“Negotiating Vertical Space: Walls, Vistas, and the Topographical Imagination”

Poems, anecdotes, and Tang tales depict a variety of ways in which denizens of Chang'an obtained visual and physical access to privileged urban space by appropriating the vertical dimension. One kind of such depictions focuses on natural and man-made vista points such as Leyou Park and the Ci'en Pagoda in the southeast of Chang'an, which rose above the rest of the city and allowed the climber an overview of it comparable to the imperial view from the palaces. Just as importantly, in late Tang narratives that combine urban geography with a fascination for suprahuman capacities, protagonists successfully transgress formidable walls inside the city — walls that were initially built to maintain hierarchy and security by dividing space into an inside and an outside corresponding to exclusion and inclusion. By narrating the breaching of this spatial division, tales such as "Chezhong nüzi" and "Pan jiangjun" render the scaling of walls and pagodas into acts that are both ludic and performative. These accounts demonstrate a perception of urban space in which the fluidity of bodies and gazes contend with spatial hierarchies, and in which walls are simultaneously conduits and boundaries in space.

The abstract above is courtesy of the T'ang Studies Society/Taylor & Francis.