Situating the thinking of soil

In what follows we shall try to think about soil. This thinking about soil does not presume to discover the scientific aspects about soil: its composition, its formation, its physical properties, its classification. Let alone come up with strategies to utilize it or to conserve it. This thinking is based on my everyday encounters with soil, with my ignorance and accustomation, as well as my sense of rootedness and belonging, to its humble existence.

At the same time, this thinking is not about soil itself because we don’t ask: “What is soil?” It is about things related to soil. It tries to understand soil by placing it in relationship with the daily labor on the farmland, with the composting process that nourishes the growth of the plants, and with the crafts where soil is used as the material. It tries to understand soil not by looking at soil itself to analyze it, but by looking at the networks containing soil. It is an act of mapping because it is about the understanding of connections.

Here we don’t think about soil in the name of dust, dirt, or mud. These names emphasize different states and properties of soil and imply our different attitudes toward them: we whisk away the dust; we wipe off the dirt; we clean a pair of muddy shoes. They seem to be redundant in our preference for civilization and tidiness. Here we think about soil in the name of soil or earth. When we talk about it in the name of soil, it indicates a connection with the rural which belongs to society. When we talk about it in the name of earth, it indicates a connection with nature. Soil belongs to both human society and the natural world. These two realms were rendered irreconcilable by modernity. The dual aspects of nature and culture (society) co-exist on soil and question the nature-culture split and “the basically capitalist ideology of culture against nature”[1] in Donna Haraway’s terms. This chapter is about the effort to question the nature-culture split.

As mentioned above, this thinking about soil is based on my everyday encounters with soil. Those everyday encounters are under a specific circumstance: I live in the countryside and sometimes work on the farmland. However, this kind of rural lifestyle is rendered obsolete in the speedy development in today’s China. In the past few decades, transforming from an agrarian civilization into an industrial civilization, a futuristic war-like landscape has unfolded like an epic in China. Mainstream narratives celebrate modernization and progress. However, as a witness to this process, I experience bewilderment. Like any transformation, it is accompanied by loss, confusion, and pain. The village where I live is about to be urbanized in the next few years. The soil of the village farmland that has been labored upon by generations of people and fed generations of people is going to be buried in concrete. Therefore, this thinking about soil is also nostalgic. Even though nostalgia may be considered sentimental, past-orientated, and not “contemporary”, it also provides existential meanings in the vigorous tide of progress to the alienated and the homeless.

Liu Xiaodong’s painting Disobeying the Rules completed in 1996 is about this bewilderment in the urbanization process (figure 1). The artist captured astutely a sharp and piercing image: a large group of naked rural migrant workers on a truck mixed with gas tanks. The silhouette of a corner of the building appeared behind them. The dazzling yellow construction helmets remind us of their identities. Liu Xiaodong has an earlier painting completed in 1970 about a truck passing through the city under the morning light, but in that painting, what is on the truck are pigs on the way to the slaughterhouse (figure 2). Although they were created in different years, the two paintings seem to correspond to each other. The migrant workers are carried in the truck in a way like the pigs heading to the slaughterhouse. They seem to have lost the right to choose their destinies but are just being carried forward by the tide of modernization and urbanization. This thinking about soil is situated in such an era.

Figure 1. Liu Xiaodong, Disobeying the Rules, 1996, oil on canvas, 180 cm x 230 cm, on, accessed September 6, 2021,
Figure 2. Liu Xiaodong, Pigs, 1970, oil on canvas, dimensions unknown, on, accessed Septemer 6, 2021,

Labor: the taming of soil

“The most necessary and elementary labor of man, the tilling of the soil, seems to be a perfect example of labor transforming itself into work in the process, as it were. This seems so because tilling the soil, its close relation to the biological cycle and its utter dependence upon the larger cycle of nature notwithstanding, leaves some product behind which outlasts its own activity and forms a durable addition to the human artifice: the same task, performed year in and year out, will eventually transform the wilderness into cultivated land.”[2]

–Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Sometimes walking in the countryside where I live, I perceive the traces of people everywhere instead of pure nature. People’s daily labor has formed the current state of this land. The fields, the terraces, the bridges, the ditches, and even the trees on the roadside and the mountain are inseparable from human labor. Perhaps the wolfberries and the mugworts on the river bank are wild, but in spring, people will pick their buds to eat, which will artificially affect their growth. Even those unattended cypress trees on the hillside will have their branches and leaves cut to smoke bacon during the twelfth lunar month, or be used as firewood on the eve of Chinese New Year for the wish that “a hundred (cypress) things are going well”. (In Chinese, the character for “cypress” is 柏bai, which has the same pronunciation as the character for “hundred”, 百bai.) During the funeral, when the coffin is carried to the tomb, people also take off the cypress branches and inserted them on the head wrapped in the mourning cloth, pinning their grief for the deceased. There are also many weeds that I can’t name. Old people regard them as herbs, and each knows their different uses. This is not a wasteland. The traces of human life cling to the landscape. It is a tamed landscape. Labor tames nature. It forms the connection between man and land. It transforms the wilderness into the cultivated. To transform the wild soil into cultivated land, it also needs a taming process.

At the first glance, tamed nature means nature exploited and controlled. However, the taming process does not go against the will of nature. Instead, it is regulated by natural cycles. At the beginning of his Farmland in Lu Village,Fei Xiaotong draws a farming calendar (table 1) to describe the farming activities throughout the year.[3] The calendar, which appears as a chart, comprises three components: the growth process of the crops (rice and broad beans), the climate change situation of the year according to the 24 solar terms, and the activities, labor, and tools required to cultivate the crops. The calendar is based on the observations and interviews Fei conducted in the 1930s Lu Village, which is a hundred kilometers west of Kunming. As productivity and production relations change, many details in the chart may no longer be relevant today. However, the calendar shows some phenomena that cannot be ignored. One thing is that farmers arrange their farming activities according to solar terms. The solar term is a time frame determined by the relative position of the earth and the sun. There are 24 solar terms in a year from lichun (beginning of spring) to dahan (great cold). Each term is slightly more than fifteen days. Together, it is just equal to one revolution of the earth. The climate cycle is mainly determined by the relationship between the earth and the sun. Therefore, the solar terms signify the climate change of a year. Arranging farming activities according to solar terms is to link labor with the astronomical, the cosmic, and the planetary. The cycle of people’s labor on the land is not solely determined by human will. It is closely related to the movements of celestial bodies in the universe.

Table 1. Farming Calendar. Translated and drawn by the author based on Fei Xiaotong’s Farming Calendar in Fei Xiaotong, “Farmland in Lu Village,” in Three Villages in Yunnan (Beijing: Commercial Press, 2021), 16.

The taming process has a dual aspect: the taming is simultaneously being tamed by the tamed. Farming activities should also follow the growth process of the crops. Labor does not determine the growth process of the crops. What determines the growth process of the crops is their biological characteristics and the environment. The work that people do on the farmland is just to help the crops get the opportunity to fully grow. People cannot freely control the amount and time they work on the farmland. In the calendar, we can see that the crops grow continuously on the farmland, but the farming activities are intermittent. In farming activities that match the growing process of the crops, the amount and kind of labor required vary from time to time. For example, in Lu Village, as shown in the calendar, the busiest part of the farming period is from broad bean ripening to seedling planting, which takes about 35 or 60 days in total. The farming activities required for each crop have different steps according to the growth cycle of the crop. In terms of rice, there are steps such as sowing seeds, transplanting rice seedlings, cultivating fields, and picking up grains. They should be conducted one after another in a particular period, neither early nor late. It is not so much labor that promotes the growth of plants, as it is the growth of plants that regulates the cycle of labor. The nature of the object of labor determines the nature of labor. Donna Haraway claims that “through labor, we make ourselves individually and collectively in a constant interaction with all that has not yet been humanized.”[4] Labor humanizes the indifferent nature (if nature is still seen as an opposition to humans). But it is an interaction instead of colonization. Colonization is about the power relations of dominance and being dominated. Interaction is about interchange, interactivity, and interlinkage. In this interaction, human labor transforms what has not yet been humanized. Meanwhile, what has not yet been humanized also transforms what has not anymore been natural.

In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt regards the labor on the farmland, “the tilling of the soil”[5], as “the most necessary and elementary labor of man”[6]. She also points out that the transformation from “the wilderness into cultivated land”[7], even though it seems to have left something durable which lasts longer than the activity through which it is produced, is not “a true reification”[8], which means that the product has not been made into a material and concrete thing and secured its existence once and for all. The cultivated land needs to be labored upon again and again over time to remain cultivated, in order to “remain within the human world”[9]. The notion that human labor keeps soil within the human world indicates that soil has such a destabilizing place that it will easily fall out of the human world and return to the wilderness if the labor process has ceased. In this sense, soil is neither purely natural nor purely man-made. Soil belongs to the human world, but it is not a man-made thing. Soil belongs to the world of nature, but it has traces of human labor. It lies in this ambiguous and shadowy area as an odd boundary being. It is simultaneously man and nature, ambiguously crafted and natural.

In The Human Condition, the absolute dichotomy between man and nature is omnipresent. The untouched nature is portrayed as indifferent and sublime with eternal movement, which is standing against men, mediated between men by the man-made world of things[10], whereas man takes up a heroic role of conqueror, destructor, violator, in the name of the creator. Soil challenges this dichotomy by blurring the boundary between man and nature. In the process of labor on the farmland, man is not a hero who interrupts the order of nature. His activities follow the biological cycle and depend upon the larger cycle of nature. The order of nature regulates his labor and teaches him what to do. He gives up the position of opposition to nature, and the associated heroism and violence.

The word “taming” indicates an anthropocentric position toward the otherness. However, in this process, the agency is not limited to humans. In The Human Condition, labor is described as the activity of the body of the animal laboran. The use of the word “animal” in the concept of the animal laboran indicates that labor does not only belong to humans. Labor is shared by both men and other animals and thus it cannot be considered to be human.[11] Although different kinds of human labor, irrigation, fertilization, plowing, tilling, and so on, have affected the soil’s state and property, animals also do labor to the soil. The most obvious example is the plowing by the buffalos. In terms of soil formation, apart from humans and animals, plants and microorganisms also do labor. The growth of the plants, the expansion of their root systems, the rotting of the fallen leaves and branches, have also affected the soil condition. The microorganisms’ activities have also affected the soil condition. In the eye of nature, in the effect of soil, man’s labor is not that different from the plants’ growth, the animals’ digging and excretion, and the microorganisms’ activities. Perhaps it is not much different from the influences by the rain, the wind, and the sun. Agencies both human and non-human, animate and inanimate, have contributed to the formation of soil.

Craft: the transformation of soil

“Thus Traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel.”[12]

–Walter Benjamin, The Story Teller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov [trans. Harry Zorn]

The craft that is directly related to soil is pottery. Soil as a material has meanings embedded in itself: roots, ancestry, grounding. The soil for pottery is clay. Pottery is a transformation of clay, a product of the interaction of the elements of earth, water, fire, and air, with different kinds of labor involved in the process.

What is essential to pottery is the form. The form of the pottery is a result of the nature of the material, the process of making, the compression from fingers, palms, and tools, gravity, and centrifugal force (if the clay is thrown on a wheel). And it suits so well the needs of the user. It is simultaneously resulted from making and intended for use. The intelligence of the form is inseparable from the intelligence of the clay, the intelligence of the tools, and the intelligence of the body (of both the craftsman and the user). The form is not determined by however we want to use the object since the object has its own will and agency because of its materiality and physicality. The form is the result of a dialogue between making and using, between the will of the craftsman and the will of the material and the physical. And in this dialogue, there is agreement and disagreement, confliction and reconciliation. This is the tension of the form. In my making of a pottery bowl through the coiling method, I want to let the wall of the bowl be thinner and thinner because it is easier to use and looks more elegant. But the clay wants it to be thicker because it needs to support its own weight under gravity. The result is a form with a thickness as an equilibrium achieved under a lot of negotiations between the will of my hand directed by the ideal in my mind and the will of the material.

Plato’s Timaeus presents the universe as the handiwork of a divine craftsman whose making is imitating an eternal model of the form that acts as the ideal template of the physical world.[13] Not only about the creation of the universe, but this metaphor also points out the nature of the making of a craftsman, which is to bring a mental model into the material world. However, the form is more than a mental model in an individual’s transient, forgetful, and ever-changing mind. It is a collective memory, a community consciousness, which has its own genealogy. The forms of the bowl, the vessel, the plate, and so on, have changed little since ancient times, and seem to be infinite. A bowl may not last. However, when a bowl is smashed broken, the idea of the form of the bowl still exists and a new bowl can be made based on the idea of the form. Forms and ideas are connected to each other. A form is different from a shape, a contour, a volume, or an appearance. A form is related to an object, but it does not have the physical or material entities of that object. It is an eternal abstraction, an immutable essence, a shadow cast and an image projected by the object onto the mind.

Since this summer, I have been making pottery tableware through the primitive coiling method with the clay I collected from the village fields. With the coiling technique, a form can be built only with the material and the hands without the aid of external tools. The Native Americans use a puki as a mold in the coiling to form a round-bottom pinch pot. The puki is a fired shallow round-bottom bowl-like vessel that was the bottom of a broken pot. It can also be made particularly out of clay. Even the tool (the puki) comes from this hand and clay dialogue. This is an introverted and self-sustaining system without the intervention of external tools. The distance between the body and the tool is dispelled. Tools mediate the human exchange with nature. At the same time, it builds an alienated relation between humans and nature and ensures the obsolescence of the body. The making of the pottery is a return from the tool to the body, a reconstruction of our sense of nature, origins, and the past.

After being fired in the kiln, the tableware is ready to use. Tableware has an intimacy with the user’s body. The hands and fingers hold them and the lips touch them, sometimes tongues. The things contained in them will go into the stomach and enter the body’s circulation through the digestive system. They also bear the traces of our daily lives: the temperature of the soup, the touch of the lip, the bumping and the washing.

The first half of Heidegger’s The Thing is rigorous thoughts based on a piece of tableware – a jug. The nothingness of the void makes the jug a container and gives it functions of taking, keeping, and outpouring. From the potter’s point of view, to make a jug is not to shape the clay into the outward appearance as a jug. It is to create an emptiness out of clay. This emptiness is not an absolute vacuum. It is a capacity for displacement, because “to fill a jug means to exchange one filling for another”.[14] Heidegger’s thoughts echo Laozi’s thoughts. In the eleventh chapter of Daodejing, Laozi uses the images of a carriage-wheel, jug-making, and house-building, to illustrate the relationship between thingness and nothingness, positive space and negative space, being and non-being: “Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the center hole that makes it useful. Shape clay into a vessel; it is the space within that makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room; it is the holes that make it useful. Therefore profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.”[15] Heidegger further discusses the fourfold relationship embedded in the jugness of the jug: the earth, the sky, the divine, the mortal. “In the gift of the outpouring earth and sky, divinities and mortals dwell together all at once.”[16] The use of the word “dwell” in this description implies the jug as a place, a site, a locus, where the interaction among the four takes place. Craft is not about the creation of a single thing. It is about the connectedness of different things.

The word “dwell” in Heidegger’s description of the fourfold makes me think of “dwelling”. In his Building Dwelling Thinking, Heidegger writes: “Human being consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth. / But ‘on the earth’ already means ‘under the sky.’ Both of these also mean ‘remaining before the divinities’ and include a ‘belonging to men’s being with one another.’ By a primal oneness the four—earth and sky, divinities and mortals—belong together in one.”[17] This is Heidegger’s conception of the world as a fourfold oneness of earth, sky, divinities, and mortals. The fourfold world appears to be a seamless blend of nature (earth and sky) and culture (divinities and mortals).

In the village where I live, terracotta roof tiles cover the roofs of the houses. Terracotta is also a transformation of clay. There used to be a terracotta tile kiln near the village which utilized clay from the village fields to make terracotta roof tiles. Roof tiles rest on the wooden purlins and shelter the life that is underneath them. They form the boundary between domestic life and the natural world—the year’s seasons and their changes, the wind, the rain, the dew, the frost, or the snow brought by different weathers, the breaking dawn and the gloom and glow of dusk. They are made with earth, but they are deeply connected with the sky, not only because they face the depth of the sky and see the passing by of the shining sun and the changing moon, but also because both the roof and the sky is a shelter to what is underneath them. The earth is what is underneath the sky. The dwelling is what is underneath the roof tiles. The earth is what human beings have dwelt on. The sky is what human beings have dwelt under. They dwell before the divinities. They dwell among the mortals. And they dwell at home, underneath the roof tiles that are made from soil.

Compost: the agency of soil

“It’s the mud on our shoes, it is rubble,

It’s the sand on our teeth, it is slush,

It’s the pure, taintless dust that we crumble,

That we pound, that we mix, that we crush.

But we call it our own for ’twill open one day

To receive and embrace us and turn us to clay.” [18]

–Anna Akhmatova, This Russian Soil [trans. Irina Zheleznova]

The village where I live is in the hilly topography of Sichuan. It is surrounded by fields. My family has been living in the village and working in the fields for generations. The fields were passed down by our ancestors. Generations of farming have shaped the nature of the soil. Different kinds of crops and vegetables have grown and rotted in the soil. Different kinds of fertilizers have been put into the soil. Therefore, the soil contains many things from the past to the present. The soil in the field sustains the growth of the plants and feeds generations of people. In the labor process on the land, the seemingly individual labor is connected with the microcycle of composting, which is affected by other people’s labor in the past. Those long past times, with their different climates, different weathers, different plants there were growing, and different people’s hard work, are connected to the present. A linkage has been formed, which is a shared heritage and an imagined community that is shared or communed in the passage of time.

Composting is a material labor of transformation calling on physics and chemistry whereby wastes are decomposed and transformed into plant food. The soil is ever animate and laboring, for composting is ever happening. Soil is not a single substance, but a system composed of multiple substances: minerals, gases, liquids, and organic matters. The different substances interact with each other and form a hybrid that sustains the growth of life. It has the quality of impurity, hybridity, and complexity. The system is a porous one since a typical soil is about half solids and half voids occupied by water and gas. The porosity allows for interaction and communication for the material exchange between the living and the non-living things.

The characteristic of the living is its mortality. The living can turn into the non-living and soil mediates this process. In her poem This Russian Soil, Anna Akhmatova captures shrewdly an image of the soil: it will “receive and embrace us and turn us to clay”[19]. In most cases, the soil is our sleeping bed after death. To bury a living thing when it is no longer alive is to return it to the soil. The soil is haunted by the lingering spirits and the dead. Meanwhile, it is also the fertile ground for nourishing life. Nothing is more closely connected to death and more closely connected to life at the same time.

In her The Companion Species Manifesto, Donna Haraway has an interesting mentioning of the Scots sculptor Andrew Goldsworthy’s works: “For him, the history of the land is living; and that history is composed out of the polyform relatings of people, animals, soil, water, and rocks.”[20] Like other land artists such as Robert Smithson and Richard Long, Goldsworthy’s works also bear the quality of ephemerality, mortality, and change. In his publication Hand to Earth, he has written about the growth and decay of his works: “Each work grows, stays, decays – integral parts of a cycle which the photograph shows at its height, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image. Process and decay are implicit in that moment.”[21] Each work is alive, and being alive means being assigned on the track toward death. But being alive is more than being toward death, not only because growth is life’s tendency, but also because decay has its own agency. In Goldsworthy’s terms, when he juxtaposed growth and decay, he assigned directionality to those two words. Growth points to the height of existence, the moment when something is most alive. Decay points to the termination when something ceases to exist. But looking at Goldsworthy’s sculptures, for example, Holes in Middleton Woods, Yorkshire (figure 3) that he made in 1981, how can we tell the point of termination? The work comprises three holes he dug in a forest floor, each inside a larger one. Can we tell it is “dead” when a hole collapses, or when two holes collapse, or when all three holes collapse? When an animal comes and turns it into a nest, when plants start to grow in it, when the rain starts to flood it, has it entered a new cycle of life? There is no definite end to the work.

Goldsworthy’s work is about heterogeneous relationships. It is a good reference for engaging compost. Composting is also a process of polyform relatings meandering between the macro and the micro-scale, the living and the non-living, and it has connotations of mortality, transience, change, and exchange.

Figure 3. Andrew Goldsworthy, Holes / Middleton Woods, Yorkshire, 1981, dimensions unknown, TATE, accessed September 6, 2021,


Let’s look at Liu Xiaodong’s Disobeying the Rules (figure 1) again. There are things not depicted in the painting that we cannot see. However, we can imagine. Seeing this truck carrying the rural migrant workers, you can imagine that it has passed the Third Ring Road in Beijing. In such an urbanized space, the traces of the pre-modern agricultural society merge with the development of the modern city. It captured a fragment of a messy entangled, rural-urban, premodern-modern world, a world of hybridity, collision, disruption, and confusion, a collage, a folding world. In this painting, I also sense a sense of spatial displacement, estrangement, and the essential questionability of their beings in such a world, a longing for the return home, a mood of nostalgia.

Nostalgia involves both the temporal (past) and the spatial (home). It is a longing for the return home as well as an attempt to escape the impermanence and uncertainty of contemporality. It arises from modernity but acts as a counter to its unceasing change and renewal. In his We Have Never Been Modern, Bruno Latour explores the split between nature and culture (society), between human and non-human (things) on which modernity bases itself.[22] The definition of modernity is a purifying practice. It purifies the multifarious and complex nature as something singular. It purifies the messy entangled relationship between nature and culture as clear-cut. The purification is challenged by the existence of soil. As something belonging to the natural world, it is a hybrid system. As something belonging to human society, it has deep connections and multiple interactions with the natural. In the premodern world, the purification of nature and the distinction between nature and culture does not exist. Soil relates to different kinds of beings and belongs to the messy entangled, “natural-cultural” [23] world. In this sense, we may see soil as premodern. This is the temporal aspect of the being of soil. Soil is essentially tied to place. It relates to the labor on the farmland, the craft and the dwelling in the homeland. This is the spatial aspect of the being of soil.

In Disobeying the Rules, old and young men were drawn into this city and became members of thousands of migrant workers, contributing to the construction of the city. Maybe their feet were still stained with the soil of their homeland. This is another image I could see in my mind’s eye, even though it is not painted in this painting. (5429 words)

[1] Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 10.

[2] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 138 (first publication: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

[3] Fei Xiaotong, “Farmland in Lu Village,” in Three Villages in Yunnan (Beijing: Commercial Press, 2021), 16.

[4] Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 10.

[5] Arendt, The Human Condition, 138.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 139.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Xia Chengwei, “A Line made by Walking” (Art Writing/Writing Art Essay, UCL, 2021).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Walter Benjamin, “The Story Teller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov.” In Illuminations, trans. Harry Zorn (London: Fontana/Collins, 1970), 90-2.

[13] Plato, “Timaeus,” The Internet Classics Archive, accessed September 5, 2021,

[14] Martin Heidegger, “The Thing.” In Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 167.

[15] Lao Tzu, “Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 11”, trans. Gia-fu Feng & Jane English, Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – A Comparative Study, accessed September 5, 2021,

[16] Heidegger, “The Thing.” In Poetry, Language, Thought, 171.

[17] Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking.” In Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 147.

[18] Anna Akhmatova, “This Russian Soil”, trans. Irina Zheleznova, RuVerses, accessed September 5, 2021,

[19] Ibid.

[20] Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (Chicago, Ill.: Bristol: Prickly Paradigm; University Presses Marketing, 2003), 23.

[21] Andrew Goldsworthy, Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture 1976–1990 (London: Thames Hudson, 2004), 9.

[22] Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), 1-12.

[23] Ibid, 7.


Akhmatova, Anna. “This Russian Soil.” Translated by Irina Zheleznova. RuVerses. Accessed September 5, 2021.

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998 (first publication: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

Benjamin, Walter. “The Story Teller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov.” In Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zorn. London: Fontana/Collins, 1970.

Fei, Xiaotong. “Farmland in Lu Village.” in Three Villages in Yunnan. Beijing: Commercial Press, 2021.

Goldsworthy, Andrew. Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture 1976–1990. London: Thames Hudson, 2004.

Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago, Ill.: Bristol: Prickly Paradigm; University Presses Marketing, 2003.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Thing.” In Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Heidegger, Martin. “Building Dwelling Thinking.” In Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Lao Tzu. “Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 11.” Translated by Gia-fu Feng & Jane English. Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – A Comparative Study. Accessed September 5, 2021.

Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Plato. “Timaeus.” The Internet Classics Archive. Accessed September 5, 2021.

Xia, Chengwei. “A Line made by Walking.” Art Writing/Writing Art Essay, UCL, 2021.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Liu Xiaodong. Disobeying the Rules. 1996. Oil on canvas, 180 cm x 230 cm.

Figure 2. Liu Xiaodong. Pigs. 1970. Oil on canvas. Dimensions unknown.

Table 1. Farming Calendar. Translated and drawn by the author based on Fei Xiaotong’s Farming Calendar.

Figure 3. Andrew Goldsworthy. Holes / Middleton Woods, Yorkshire. 1981. Dimensions unknown.