Animal Release and the Sacrificial Ethos in Inner Asia

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Animal release is often understood as the practice of freeing an animal from human consumption or the burden of labour. Typically associated with various Buddhist or Daoist cosmologies in which liberating an animal is a merit-making act, animal release tends to be conceptualised in altruistic terms. Yet the diverse forms that sacrifice and animal release take across Inner Asia suggest that the focus of analysis sometimes shifts from a concern with freeing animals to protecting the human imperative to live. Introducing new ethnography on the ethical underpinnings of sacrifice among Buryats in northeast Mongolia and the Nuosu of southwest China, I propose that animal release can be an act of restrained violence that evokes the mythopoetic contours of human-animal relations, animal sentience and human self-preservation. Offering case studies on scapegoats, deferred sacrifice, and contingent forms of slaughter, I show how Buryats and Nuosu manage the ethical tensions posed by sacrifice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-216
Number of pages18
JournalInner Asia
Issue number2
Early online date4 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Animal release
  • Ethics
  • Mongolia
  • Mythopoetic
  • Paradox
  • Sacrifice
  • Scapegoat
  • Southwest China


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