D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930). In writing about animals, Lawrence strove to find a middle ground between cold representations as soulless machines, and sentimental representations as human puppets. In the poem “Fish,” Lawrence begins by describing an anthropomorphic pike in a “grey-striped suit.” Later, however, the speaker injects a criticism of this representation:
I had made a mistake, I didn’t know him,
This grey, monotonous soul in the water,
This intense individual in shadow,
I didn’t know his God.
I didn’t know his God (Garrard 167).
Lawrence respects the mysterious alterity of animals, while at the same time acknowledging the human tendency to anthropomorphize them. Liu Liangcheng, similarly, uses the word “appear” to neither affirm nor deny the possibility that donkeys can feel emotions like happiness; he asks questions to neither assert nor reject the possibility that hares find things interesting. Garrard calls this “allomorphism” in Ecocriticism, meaning “the avowal of the wonderful strangeness of animals” (Garrard 167). Anthropomorphized representations of animals might make false assumptions about the animal’s nature—but without using our human vocabulary, how can we represent animals at all? Both Liu and Lawrence find a solution by using familiar language like “happy” and “grey-striped suit,” while explicitly recognizing that these are nothing more than subjective, human descriptions. They leave the animals’ mystery intact, neither affirming nor denying their similarities to people.
Although Liu Liangcheng avoids overt didacticism in his essays, his writing nevertheless betrays criticism of excessive human interference with the animal world. In The Hare Path, the author feels guilt for having disturbed the hares’ tracks by walking on top of them: “My deep footprints made the road bumpier for the hares, and I have felt embarrassed about that for a long time” (Liu 193). By ending the essay on that sentence, and by ending the sentence with ｲｻｺﾃﾒ簍ｼ (“embarrassed”), guilt becomes the dominant theme of this short essay; it is the motif that will ring in the reader’s head long after he or she has closed the book. Liu thus suggests a guilt that goes beyond merely trampling some rabbit prints. There is guilt for taking part in the conventions of human behavior that force small animals to hide out of sight, fearing for their lives; and perhaps most of all, there is guilt for having trespassed upon the autonomous and mysterious world of the hares.
In “This Dog’s Life,” Liu similarly criticizes human treatment of animals through his use of dark, wry humor. He describes the treatment of dogs without a hint of sugarcoating, noting that “Dogs getting beaten and scolded is a frequent thing, if a dog starts pouting for being wrongly accused by the owner…well that dog’s life won’t last very long” (Liu 118). This description is dark and cruel, but it is also humorous in its frank honesty. The subject of mating is also treated with similarly amusing, matter-of-fact descriptions: “Once the owners of the two dogs have talked it over, they lead the male and female together and supervise from the side. When it’s over, it’s over” (Ibid). Such a dry account of mating is unexpected and funny, but critical of the humans as well for trespassing upon the dogs’ most intimate act. Liu describes in the following passage how the dog is not permitted to form any attachment to its mate, and must instead demonstrate loyalty to the human master alone. He uses the strong word ｱﾘ须 (“must”), to suggest that this is not the dog’s choice. If the dog did not fear punishment, perhaps it would choose a life with its mate rather than a life with its human owners.
In “The Qiuci Donkey Annals,” Liu uses much more explicit language to express a critique of human interference with animals, describing two “disasters” inflicted upon the donkeys. The first was during the Communist Revolution, when the People’s Liberation Army used donkeys to transport food and gear to and from the harsh climate and deathly cold of the Kunlun Mountains in southern Xinjiang. The second disaster occurred during the 1950s and 60s, when the government attempted to create a new breed of donkey with larger height and stature. These new donkeys were big, but “they were unable to adapt to the arid and scorching hot climate” of Xinjiang, and the experiment failed (Liu 20). Although Liu sees nothing wrong with slaughtering animals locally for food, he regards large-scale government manipulation of the animals’ wellbeing as crossing a line.
In all three essays, Liu avoids overt discussion of religion, politics and social activism, topics that so thoroughly inform the work of animal rights advocates like Feng Zikai or Zhang Dan. This absence of human problems is most evident in “The Qiuci Donkey Annals,” since this essay is so closely tied to a specific human culture (Uyghur) living in a specific place (Xinjiang).Ethnic relations are a very sensitive topic in Xinjiang, but Liu does not call attention to the fact that he is a Han Chinese person writing about the animals integral to Uyghur culture. He mentions cultural differences only in brief, passing comments, such as “Uyghur people have a taboo against eating donkey meat” (Liu 21) or “Kazakhs chose horses, Han Chinese chose cattle, and Uyghurs chose donkeys” (Liu 23). Liu mentions ethnicity only insofar as it relates to the livelihood of his main interest, the donkeys themselves. He treats religion the same way, depicting donkeys as the stable anchors of human culture in Xinjiang, standing firm while waves of first Buddhism and then later Islam sweep the region: “That little black donkey never changed, and the man on the donkey never changed; only the scripture in his hands changed” (Liu 24). Liu recognizes that ethnicity and religion are influential in our understanding of animals—especially when he suggests that “The individuality and destiny of an ethnic people is perhaps directly related to the animals they choose” (Liu 23). Nevertheless, Liu views these cultural constructs as irrelevant to the animals themselves. The donkeys will keep plodding back and forth across the desert, their backs laden with baggage, regardless of whether the bags contain Buddhist scriptures, the Quran, or any other human doctrine.
The essays of Liu Liangcheng thus suggest a very different way of looking at animals from the tender portrayals of Zhang Dan, Grand Master Xing Yun, Feng Zikai, and Zhang Wei. These latter writers all express the belief that as sentient beings, animals are fundamentally no different from ourselves, and we should treat them as such. This interconnectedness is further bolstered by the Buddhist belief that animals and humans are both living in the same cycle of birth and rebirth, meaning that animals might have been our own parents, friends, or children in a previous lifetime. Liu Liangcheng does not hold this worldview. In his writing, animals are still sentient beings, intelligent and communicative. We look into their eyes, and they return our gaze—but they are not identical to us. The true nature of their experience is mysterious and fundamentally unknowable, just like the true nature of flowers, grass, and wind according to Liu’s animistic beliefs. We must respect the autonomy of animals, but we cannot presume to know how they perceive the world; we cannot presume to know how to “save them.”
My family has two dogs, a seven-year-old lab mix named Josie, and a ten-month-old mixed-breed puppy called Nola. Every time they sit inside for too long without a walk, a familiar scene begins to unfold: first, Nola starts gnawing voraciously on one of the rawhide bones strewn about our kitchen floor. Next, Josie rouses herself from her L.L. Bean dog-couch, stretches her back in a perfect downward-dog yoga pose, then wanders over to where Nola is contentedly grinding her teeth against the hard white surface of her dry and twisted cow skin. Calmly and deliberately, Josie steals the rawhide from Nola’s mouth, carries it back to her dog-couch, and sets to work on it herself. Nola is left bewildered, standing crestfallen in the kitchen and emitting a high, soft squeak that we call “crying.”
Before Nola entered our household this summer, Josie showed no interest in rawhide bones at all. If offered, she would sniff and look up at us as if to say, what would I want with that thing? I am too old for such nonsense[TEM1] . But when another dog arrived on the scene, a bouncing wagging melee of legs and teeth and wiggling wet nose, rawhide bones took on a new appeal. Sometimes to keep the peace, we will give Josie her own bone in the hope that she will leave Nola alone. This quickly proves ineffective. Josie does not want her own bone, because she does not like to chew rawhide. She wants Nola’s bone.
I remember fighting over toys with my brother when we were little. He never really cared which Beanie Baby or action figure he got, as long as it was the one that I wanted. Is this not the founding principle of consumer culture? Ten years ago, nobody thought they needed a pocket-sized digital all-in-one music player, telephone, and personal computer. Thanks to aggressive advertising campaigns suggesting that all the smartest, trendiest, and most successful people were already using these devices, nearly everybody today owns a smartphone. Are my dogs consumerists at heart? Are they capable of feeling that complex emotion, that fundamentally human Deadly Sin called envy?
The truth is, [TEM2] I do not know.
My dogs communicate with each other, certainly, but they do not speak a verbal language[TEM3] recognizable to us. Dogs have never built skyscrapers or organized protests or fought wars. They would be incapable of using a smartphone, except perhaps as a metal-flavored chew toy. Dogs can tell us when they are hungry or tired or restless, but they cannot discuss the weather, or speculate about life after death.
They cannot communicate these things in human language; but how do we know that they cannot communicate complex ideas [TEM4] to each other? For all I know, Josie and Nola have wordless [TEM5] body-language conversations about the neighborhood politics of territory-marking, or muse together over the subjectivity of smells. Why does a dog chase a tennis ball? She might find genuine joy and satisfaction in the chase, the catch, and the successful return. She might run only because she knows it pleases us to watch her. She might not think at all, but instead react mechanically by following the moving object. She might believe wholeheartedly and irrevocably that the tennis ball is an ambassador of the Moon Spirit, and if she lets it touch the ground she will be personally responsible for the destruction of life on earth.[TEM6]
We can never be sure. When my dogs chew rawhide, they display behavior that appears similar to the interactions of human children. And yet, this may very well be nothing but a human projection.
All we can ever know for sure is that we share the planet with millions of non-human living beings, from dogs and horses to fish and insects. We breathe the same oxygen and consume the same nutrients; our lives are inextricably interconnected. The essential natures of animals, however, their perceptions and emotions and innermost ideas, remain a mystery.
Representing animals in writing becomes a way to explain and explore the depths of this mystery. Depictions of animals in literature vary widely, because each writer approaches the subject from a different angle based upon his or her subjective beliefs and personal experiences. Many writers rely upon the ideological framework of a religion or philosophical belief system when searching for the words to describe animals; others strive to create a conceptual language all their own. In China, literature that explicitly seeks to represent the animal experience is a very recent phenomenon, developing only in the twentieth century and relying heavily upon the philosophy and terminology of Buddhism. Although Zhang Dan’s book Animal Essays represents a wide range of styles and philosophies, many of the contributing writers identify with the language of Buddhism—especially Mahayana Buddhism[TEM7] .
Central to Mahayana Buddhism is the concept ofｷﾔ—Buddha Nature. Every living thing has a Buddha Nature, from ants to donkeys to human beings. Every creature possesses the innate potential to become a Buddha, through the karmic accomplishments of many lifetimes. The boundary between Human and Animal is blurred as all beings cycle through samsara, dying and being reborn in new forms. Buddhism thus offers a concrete explanation of the relationship between humans and animals, giving writers a clear framework within which to work. Buddhism leaves no questions unanswered: protecting animals is fundamentally good, killing animals is fundamentally bad, and our lives are unquestionably interconnected through the karmic cycle. Writing within this framework can quickly turn into animal rights activism, since writers arguing for the Buddhist worldview will at the same time advocate compassion, non-killing and the protection of life. Writers like Feng Zikai and Grand Master Xing Yun were Buddhists first, who turned later to animal rights as a natural extension of their belief in nonviolence and the interconnectedness of all life on earth.
This situation also works in reverse, where the animal rights movement uses Buddhism as a tool for the promotion of non-violence, vegetarianism, and animal conservation among broader audiences. Zhang Dan cared about animals first, and then stumbled upon Buddhism as a way to express her love of animals and delve deeper into the philosophical implications of that love. Zhang Wei does not mention his own religion in his essays, but he uses Buddhist terminology to give structure to his ideas about the environmental consequences of human behavior. By uniting the two ideologies of animal welfare and Buddhism, animal lovers and devout Buddhists alike can find a common language through which to pursue their shared goal of halting violence towards animals. Buddhism thus becomes a lens through which writers, activists, and the public can comfortably view animals and ecology. At the same time, animal rights activism becomes a practical way for Buddhists to demonstrate compassion for all life.
Animal Essays is not a Buddhist collection, however, nor is its purpose specifically to advocate for animal welfare or animal rights. In his essays “The Record of Qiuci Donkeys,” “The Hare Path,” and “This Dog’s Life,” Liu Liangcheng writes about animals without fitting his ideas into Buddhism, environmentalism, or any other established ideological system. Eliminating descriptive language and overt didacticism from his essays, Liu Liangcheng attempts to capture the fundamental mystery of animals without human judgment. Even the devout Buddhist Feng Zikai refrains from using overtly Buddhist description in his essay “Kitty,” focusing objectively instead on the interactions he has observed between humans and housecats. The essays of Liu and Feng both pursue the simple goal of description, observing life without criticism of animal or human. These essays do not even advocate for animal welfare or protection, per se; they merely draw attention to the unique and often overlooked behavior of the animals with whom we interact every day, demonstrating a basic respect for their right to exist.
The question remains, or course: since animals are impossible to truly understand, why do writers focus on them at all? The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1024) wrote that cruelty toward animals was wrong not because it injured the body or spirit of the animal itself—which Kant believed lacked all moral and rational capability—but because acting cruelly would have moral consequences for the human actor. Critics of Kant such as the animal rights activists Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and Peter Singer (1946- ) asserted that Kant’s attitude towards animals demonstrates no respect for the animals as living creatures, but instead focuses selfishly on the human, and on the social and religious benefits of acting “kindly.” A very similar criticism was applied to both Feng Zikai and Zhang Wei by Tang Kelong in中国当代文学：动物叙事研究 (The Discourse of Animals in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature). Feng Zikai believed that protecting animals is important because it leads to the development of the human heart and mind. Zhang Wei believed that protecting animals and natural spaces is necessary to human health, happiness, and creativity. Tang asserts that this position is too anthropocentric to fit within the modern animal rights movement, as it ignores the inherent value of the animals themselves and focuses instead on selfish human gain.
Something similar may be said of Grand Master Xing Yun. The Humanist school of Buddhism that he leads emphasizes the human life of the Buddha, and seeks to empower human beings to follow the Buddhist path through ordinary living. He (like most Buddhists) believes that acting with compassion towards all living things will accrue karmic merit in the next life—is this not a selfish motivation for practicing animal protection? But as religion professor Elizabeth Morrison explains, the Buddhist worldview spans many lifetimes; all life both human and animal is defined by suffering, and this shared experience of suffering is more important than the brief, temporary lifetimes spent in one form or another (Morrison). A Buddhist might say that although Grand Master Xing Yun advocates humanism in this lifetime, this does not negate or invalidate the kindness he shows animals, who are simply at different stages along the same Buddhist path.
Why do non-Buddhists write about animals? For one, all humans rely on animals for survival, and if we mistreat or eliminate a given species, we will lose that valuable resource. Like coal or rice or any other natural resource, responsible production and use of animal resources are necessary to their continued availability. When the Communist Party of China established the first nature reserve in 1956, it was motivated by economics, rather than by environmentalism or animal rights. The CPC hoped to gain a deeper understanding about the natural environment, so that they might maximize the production of resources (Weller 76).
If industry-driven Communism is on one end of the spectrum of animal representations, and the animal rights movement is on the other, then environmentalism falls somewhere in the middle. Environmentalism is not necessarily concerned with discussions of sentience or morality, but instead regards animals, like humans, as units within the large, complex puzzle of earth’s natural systems. Animal rights activists (Buddhist or otherwise) advocate nonviolence towards every individual animal, while environmentalism emphasizes the health of the ecosystem as a whole, acknowledging that the suffering of a few animals might be necessary to maintain balance.
Still, environmentalism and animal rights share much in common. Chief among these is the inherent right of all species to exist. As Zhang Dan reiterated to me in her email and Skype interviews, she chose essays to include in Animal Essays based not on religion or ideology, but on the basis of just one prerequisite: 对ﾉ愑・ﾄﾗﾘ——respect for life. In development and profit-obsessed China, as in the United States, those who practice and advocate respect for life are a small minority. More and more people live out their entire lives in concrete cities; fewer and fewer people live with animals. The only access these urban people have to earth’s non-human populations is through thoughtfully written representations such as those in Animal Essays. There is no perfect discourse for the representation of animals; they will always remain a mystery. But by filtering animals through the lenses of religion and philosophy, we can approach a deeper understanding of life on earth, including ourselves. Only by genuinely respecting all forms of life can we ever hope to mitigate problems of pollution, resource depletion, and human over-population. Only by loving all forms of life can we do so joyfully.
To some extent, all writing about animals is anthropocentric. After all, we are human beings with human eyes and human minds. Only human beings will ever read this writing. To the animals themselves, our discussions of ethics and religion and symbolism are completely irrelevant; Buddhism, communism, animal welfare, environmentalism—all are created by humans, followed by humans, critiqued and applied and opposed by humans. My dogs do not care about human-language discussions about a human God or human politics or the scriptures of a human called Gautama Buddha. My dogs care about running off-leash through the snow, licking the dirty dishes, and snuggling up next to each other on their oversized L.L. Bean dog-couch. Their eyes are not human eyes, but they are alive, and they meet my gaze.
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 On January 8th 2013, I conducted an interview with Zhang Dan in Chinese via Skype. I recorded this interview and transcribed it; quotations are translated from the transcriptions.
 See Chapter IV for a more thorough discussion of the environmental movement in China
Although oftenromanized as “Taoism,” I use the pinyin “Daoism” instead for consistency.
 It is interesting to note, however, that human rights and animal rights movements tend only to appear under capitalism. Perhaps this is a byproduct of increased wealth, and a larger middle class with time and money to spend on charity.
See Confucianism and Ecology by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John H. Berthrong for a more thorough account of nature and animal representations in Confucian literature.
 See http://www.google.com/doodles/feng-zikais-114th-birthday
ｺ・ｻ is sometimes Romanized as “Hong Yi.” I have instead followed Barmé in using the Romanization “Hongyi.”
In Chinese, ﾐﾄis equivalent to both the English words “heart,” and “mind.”
For example, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng asked a disciple: “Not thinking of good, not thinking of evil, just at this moment, what is your original face before your mother and father were born?” The disciple was immediately awakened (Source: James, Simon P. Zen Buddhism and Environmental Ethics. Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004)
 Middle Way: A central concept in Buddhism, whereby extreme actions or beliefs (on either end of the spectrum) are counterproductive and harmful. The body, for example, should be neither stuffed with food nor excessively starved.
 As evidenced by our love of cheap, factory-farmed meat; our comfort with animal experimentation in scientific research; our abundance of animal-related insults like “beast” and “pig” and “chicken” etc.
 See my full translation of “Beautiful Beings”in Appendix #3
对ｲｻﾆð literally means something like “cannot stand up in front of.”
See Chapter V. for further discussion of Liu Liangcheng
 See my translation of “The Qiuci Donkey Annals”in Appendix #? for this complete anecdote.
See for instanceBuddhism and Ecology (1998), edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Ryuken Williams
“ﾎﾒ们ﾋ爱ﾄ｣ｬﾆ实茣ｻﾊﾇﾇﾝ兽鱼ｳ豬ﾄｱｾﾉ惞ｨﾐ｡节｣ｩ｣ｬｶﾇﾗﾔｼｺｵﾄﾐﾄ｣ｨｴå)” (Zhang ed. 259). Also see Chapter 2 of this thesis.
Dinghu Mountain (ｶｦｺﾉｽ) in Guangdong Province
 E.g. in the case of hunting to keep the population of a certain species in check
[TEM1]Perhaps you have already done what I am going to suggest (but I won’t know until I read more). I suggest that towards the end of this and go back and take a look at, think about, and comment on your own strategies for making sense of these animals. Consider the language you use to describe them and to imagine your way inside their heads. Do our strategies for understanding/writing about animals obscure them or reveal them or both. How might you think about and describe and imagine your way into your animals in other fahsion?
[TEM3]What is a language? If they don’t communicate in language, what do we call the system they use to communicate. (These are open-ended questions.)
[TEM4]If they can, do they then have language?
[TEM5]Do we have to have words to have language?
[TEM6]Beautiful! I love this. Nice writing.
[TEM7]You have two things going on here. Each writer “to some extent” creating his/her own language, and several writers all using a language created by history and culture (the language of Buddhism in this instance).