Marco Polo Centre research activities are aimed at exploring innovative topics as religious identities, migrations, climate change, history of the relations between Europe, Asia and Islamic World from a transcultural point of view. In particular, we are interested in historical, religious, philosophical and artistical processes, in the impact of ICT in the linguistic and symbolic production and in the study of emergent areas such as South West and Central Asia.

Research activities

Marco Polo Centre research activities mainly include post doctoral research grants dedicated to specific aspects of the topics of interest and the organization of workshop and symposia involving the most  recognised experts in the world in the topics covered: you will find more information about our ongoing and past projects in the tabs.

Islamic Languages on the Silk Road. Lexical, Semantic and Symbolic-cultural Convergences

Supervisors: Daniela MeneghiniThomas DahnhardtAndrea DroccoSimone Sibilio
Fellow: Chiara Fontana
Starting date: 01 December 2020

The concept of ‘Islamic Languages’, introduced in 1981 by Alessandro Bausani in a famous article, is today at the centre of a renewed academic interest. This notwithstanding, such a concept has not been adequately investigated in its developments and particularly from the standpoint of its relevance and topicality in relation to the dynamics of acculturation and integration and especially in connection with today's migratory flows and the cultural challenges they pose. The research project aims at examining Arabic borrowings (direct or mediated by Persian) in the educated, abstract and symbolically marked lexicon of ‘Islamic Languages’ with specific regard to the connotative value and the symbolic, philosophical, and ethico-religious dimensions involved. The analysis will focus on a corpus of multilingual translations in some ‘Islamic Languages’ of the Indo-Iranian region in order to elucidate how abstract, elevated and symbolically connoted concepts are, in most cases, expressed through the resort to lexical elements of Arabic, and often Qur'anic, origin. The identification of this common (despite diverse local semantic developments) lexical denominator, will help clarify, from a comparative perspective with Europe, the transcultural dimensions in the processes of penetration, transmission and diffusion of abstract and symbolically connoted notions, through the Islamic channel, between the Arab world, the Iranian area, and the Indian region. The research includes the realization of a ‘lexicon of Islamic Languages’, namely a multilingual corpus of Arabic loanwords (often associated with Qur'anic occurrences), distinctive of ‘Islamic Languages’ and particularly significant for their connotative value and symbolic, philosophical and ethical-religious dimensions, in a comparative perspective with the different semantization process of the same concepts in major European languages.

The Narrative of the Anthropocene with Chinese Characteristics: Climate-Fiction Between Realism and Dystopia

Supervisor: Nicoletta Pesaro
Fellow: Martina Codeluppi
Starting date: 1 October 2020

Given China’s world record in terms of growth rate, its position vis-à-vis the environmental crisis has been widely discussed in many research fields. Undoubtedly, the nature of China’s development makes it one of the protagonists of the controversial era universally known as “Anthropocene”. While the scientific approach struggles to gain the masses’ hearts, the narrative of the climate emergency has succeeded, through the social movement, in awakening the individual’s perception of such an urgent matter. More “idea” than “problem” (Hulme 2009), the precariousness of the ecosystem has become part and parcel of our everyday life, and it is precisely in this context that the power of literature to portrait society has brought to the rise of Cli-Fi (Climate Fiction). In its original meaning, this term designates a sub-category of Science-Fiction that deals with the issue of climate change and of environmental crisis in general (Bloom 2013). It is a young genre in the field of world literature, and in China it is yet to be widely developed. However, several Science-Fiction works that have been most welcome in the last years can be included in this category.
What is the individual’s perception of the environmental crisis depicted in Cli-Fi novels? What thoughts does it stimulate and what is the social picture it describes? This project aims to answer these questions by carrying out a study of the literary text from a cultural and sociological perspective, combining the tools of narratology with the concept of social imaginary (Taylor 2002) applied to the idea of climate emergency. The three narrative texts Huang chao 荒潮 (The Waste Tide) by Chen Qiufan (2013), Beijing zhedie 北京折叠 (Folding Beijing) by Hao Jingfang (2012), and Liulang diqiu 流浪地球 (The Wandering Earth) by Liu Cixin (2008) will constitute the corpus of the analysis. These works deal with environmental issues from different perspectives, highlighting their repercussions on society, culture, and family. Ranging between near and remote futures, this corpus combines dystopian scenarios ascribable to Hard Science Fiction with an almost realistic tendency that brings familiarity and likelihood to prevail over post-apocalyptic contexts. In particular, the analysis will deal with the following themes: a) the type of emergency; b) the relationship between humanity and nature; c) the political and economic implications; d) the features of the new society.
Moving away from the approach of Ecocriticism, often too sterile, this study intends to focus on the most human and social dimension of the environmental crisis, in order to identify the impact Chinese Cli-Fi has on the way the individual and collectivity perceive it. Indeed, it is through the projection of possible futures that these narratives can stimulate the masses and inspire a deep reflection, necessary to cultivate the environmental awareness in one of the countries exerting greatest influence on our ecosystem today.

The Persianate World and East Asia: Ethnographic and Geographic Representations in Early Modern Eurasia

Supervisor: Stefano Pellò
Fellow: Francesco Calzolaio
Starting Date: 1 October 2020

The project explores the ethnographic and geographic discourses on East Asia which emerged in the early modern (ca. 1400-1750) Persianate world, i.e. the wide space – from the Balkans to Xinjiang – in which Persian was recognised as the cultural medium par excellence.
The early modern period is an age of travel and discovery, of geographical redefinition. As mobility on a Eurasian – and global – scale increases, the limits of the world as they were known to its different peoples in about 1350 are pushed back. The geographic and ethnographic treatises and the many works of travel literature produced across early modern Eurasia testify to this momentous change. Western literature on the subject always attracted much scholarly interest. As far as the Asian world is concerned, Indo-Persian, Ottoman and Chinese works are all getting more and more recognition (consider Sanjay Subrahmanyam and Muzaffar Alam’s Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries, 2007; Giancarlo Casale’s The Ottoman Age of Exploration, 2010; Laura Hostetler’s Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China, 2001). Except for the Indo-Persian production, however, Persianate texts on the subject are still largely neglected. And yet, the wide diffusion of Persian language in Early Modern Eurasia suggests that the geographic and ethnographic discourses vehiculated by theses works indeed contributed to the formation of the Eurasian world as we know it.
Aiming to address this blind spot in scholarship, the project studies the representation of East and South-East Asia found in three early modern Persian-language works: Alī Akbar Khatāy’s Khatāy-nāma (early 16th century), an essay on Ming China authored at the Ottoman court; Muḥammad Zamān’s Chīn-nāma, a 17th-century Persian translation of Matteo Ricci’s work on China; Ibn Muḥammad Ibrāhīm’s Safina-yi Sulaimanī, composed in 17th century Isfahan and describing the kingdom of Siam. With reference to this corpus as well as at other sources, including manuscripts, the project seeks to:

  1. Assess how this body of works conveys new imperial ethnographies, in an age of emergence of universal ideologies.
  2. Understand how it contributed to the development and circulation of new discourses on human diversity in and beyond the “republic of letters” of Persianate Eurasia, with attention to the development of notions of humanism and universalism.
  3. Develop a comparison with similar discourses, which were by then circulating in the West, with a focus on translations and reciprocal influences.
  4. Understand how these discourses contributed to the intellectual foundations of the modern world.

Historical archeology of the first Chinese Middle Age in China and Central Asia

Supervisors: Tiziana Lippiello – Sabrina Rastelli
Fellow: Yusheng Li
Starting date: 01 September 2020

In the past 70 years the significance of the Silk Roads has been enriched by a succession of archaeological finds. The study of these objects, usually named ‘exotic objects’ (bolaipin  舶来品), have become a specialized area of studies in China, the Silk Road archaeology. After the establishment of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ in 2013, Silk Roads studies have reached a new momentum: new archaeological sites have been excavated, museum exhibitions have displayed these findings, academic seminars and the publications are increasing year by year. The research will examine all the ‘exotic objects,’ including textile, gold and silver, glass, seals, pottery found in China and Central Asia, dating from the end of the Han dynasty (III cent.) to before the Song dynasty (X cent.). Past studies, both foreign and Chinese, have mainly attempted at identifying and discuss the foreign attributes of ‘exotic objects.’ The research, based on new archeological findings and the use of new technologies, will study these objects and replace them back into their original context. This will allow for a reassessment of their role and the way they circulated within ancient Chinese society.

Aesopic “Oriental” traditions in contact: trajectories of the fable genre in Hebrew, Armenian, and Syriac between Indian sources and classical antiquity.

Supervisor: Piero Capelli
Fellow: Paolo Lucca
Starting date: 1 June 2020

The aim of the project is to study the transmission dynamics of texts and contents of the Aesopic fable through the Jewish, Armenian, and Syriac cultures, from late antiquity up to the threshold of modernity (3rd-16th cc.). The corpus under analysis includes the Hebrew and Aramaic material preserved in the Talmudic literature (4th-7th cc.); the Greek version of Syntipas (11th c.); the Syriac fables published by Lefèvre (ante 8th c.); the Armenian fable tradition (Ołompianos [5th c.?], Mxit'ar Goš [12th-13th c.], and the corpus ascribed to Vardan Aygekc'i [12th-13th cc.]); and the European late-medieval Hebrew compilations such as the Mišle šu‘alim (12th-13th c.; ed. princ. Mantua 1557-1559) and the Sefer ha-ma‘asim (13th c.). An integral part of the project will be the first complete study of the Aramaic version of the Syriac fables published by Lefèvre, attested in two Hebrew manuscripts of Italian origin (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Or. Qu. 685 [11th c.], and Moscow, Russian State Library, Ms. Guenzburg 45 [16th c.]), and its collation with the original Syriac text. The analysis of the textual relationships between the Syriac and the Aramaic recension (which is probably of Babylonian origin [8th-10th cc.]) will allow to reconstruct the textual history of this Oriental tradition (both of its sources from classical antiquity – Babrius, Phaedrus, and Avianus – and of its Indian “ramifications” – the Jātaka and the Pañcatantra) and the path through which it reached European Judaism. The final product of the research should be an updated bibliography of the Aesopic fable, where also the Hebrew, Armenian, and Syriac traditions will be analyzed to reconstruct the long trajectory followed by this genre in the Eurasian geo-cultural continuum (with a special focus on the Syro-Mesopotamian region between the 3rd and the 13th century). In fact, this was the context where, in addition to the above-mentioned collections which will be the primary object of the research, the composition, transmission and diffusion of works such as the Jātaka, Pañcatantra, Jawami’ al-ḥikayat wa lawami’ al-riwayat and Kalīla wa Dimna took place, in a multi-ethnic and multilingual environment, where the classical Graeco-Latin tradition dialogued with themes and imageries from the Indian cultural landscape.

A comparative overview of the main film festivals in Eastern Asia: cultural policies and economic dynamics

Supervisor: Bonaventura Ruperti
Fellow: Eugenio De Angelis
Starting date: 1 March 2020

The present project aims to consider the major film festivals in Eastern Asia – i.e. China, South Korea and Japan – in order to analyze the relationship between their respective countries from an original standpoint. Despite the surprisingly little attention that film festivals have received so far, they are complex entities representing privileged platforms to observe cultural policies and economic dynamics from a trans-national perspective. Events such as the Tokyo International Film Festival, the Busan IFF or the Shanghai IFF affect a wide range of players. Each phase of a film festival – selecting, programming, exhibiting, awarding, distributing – can be seen as the expression of cultural strategies deployed by a country, as the above-mentioned festivals are partially or entirely fueled by public funding. In this regard, attention shall also be paid to the key role played by the film markets which, as in the case of TIFFCOM in Tokyo, are closely related to festivals: these can in fact become invaluable sites of encounter for different film industries, where international co-productions and projects often kick-start. Selecting and awarding are undoubtedly the most visible activities of a festival, and they are therefore deeply influenced by (geo)political decisions which are only seldom linked to aesthetic or artistic criteria. Focusing on major and “mainstream” film festivals will allow to expose both their national and international agenda. On one hand, film festivals will be analyzed from a national perspective in relation to identification with their respective local communities, their function as economic and touristic forces, and their production of a cultural identity. On the other end, issues such as soft-power dynamics, strategies for self-representation and global prestige will also be examined in order to understand the cultural and economic policies guiding film festivals when conceived as international entities. As for the methodology, an interdisciplinary approach will be favored, as the proposed research will range from media studies to the broader context of the humanities and social sciences, in order to frame the cultural and political forces underlying film industry in each country. Finally, a comparative and systemic approach will be employed to examine major film festivals in relation with their role in shaping new trends in local and global film industries: this will represent an alternative perspective on film studies, aiming to include those socio-economic parameters which are often neglected in film analysis

Chinese Investment in Italy and the BRI

Supervisor: Renzo Riccardo Cavalieri
Fellow: Cecilia Attanasio Ghezzi
Starting date: 01 June 2020

In the last decade, Chinese companies invested more than 350 billion Euro in Europe and Italy has been one of the countries that enjoyed more this huge flow of money. Almost all industrial sectors have been affected by Chinese acquisitions, from tourism to pharma, from fashion to machinery. This phenomenon raises expectations and fears, in particular when it involves sensitive industries like ports or civil infrastructures, telecommunications or media or hi-tech. In the last five years, the flow of Chinese overseas direct investments (ODI) towards Europe has been framed within the Belt and Road Initiative, the big connectivity project launched by President Xi Jinping in 2014. Despite its importance and actuality, Italian academic literature on the subject is quite limited and – with a few exceptions (Spigarelli, Amighini, Goldstein) - out of date, while there some interesting but specialized studies are constantly produced as papers by think tanks and industrialists’ associations, but of uneven quality. Statistical analyses (e.g. the database of REPRINT-Politecnico di Milano-ICE) seem to be unable to cover the whole picture. Taking into account the existing relation between Chinese ODI and the BRI, this project’s aim is first of all to map Chinese direct investments in Italy and the related literature; on such basis, analyze by a formal (legal and business) viewpoint the methods and forms of their establishment (M&A, greenfield, etc.) and their subsequent post-acquisition operations, trying to understand whether there are issues and problems that can be considered typical of Chinese investments. Last, the present shift in the political attitude of European politics and legislation on foreign investments towards a more closed and cautious approach, with particular reference to the proliferation of protectionist tools like the “golden power” that governments can exercise to stop foreign investments in sectors that are considered strategic.

The Chinese Alternative: Beijing’s Evolving Role as Economic Option for the Middle East and North Africa 

Supervisor: Maria Cristina Paciello
Fellow: Francesco Saverio Leopardi
Starting date: 01 April 2020

Once marginal, economic relations between the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and China increased significantly over the last three decades. China still does not match European and American economic presence in MENA countries in terms of trade exchanges, direct investments and strategic partnerships. Nonetheless, its developing presence, today heralded by the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as its patterns and models of intervention, have been acquiring growing relevance for local authorities and thus hold the potential to become a viable alternative to Europe and the US. In this context, there is urgent need to investigate a topic that has been so far only marginally covered by the academic literature.
This research aims at reconstructing the evolution of Chinese economic presence in the MENA by focusing on its relations with one of its main regional partners, namely Algeria. In particular, as far as the selected case study is concerned, the research will be dedicated to identify the major sectors and models of intervention that the Chinese authorities pursued since the late 1980s up to the present day. It will furthermore investigate how and to what extent Algeria welcomed Chinese economic assistance and how its importance evolved throughout the scrutinized period.
Signed treaties and trade agreements with China during the selected period, will represent the main primary sources to delineate the evolution of Chinese economic penetration in Algeria. The conditionalities and the language used to frame such documents will provide fundamental insights on the themes that this study addresses. Moreover, aiming at tracing the reaction of Algerian authorities, this research will also rely on declarations issued by relevant officials following the signature, implementation or conclusion of treaties and agreements. To this purpose, the research will be based on Arabic written sources. The archives of United Nations economic agencies for the region such as the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) or the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will provide a further source of documentation on China-MENA economic relations. This corpus of primary sources will be analysed on the basis of a comprehensive review of the literature on the economic presence of China in the region, with particular attention to the selected case study.

Read the article The Pandemic, Debt and Sino-Algerian Relations

Kazakhstan: The Nation-Building process in between Russia, China and the Islamic world

Supervisor: Aldo Ferrari
Fellow:Paolo Sorbello
Starting date: 01 September 2019

The project aims to deepen some relevant aspects of contemporary Kazakhstan, with particular reference to the country's relations with Russia and China. The research will initially focus on the processes of construction of the Kazakh national identity and, subsequently, will take into consideration the current trends, with a special focus on Kazakhstani elites relations with and perception of Moscow and Beijing.
The relation between Russia and Kazakhstan will be examined starting from the historical linkages established over the last three centuries. The critical evaluation of the historiographical debate on the conquest and tsarist domination between the XVIII and early XX centuries will represent the starting point of the research. In particular, the research shall explore the opportunity to apply to the Kazakh context the interpretative categories of colonialism and orientalism, widespread in Western research and increasingly used in the post-Soviet countries. A key element of the research will also be represented by the creation of a modern Kazakh national identity within the Soviet policies of nationality. Indeed, Russia/USSR has played a decisive role in shaping contemporary Kazakhstan, from the linguistic and the political-administrative level up to the very delimitation of the state borders. It may be precisely for this reason that Kazakhstan strongly feels the need to emancipate itself from Russia - with which it maintains a close collaboration, particularly within the Eurasian Union - following a path that will be completed with the forthcoming abandonment of the Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Latin one.
On this backdrop, the ultimate goal of the research is to identify the main vectors for the construction of the Kazakh national identity in the aftermath of the USSR dissolution, with a particular reference to the analysis of the local elites perceptions, as they suddenly moved from the margins of the political, economic and ideological Soviet system to the direct control of a vast country, rich in natural resources and strategically located among Russia, China and the Islamic world.
A further aspect of the investigation will be the perception by the elites of the West, whose importance appears to be indisputable but at the same time limited by the unavoidable geographical and cultural distance. Of particular relevance within the research will be the evaluation of how the Chinese model of development is assessed in today's Kazakhstan. The latter is particularly important in light of the prominent role played by Kazakhstan in the framework of the infrastructure projects proposed by Beijing (Belt and Road Initiative), which not by chance were announced for the first time in 2013 in its capital city, Astana. In fact, the awareness of the positive economic repercussions of the project seems to be accompanied, in Kazakhstan, by the widespread fears resulting from Chinese growing political and economic power. Thus, the Central Asian country may offer a privileged research perspective in order to evaluate the broader and long-term outlook of the Chinese strategies. Moreover, the relevance of Kazakhstan as a producer and exporter of hydrocarbons to the East and the West offers a further and significant starting point to study and assess the key-role of the country to the development of regional cooperation in a multi-vector perspective.
Finally, the ethnic dimension represents an additional element to be taken into account by the research, especially as both the Russian-Kazakh and the Sino-Kazakh relations come to the fore. Indeed, the research shall take into due consideration the presence of a sizable Russian community in Kazakhstan as well as the large Kazakh communities living in the Russian Federation and in the Chinese Xinjiang, where about one million Kazakhs currently live.
The study of these cultural and ethnic dynamics is ultimately aimed at identifying the geopolitical equilibriums of a composite reality like Kazakhstan, whose identity is in a continuous redefinition stage and whose strategic location, in the very heart of the Eurasian landmass, ensures guarantees of lasting relevance in the coming decades.

Strategies of linguistic leveling in Arab television productions: transcultural dynamics and sociolinguistic norms in the use of patterns

Supervisor: Antonella Ghersetti
Fellow: Vicente Marti Tormo
Starting date: 01/06/2019

The project intends to analyze the macro-strategies of linguistic leveling of various television productions and the consequent adaptation of cultural elements specific to different regions of the Arab world: among these, the use of pre-fixed formulas and linguistic structures (patterns) showing significant differences between the varieties of Arabic (“Arabic dialects”). The sociolinguistic rules of communicative exchanges in Arabic will be analyzed in a contrastive and transcultural perspective, comparing the interactions within local productions in colloquial Arabic and productions of Arabic and European transmissions having the same format. The project will drive to the creation of an annotated multimedia corpus. This corpus must contain audiovisual material, transcriptions and translations, and also annotations concerning linguistic and pragmatic aspects (cultural and social dimension of discourse, contextual factors, non-verbal language) to allow understanding of the socio-cultural and communicative dynamics of the speaking communities in Arab countries. This aspect, so far little investigated, will have possible repercussions on teaching: the corpus may constitute a resource for teachers and students not only accessible online, but also compatible with different digital platforms, contributing to the development of an innovative didactics of the Arabic language and its cultures, as well as autonomous learning and E-Learning development.

Networks of Science and Waters: the diffusion of traditional irrigation techniques in the Islamic world

Supervisor: Simone Cristoforetti
Fellow: Massimiliano Borroni
Starting date: 01 April 2019

Networks of Science and Waters will conduct an in-depth mapping of hydrological competences and knowledge of irrigation techniques in Arabic sources of the Islamic age, from the seventh until the thirteenth century. To this end, a research grant will be awarded to an individual researcher who will retrieve all information on irrigation techniques, water management and hydraulic engineering available in written works composed in Arabic in this period.
Data retrieved over the course of the project will be stored in a graph database developed by the researcher, and it will lead to the publication of a study on the diffusion of specialist knowledge about irrigation techniques and water-related phenomena among Arabic speaking elites in the lands under Muslim control during these seven centuries. The Database will allow the researcher and the proponent to conduct social network analysis, conducing to a quantitative evaluation of the diffusion of this specialist skill-set among relevant social groups.
The researcher will have to locate and register three categories of primary sources:
a) Written works explicitly devoted to themes under the scope of the project
b) Passages dealing with themes under the scope of the project that may be found in written works devoted to other subjects. For instance, a digression on hydrological matters found in the Athar al-Baqiya by al-Biruni is already under study with the cooperation of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Brescia.
c) Descriptions of historical events relevant for the project, such as mentions of the building of canals, extreme or exceptional climatic events, or notable regional customs in the field of water and soil management.
All data derived from primary sources will be stored in a graph database and put into relation with modern scholarship. Notable attention will be payed to archeological evidence. The database will be made available to the public at the end of the project, as a crucial instrument for future advancements of ongoing research on the diffusion of traditional irrigation techniques between the Mediterranean and Central Asia.
This is subject of well-known relevance for the material history of Eurasia and North-Africa. Traditionally, in many countries of the Mediterranean basin, of the
Middle East, and of Central Asia, which are characterized by water scarcity or even aridity, agriculture has been possible only in highly anthropogenic environments, such as the oasis. There, the symbiosis between man and nature saw the emergence of strikingly coevolutive agricultural systems. Throughout history, traditional irrigation techniques, e.g. Qanat, dams, terraces, Zaï, and water pulling tools allowed man not only to bring or store water where needed, but to fight back desertification as well.
Today, the value of said techniques is much more than that of local heritage. They spread through the societies of a wide world area, where they have been adapted to the challenged peculiar to the new lads where they were introduced. This adaptative feature is making these techniques a pivotal starting point for a new evaluation of the role of agriculture in the protection of the soil, as key objective land planning. Today, an adequate understanding of the historical processes that these techniques underwent seems essential.

Lightness and meta-textuality: from India to Europe and back

Supervisor: Thomas W. P. Dähnhardt - Andrea Drocco
Fellow: Veronica Ghirardi
Starting date: 01 March 2019

The project Lightness and meta-textuality: from India to Europe and back attempts an analysis of two peculiar aspects characterizing hindi prose literature at the end of the 20th century, i.e. the concept of ‘lightness’ and the importance of meta-textual reflection, which in their turn are encountered in a considerable amount of post-modern Western literature, in particular in the European literature of the second half of the 20th century. Primarily, the research wants to address the concept of lightness -as intended by Italo Calvino in his American Lessons - through the works of authors such as Manohar Śyām Jośī, Vinod Kumar Śukla, Uday Prakāś. A first comparative approach will be attempted though an analysis of Calvino’s prose works and those of other renowned authors of European literature, including Juan José Millás and Angela Carter.
At the same time, the project intends to examine the frequent recourse to meta-textual reflection in hindi prose literature as, for instance, with writers such as Manohar Śyām Jośī, Mṛdulā Garg and Kṛṣṇa Baldev Vaid, trying to put evidence on the expressive and semantic value their works contain. In this context, the main sources of reference in European literature will be Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, John Fowles and Vladimir Nabokov.’world literature’
The present research project took shape from the desire to single out transverse patterns and tendencies, present in different and apparently distant literary traditions, such as the European literatures and the Indian literature in hindi language. Especially in the age of globalization it is increasingly important to propose visions oriented on broader horizons which, if accompanied by an
analysis of single literary realities, can aim at overcoming the narrowness of conventional cultural barriers. While inserting itself into the recent debate on the need to review critically the concept of ‘world literature’, the project wants to trace ‘significant geographies’, going beyond the monolingual models of literary history so typical today, which tend to confine the literary traditions of non-European regions to the periphery of world literature.

Marco Polo Encounters on Iran and the Persianate World - Side Event

The Persianate World and East Asia: Cultural Interactions and Mutual Perceptions (1250-1500)

20 May 2021 4pm

Online workshop

An international workshop convened by Francesco Calzolaio

Francesca Fiaschetti (University of Vienna), “Persian and Central Asian Intellectuals in 14th Century China

Kaveh Hemmat (Benedectine University, US), “Civic Lore of the Chinese State from Khatayi's Book of China to Alisher Navai's Farhad and Shirin

Yusen Yu (Oxford University), “Chinese Painters in Pre-Modern Iran

Francesco Calzolaio (University of Venice), “The Ilkhanid Historian Rashīd al-Dīn and Chinese Language

The workshop will be moderated by Laura De Giorgi (University of Venice) and Stefano Pellò (University of Venice)

May 20th, 2021, 4pm - 7pm
Please register at the following Zoom Link

The Belt and Road Initiative. Perceptions from Japan, Pakistan, and Iran

18 February 2020

Venue: Aula Baratto, Dorsoduro 3246, Venice - 9am -1pm

This Colloquium will focus on how different Asian countries (either governments or civil society) perceive China, its foreign policies, its growing international role and the Belt and Road initiative.This is the first of a series of conferences, Colloquia, that will host high level scholars to talk about a number of relevant topics.


Tiziana Lippiello: Ca' Foscari University's ProrettriceProfessor of Classical Chinese, Religions and Philosophy of China at the Department of Asian and North African Studies, Ca’ Foscari University Venice 

Guido Samarani: Marco Polo Centre's DirectorProfessor of History of Contemporary China at the Department of Asian and North African Studies, Ca’ Foscari University Venice 

Aldo Ferrari: Marco Polo Centre's Deputy DirectorProfessor of Armenian Culture, History of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and History of the Russian Culture at the Department of Asian and North African Studies, Ca’ Foscari University Venice

Anoush Ehteshami: Professor of International Relations in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is also the Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Chair in International Relations and Director of the HH Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme in International Relations, Regional Politics and Security. He is, further, Director of the Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (IMEIS) at Durham, one of the oldest and noted centres of excellence in Middle Eastern studies in Europe. 

Shafei Moiz Hali: National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan.He has written extensively on Chinese foreign policy as well as on China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Axel Berkovsky: Professor at the University of Pavia and Co-Head of Asia Center at ISPI. Berkofsky is also a regular contributor to the Zurich-based International Security Network (ISN), the Asia Times, as well as to other newspapers, journals and magazines on Asian politics and security, EU-Asia relations, Japanese domestic and foreign, Chinese foreign policies and North Korea

Past Workshops

Two lectures by Wai-Yip Ho

27 and 28 October 2021

San Basilio and Santa Marta 

From Neglected Problem to Flourishing Field: Review & Trends of Studying Muslims and Islam in China 
Chair: Francesca Tarocco
Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 5:00 PM, Aula mf 1, San Basilio
Registration link for Zoom meeting: link 

Hong Kong: From East-west Window to New Proxy War? 
Chair: Laura De Giorgi
Thursday, October 28, 2021, 10:30AM, Aula Gradoni, Santa Marta
Registration link for Zoom meeting: link

Wai-yip Ho is currently the François Chevalier Fellow (2021-2022), Madrid Institute for Advanced Study (MIAS); Correspondent Member, Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies; Honorary Research Fellow, Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. He is the author of Islam and China’s Hong Kong: Ethnic Identity, Muslim Networks and the new Silk Road (Routledge: London, 2015, paperback). 

This lecture is public and open to all, but registration is required both for onsite attendance and for online attendance.
For onsite attendance, please register at
IT: link
EN: link
up to one day before the specific conference



Finanza e potere lungo le Nuove Vie della Seta

15 September 2021

Aula Baratto and Ca’ Foscari CFZ Zattere / online

Professor Alessia Amighini (Università del Piemonte Orientale, Istituto di Studi di Politica Internazionale), author of the book Finanza e potere lungo le Nuove Vie della Seta (Università Bocconi Editore, 2021) discusses China's global political and financial repositioning with professors and young researchers from Ca’ Foscari University.

The conference will be held in Italian and will be organised in a blended way: it will also be broadcasted online, allowing distance participation. For practical information and Zoom link please check the event's webpage at this link.


Morning Session
Aula Baratto - Dorsoduro 3246, Calle Larga Foscari, 30123 Venice

h 9.45am
Welcome message - Rector Tiziana Lippiello
Introduction - Guido Samarani e Renzo Cavalieri

Part I h 10.00am– 11.30am
FINANZA: la globalizzazione del renminbi e le sue criticità
Monica Billio
Ignazio Musu
Elisa Barbieri
Giancarlo Corò

Part II h 11.30am – 1pm
POTERE: il riposizionamento internazionale della Repubblica Popolare Cinese
Guido Samarani
Fabrizio Marrella
Stefano Soriani
Daniele Brombal 

Afternoon Session
Ca’ Foscari CFZ Zattere, Tesa 1 Dorsoduro 1392, Fondamenta Zattere, 30123 Venice

Part III ore 2.30pm – 4.30pm
Nuove Vie della Seta e nuove prospettive di ricerca
Ardita Osmani
Alice Politi
Marica Grego
Giulia Dalmaso
Cristian Luise
Thomas Trevisan

“Failure is Not an Option.” The Body Politics in Myanmar Spring Revolution

1 June 2021 11am

Online conference

Speaker: Khin Mar Mar Kyi, University of Oxford

Since the 1 February 2021 coup, Burmese people have shown manifold defiance against the Myanmar military. After a series of peaceful and creative protests, including tongue-in-cheek Mimi placards, cat-walks of queers, pageants, princesses, and the characters of Harry Potters as well as prayers of sprit mediums, frustrated young women weaponized their sarongs (skirts). The Burmese consider the sarong as a ‘polluted’ item and attach to it the power to destroy hpon (power and charisma), namely male innate supremacy. Specifically, a banner bearing the slogan “Our Sarong, Our Flag, Our Strike” challenged the military, famed for being an institution that acts on the basis of superstition, homophobia and misogyny. The military retaliated the provocation of young female protesters by using gender-specific violence and blaming the women for being “non-Buddhist Myanmar ladies”. This webinar will discuss the body politics of the Spring Revolution in Myanmar, and why young people feel “failure is not an option” to end the structural nature of gender-based violence and to build a sustainable democratic society. 

The link for registration will be soon provided.

First Meeting on Water: Methods and Approaches

24 May 2021

Online conference

This first meeting will host talks by scholars from often distant sciences and disciplines to show how water studies are a privileged field for interdisciplinary collaboration and the fruitful and sometimes unexpected convergence of a variety of research approaches.


Prof. Francesco Vallerani (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice – UNESCO Chair on Water, Heritage and Sustainable Development)
Institutional Greetings 

Dr. Massimiliano Borroni and Vladimiro Boselli ( Università degli Studi di Brescia)
The Interdisciplinary Nature of Water: Hydrology and World Philology 

Prof. Maaike Van Berkel ( Nijmigen University)
Source of Life. Water Management in the Premodern Middle East 

Dr. Giuseppina Ferriello (independent scholar)
Water and Ice in the Iranian desert: Qana ̄t, Cisterns and Iceboxes
Dr. Giulio Castelli (Università degli Studi di Firenze)
Participatory Research Approaches for Water Resources Management in Agro-Ecosystems 

Dr. Federica Sulas (University of Cambridge)
Heritage Water Three Ways: Geoarchaeology, Community Knowledge & Development in Sub-Saharan Africa 

Prof. Edwige Tamalet Talbayev (Tulane University)
Water Epistemologies 

The talk will be broadcasted via Zoom.
Registration required at this Zoom Link.

Marco Polo Encounters on Iran and the Persianate World - Side Events

11 and 18 May 2021

Online conferences

Alberto Bernard, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, PSL/CeRMI

Tuesday 11 May 2021 5pm
Ādur Gušnasp, Sasanian Kingship and the Etiologies of the Zoroastrian Fire Cult
The fire temple of Ādur Gušnasp (now Takht-e Suleymān in north-western Iran), a pivotal Zoroastrian sanctuary and Sasanian royal residence, was destroyed by the Roman emperor Heraclius in 624 CE. How did contemporaries interpret the event? A new reading of the Byzantine poet George of Pisidia’s Heraclias and a reconsideration of the etiologies of the Zoroastrian sacred fire current throughout Iran, Syria and Byzantium, may provide an answer.

Please register at this Zoom Link 

Tuesday 18 May 2021 5pm
Thus Spake the Fire. The Voyage of a Literary Motif between Zaraθuštra, Mārūṭā and Mazdak
A striking narrative resemblance brings together the unrelated episodes of the Christian bishop Mārūṭā's mission at Yazdgerd’s I court told by the Greek church historian Socrates (5th c. CE) and the story of the Zoroastrian heretic Mazdak recounted by the Persian visir Niẓām al-Mulk (11th c. CE): an impostor feigns to make the Zoroastrian sacred fire speak with a stratagem but gets caught. This talk studies the origin, transmission and developments of this literary motif between the legend of Zaraθuštra and the deuterocanonical stories on Daniel.

Please register at this Zoom Link 

Central Asia in Italian perspective. Status and prospects for collaboration

13 May 2021 10.15am

Online conference

Over the last few years, Central Asia has been attracting growing interest from institutions, the business world and the Italian academics. Driven by the traditional attractiveness of the regional energy sector and reinvigorated by the centrality assumed by Central Asia in the development of trans-continental transport networks, interest in the area is now taking on a broader multidimensional nature. 

This conference aims to outline the framework of relations between Italy and Central Asian interlocutors, taking into consideration both their more traditional vectors and the areas that seem to be of particular importance for their expansion.

The conference is organised by the Marco Polo Centre for Global Europe-Asia Connections (MaP) - Ca 'Foscari University of Venice, in collaboration with the Osservatorio sull'Asia centrale e sul Caspio (OACC) and with the study center

This conference will be held in Italian. Please register at this LINK 

ReOrienting Histories of Medicine: Encounters Along the Silk Roads

4 May 2021 2pm

Online lecture

Join the conversation between Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim about her new book, ReOrienting Histories of Medicine: Encounters along the Silk RoadsT. H. Barrett and Francesca Tarocco. The book is the product of many years of research with rare manuscripts in a variety of languages. It shows how much of premodern Eurasian medicine was predicated on multidirectional interactions and knowledge traffic across cultures. 

This is an important study for anyone interested in the medical humanities and global history. It has been labelled as an “impressive breakthrough in Silk Road studies” by Prof. Valerie Hansen, Yale University.

Here is a link to the Preface and Introduction

Registration is required. Please email to receive the link.

T.H. Barrett is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Religions and Philosophies at SOAS University of London and a leading scholar of medieval China. His research interests focus on the history of Chinese religion, notably Taoism and Buddhism, and pre-modern Chinese history, especially the Tang period. He is the author of Taoism under the Tang: Religion and Empire during the Golden Age of Chinese History (1996) and The Woman who discovered Printing (2008).

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim is Reader in History at GoldsmithsUniversity of London, UK. She is the co-editor of Rashid al-Din: Agent and mediator of cultural exchanges in Ilkhanid Iran (2013), Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes (2010) and Astro-Medicine: Astrology and Medicine, East and West (2008).

Francesca Tarocco is an Associate Professor of Chinese Religious History at Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Center for the Humanities and Social Change. She is the author of The Cultural Practices of Modern Chinese Buddhism (2011) and Altar Modern: Buddhism and Technology in Modern China (forthcoming).

Kazakhstan’s Pathway out of the Global Crisis

21 Apr 2021 10pm

Online conference

On March 19, 2019, after three decades in power, Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned from his post as President of Kazakhstan, initiating a slow-paced succession. Surprising observers and residents, Nazarbayev handed out power to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev a loyal politician and seasoned diplomat. Effective change, however, followed sluggishly. A double crisis ensued in 2020: a sharp fall in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic led to an economic slowdown that has continued until now. After Nazarbayev’s exit, the response from investors was lukewarm and youth groups asked for more thorough reforms. The global pandemic hindered a full-fledged economic transition and posed new challenges for the future governments of the country. Two years after Nazarbayev resigned, an analysis of the new (geo)political and economic environment is warranted.


Welcoming Addresses 
h. 10:00 – 10:15
Aldo Ferrari, Deputy Director MaP, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
Carlo Frappi, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and OACC 

Keynote Speech
h.10.20 - 10.45
Nurbek Yergeshbayev, Economic Research Institute, Nur-Sultan Kazakhstan’s response to economic crises 

1st Panel
Power Transition Two Years Year On
h. 11:00 – 12:30
Chair: Stefano Ravagnan, Former Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Board Member at OACC
Shalkar Nurseitov, independent political analyst, Political Transition
Dina Sharipova, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Power dynamics since 2019 Roman Vakulchuk, NUPI, Oslo State & Markets: Doing Business

2nd Panel
The Changing Geopolitical Map
h. 12:45 – 14:15
Chair: Paolo Sorbello, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
Ernesto Gallo, Regents University, London Kazakhstan and the Chinese Influence
Aliya Tskhay, St. Andrews University, St. Andrews, Western Views: Expectations vs Reality
Zhanibek Aryn, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, The EU and Kazakhstan 

The conference will be held online via Zoom Registration required at this LINK

Can China Go Green? Environmental Governance in China

19 April 2021, 2.00 p.m. CEST

Online conference

Yifei Li,  Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU Shanghai and Global Network Assistant Professor at NYU

Judith Shapiro, Director of the Masters in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development for the School of International Service at American University and Chair of the Global Environmental Politics program

With Francesca Tarocco (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Center for the Humanities and Social Change) and Daniele Brombal (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

Abstract of China Goes Green
What does it mean for the future of the planet when one of the world’s most durable authoritarian governance systems pursues “ecological civilization”? Despite its staggering pollution and colossal appetite for resources, China exemplifies a model of state-led environmentalism which concentrates decisive political, economic, and epistemic power under centralized leadership. On the face of it, China seems to embody hope for a radical new approach to environmental governance.In this thought-provoking book, Yifei Li and Judith Shapiro probe the concrete mechanisms of China’s coercive environmentalism to show how “going green” helps the state to further other agendas such as citizen surveillance and geopolitical influence. Through top-down initiatives, regulations, and campaigns to mitigate pollution and environmental degradation, the Chinese authorities also promote control over the behavior of individuals and enterprises, pacification of borderlands, and expansion of Chinese power and influence along the Belt and Road and even into the global commons. Given the limited time that remains to mitigate climate change and protect millions of species from extinction, we need to consider whether a green authoritarianism can show us the way. This book explores both its promises and risks.

To participate via Zoom please email to receive the link

Fragment of Safavid fabric, Venice, Palazzo Mocenigo Museum

Marco Polo Encounters on Iran and the Persianate World 

A lecture series convened by Stefano Pellò 

Online conferences

The “Marco Polo Encounters on Iran and the Persianate World” is a lecture series focusing on the transregional dimensions of the Persosphere, in an open chronological and disciplinary perspective. We invite speakers and the audience to reflect on connections, transitions and textures of material and intellectual practices in the interwoven Eurasian territories of Persianate cultures, from the significant junction of Venice. The series is an ongoing project convened by Stefano Pellò. 

First cycle

7 April 2021 4:00-5:30pm
Francesca Orsini (SOAS, London)
Studying, Strolling and Overhearing: Persian in Small-Town North India 
Please register at this Zoom Link 

21 April 2021 5:30-7:00pm
Efe Murat Balıkcioglu (Wellesley College)
Conceptions of Nature in Perso-Islamic Early Modernity: Theories of Causality and Graeco-Arabic Philosophy in the Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Context
Please register at this Zoom Link 

6 May 2021 5:30-7:00pm - CANCELLED 
Simon Leese (Utrecht University)
Longing for Salma and Hind: Arabic Literature in 18th- and 19th-Century Persianate South Asia 
Please register at this Zoom Link 

19 May 2021 4:00-5:30pm
Andrea Piras (Università di Bologna)
Veiled Prophets and Manichaean Connections on the Silk Road at the Dawn of Islamization 
Please register at this Zoom Link

Il soft power di Pechino in Africa nel XXI secolo

23 March 2021 10:30am

Online conference

Professor Sofia Graziani, University of Trento

Over the last two decades, China has deepened its relations with African countries, quickly becoming the first trading partner, as well as one of the main international investors and donors in the African continent. Africa has also increasingly become an important laboratory for public diplomacy and the construction of Chinese soft power.

The event is only for students of the course "China and the world: historical and contemporary perspectives" and will be held in Italian.

La politica estera della RPC tra isolamento e apertura, tra ‘basso profilo’ e ‘grandeur’

22 March 2021 2pm

Online conference

Professor Barbara Onnis, University of Cagliari

The conference intends to provide an all-encompassing vision of the foundations of Chinese foreign policy, in order to offer an analysis and interpretation of the role that People's China plays in the international context.

The event is only for students of the course "China and the world: historical and contemporary perspectives" and will be held in Italian.

Trading routes between China’s great rivers and emerging regional elites during China’s Bronze Age

19 March 2021 3pm

Online conference



Professor Maria Khayutina, Institute of Sinology of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich

The rise of bronze-casting technology in the Northern and Central China correlated with an intensification of interactions within and between these regions. The necessity to procure raw materials unavailable near the sites of production and consumption, as well as the quest for finished metal products in a gradually expanding area became major factors of interregional communication. It is yet poorly understood how communication between large urban production/consumption centers in the Yellow River valley – the capitals of the so-called “Three Dynasties” – and their suppliers in the Yangzi Valley or elsewhere was organized and how it functioned in sociopolitical, political-economical, and historical-geographical terms. Based on archaeological excavations and surveys and using the GIS technology, the present paper identifies and investigates one (or perhaps “the”) trade route connecting the middle Yangzi Valley with the Central Plains. It analyses the rise and decline of this route during ca. 1600-900 BCE against the background of large-scale geopolitical processes in the early Chinese interaction sphere. It suggests that the location in “strategic bottlenecks” (Earle et al. 2015) through which metal ores, finished metal products and other prestige goods were transported northwards or southwards facilitated the emergence of new socio-political elites among local groups, who, in their turn, were instrumental in the maintenance of trading networks but vulnerable in the face of economic risks. 

Maria Khayutina currently holds the position of a guest professor at the Institute of Sinology of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich. Her research focuses on social and political history of Early China, including early polity formation, agency in the production of social and political structures, kinship organization, historical geography, memory culture and the history of concepts. The present case study constitutes a part of her forthcoming book Kinship, Marriage and Politics in Early China (13-8 c. BCE) in the Light of Ritual Bronze Inscriptions, planned for publication with Routledge.

Register in advance for this meeting at this link.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The conference is organised by Professor Maddalena Barenghi and Professor Laura De Giorgi 

Presentation of the ISPI Report. Between Politics and Finance. Hong Kong's "Infinity War"? 2020

14 December 2020 3.45pm

Online conference

Presentation of the ISPI Report. Between Politics and Finance. Hong Kong's "Infinity War"?  2020
Edited by Alessia Amighini 

Alessia Amighini 
Italian Institute for International Political Studies, Milan and University of Piemonte Orientale

Guido Samarani
Marco Polo Center for Global Europe-Asia Connections (MaP), Department of Asian and North African Studies

Giulia Sciorati 
Italian Institute for International Political Studies, Milan

Laura De Giorgi 
Department of Asian and North African Studies

The Sino-Algerian Economic Relations: Trends, Features and Problems

10 December 2020, 2pm - 4pm

Online conference

Adel Hamaizia
Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

Fatiha Talahite
French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)

Chuchu Zhang
School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University

Francesco Saverio Leopardi

Marco Polo Center for Global Europe-Asia Connections, University Ca’ Foscari of Venice

Introduced by Maria Cristina Paciello University Ca’ Foscari of Venice

Korea at the Cross Roads between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy

26 November 2020

Online conference

Keynote Speaker:
Prof. Jihwan Hwang, Department of International Relations, The University of Seoul, Korea

Prof. Eun-Jeung Lee, Graduate School of East Asian Studies, Free University of Berlin, Germany
Prof. Hannes B. Mosler, IN-EAST, Institute of Political Science, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
Prof. Renzo Riccardo Cavalieri, DSAAM, Ca’ Foscari
Prof. Youngmi Kim, Edinburgh University, UK
Ms. Junko Terao, Editor di Asia e Pacifico, Internazionale, Rome
Moderator: Jong-Chol An, DSAAM, Ca’ Foscari 

In the 21st century, China and the US are pushing their own unique visions of the world order: the Belt and Road Initiative and the Into-Pacific Strategy, respectively. Korea is very uniquely positioned in terms of geo-politics and the new world order, so that even the Korean peninsula has a potential to influence the two conflicting world visions with rising economic and cultural power. 

This roundtable will invite several experts on this issue with different angles and include a keynote speech by Dr. Jihwan Hwang at the University of Seoul, Korea whose expert knowledge is on US policy and Korea.  

Organizer: Department of Asian and North African Studies (Dr. Jong-Chol An) funded by Marco Polo/ Center for Global Europe-Asia Connections 

For information please contact:

Past Conferences and Lectures