Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Chinese goddesses as symbols of posthumanism
Author(s): Chan, Amy Kit Sze 
Issue Date: 2015
Conference: The 7th Beyond Humanism Conference 
Humanism, that has it roots in Renaissance, puts human beings in the centre of the stage and alienates us from all the other living and non-living things in the universe. Posthumanism, on the other hand, is an attempt to reconnect us to what Cary Wolfe calls “nonhuman subjects.” (What is Posthumanism?) He explains that “posthumanism means not the triumphal surpassing or unmasking of something but an increase in the vigilance, responsibility, and humility that accompany living in a world so newly, and differently, inhabited.” (ibid.) Rosi Braidotti in her book The Posthuman writes that “A posthuman ethics for a non-unitary subject proposes an enlarged sense of inter-connection between self and others, including the non-human or “earth” others, by removing the obstacle of self-centred individualism.” Braidotti sums up the three directions of how we can remove the obstacle – becoming-animal, becoming-earth and becoming-machine.

In this paper, I will propose two Chinese goddesses, Avalokiteśvara and the Queen Mother of the West, as symbols of posthumanism and how their stories shed light on the way we can recreate the interconnection between human and animals and human and environment. Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara can provide the “gentle bridge” for a syncretism between Donna Haraway’s cyborgs (becoming-machine) in the posthuman world.

According to the Mahayana doctrine, Avalokiteśvara is the bodhisattva who postpones his own Buddhahood until he has assisted all beings on earth to achieve nirvana. He is also the one who has made a great vow to listen to the prayers of all sentient beings in times of difficulty. It is said that Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara is able to manifest himself in many forms, be it a Buddha body, King Brahma, a rich man, a monk, a nun a young boy or a young girl, a dragon, a yaksha, an asura, a human or a non-human to relieve suffering and help people in need. That explains why there are so many different manifestations of Avalokiteśvara in sculptures and paintings. Though representations of the bodhisattva in China prior to the Song Dynasty were masculine in appearance, Kuan Yin is usually considered as a female form since she is also known as the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. However, in Tibetan tradition, representations of Avalokiteśvara remain to be male.

The Queen Mother of the West is half-human, half animal and she embodies the forces of yin and yang, creator and destroyer, death and immortality. By examining her images in paintings and drawings and by analyzing the description of her in written texts, we could see that she is a figure of transgressiveness and also a symbol of Deleuze’s becoming-animal. Moreover, both the Queen Mother of the West and Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara are looking after the animals, insects, trees, fruits and every living creature on earth. Therefore, both goddesses are symbols of becoming-earth.
CIHE Affiliated Publication: No
Appears in Collections:HL Publication

SFX Query Show full item record

Google ScholarTM


Items in DSpace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.