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Spatial Imaginaries in Mid-Tang China: Geography, Cartography, and Literature By Ao W ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Spatial Imaginaries in Mid-Tang China:

The conceptual counterpart of this phenomenon within literature I call “spatial imaginaries.” I use this term to describe the imaginations and representations of inhabited and uninhabited spaces on different scales. Through a thorough consideration of geography and literature in the mid-Tang period, and their intersections and juxtapositions, this book aims to capture the affinity and interplay between these two important intellectual pursuits at a crucial transitional period in premodern China.

Affinity and interplay are key terms that I use to define the sophisticated relationship between these two fields of spatial representation. We often understand the relationship between different disciplines as one of influence. The rise of one discipline can spark methodological changes in another, transforming the ways a group of specialists think about their own work. The interplay I am about to present between the literary and geographic fields in the medieval era is different. This difference comes first and foremost from the fact that the masters in these two fields in mid-Tang China were essentially one and the same group of multitalented people. As they pushed the frontiers of world exploration ever further, they created—consciously or unconsciously—a new contextual space in which texts in both fields were produced and consumed. From this arose an affinity between literature and geography: they may have shared similar perspectives on space, intertextualized with each other in the process of composition, or drawn inspiration from the same human feats in a broadening geographic world. This is not a narrative of a direct influence of one discipline on another, a relationship that the surviving sources at this point do not allow us to reconstruct. Nevertheless, the recognition of a cross-field affinity allows us to productively examine certain literary texts of this particular era in the light of new spatial imaginations, perspectives, and conceptions.

A metaphor about image formation from physics may help better illustrate this relationship. A projected image is created by a beam of light that emanates from an original object, travels through an optic lens, and then hits a receiving surface. The light, transmitted through