The Feeling of Ling (the Numinous):
Human-Animal Relations in Three Sinophone Short Stories

By Jannis Jizhou Chen

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 33, no.2  (Fall 2021), 169-204

This essay challenges the common belief that modernity is largely informed by the disenchantment of the world and underscores that stories of (re)enchantment in certain communities are not only plentiful but often actualized in human-animal encounters. Additionally, despite the abundant presence of such stories in the field of human-animal studies and Sinophone literature, little attention is paid to the feeling of ling (the numinous) that is often expressed in forms of wonder and awe followed by a recognition of the eternal in the temporal.

In this essay, the author focusses on the return of a religio-spiritual discourse that revolves around the much-neglected concept of ling. Three animal-related short stories are selected to contextualize “the feeling of the numinous” in different cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions. The stories include the Sinophone Tibetan writer Tsering Norbu’s “The Emancipated Sheep,” the Sinophone Muslim writer Shi Shuqing’s “Knife in the Clear Water,” and the Han Chinese writer Hong Ke’s “The Merino,” which takes place in Xinjiang. The author argues that the feeling of the numinous (ling) can be generated and actualized in human-animal interactions through various preparatory practices involving care, contemplation, or simply becoming aware.

The essay provides a new understanding of human-animal relations by bringing Agamben’s bare life into dialogue with the Tibetan Buddhist idea of life-release (tsethar), juxtaposing Chinese Sufi mysticism with Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans, and navigating Zhuangzi’s transcendental eco-cosmology against the backdrop of the Xinjiang steppe.