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Shangshang Wang

Shangshang Wang

Fellow in the project „Epochal Life Worlds: Man, Nature and Technology in Narratives of Crisis and Change“ (May–June 2022)

Short Biography

Shangshang Wang graduated with an MA in Transcultural Studies from the University of Heidelberg with a thesis on the first establishment of psychology as a scientific discipline at Peking University during the late 1910s. Starting from 2020, she is doctoral candidate and member of the Freigeist-Fellowship research project "Radical Utopian Communities: Global Histories from the Margins, 1900-1950" led by Dr. Robert Kramm at LMU, Munich. Shanshang Wang has wide research interests in the history of scientific and political thought in modern East Asia. her current research project investigates anarchism and its biological fascinations in early twentieth-century China and Japan.


Making Sense of Plants and Animals: Evolutionary Imaginations in Late Qing and Republican China

Where is, and what is nature? What sort of conceptions of nature can be the basis of a new politics adequate to the environmental crisis? Questions as such are not only trendy ones that stir up ongoing debates in contemporary politics. In Shangshang Wang's research, they have long been central ones when China (and Japan), at the turn of the twentieth century, witnessed a new regime of the “western, rational, and scientific” law of nature, that asserted to stand outside the pantheistic Heaven (tian 天) and Heaven-body totality, and are able to manipulate a material nature following knowable laws. In what forms does the separation of man and nature represent civilizational modernity, and following this, can human’s re-discovery of nature sort out the “unpredictable, the random, and the formidable” elements from nature itself?

Shangshang Wang's research project analyzes anarchism and its biological fascinations in early twentieth-century China and Japan. Anarchism is used here to deliberately transcend narratives of mere political movements; rather, it emphasizes some of the most provocative explorations of the nature-man possibilities. For example, it centralizes Peter Kropotkin’s observation from the centerless organism to the centerless cosmos; it also explores the Sino-Japanese refractions of the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus’s theory of interdependence of human inhabitants and their living environment. One of the questions she is asking in this research is how political activists and biologists in China developed concrete ideals of evolutionary Nature (tian yan 天演) and its relationship with the human world through modern scientific language—by means of studying plants and animals—at conceptual, cultural, and societal levels. Moreover, she also asks how anarchists envisioned evolutionary mutual aid as a globally synchronic endeavor of cooperation to facilitate institutional transformation and challenge imperial and state-centered science of control.