Isha Mehta, an East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC) major, studied the relationship between humans and animals in ancient Chinese dynasties to better understand contemporary animal welfare. The Naperville, Illinois, native wants to change how we treat animals, especially in agriculture and farming. Studying this relationship in a non-Western culture and from a different period provided unique perspectives that she can use in addressing animal welfare in the United States.
“My thesis is the only research in East Asian literature to examine animal treatment across the Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties,” Mehta said. “It provides a narrative of animal treatment across a span of 700 years. But, I did not consider some of the lesser-known dynasties within this period because of the lacking comprehensive legal codes, such as that of the Sui Dynasty. I believe researchers could further examine animal treatment throughout the 700 years. I just opened up the idea of comparing multiple dynastic codes based on animal treatment.”
From her research, Mehta learned that the law is greatly influenced by belief systems, based on how Legalism and Confucianism in ancient China had varying impacts on animal treatment.
“It made me realize that the laws we have written for animal treatment today can also change if we change our views towards animals,” Mehta said. “I believe that one day we will realize animals are not commodities and are, instead, living creatures whose ill-treatment impacts us just as much. American laws can and will reflect this ideological change.”
Mehta transferred to Haverford in her junior year, feeling she had limited time to complete her EALC major. “I felt ill-prepared, at least when I started writing my thesis, to write on a subject I had hardly spent three semesters studying, but I think that having a narrow focus, which in this case was animal welfare, my thesis nevertheless turned out to be a high-quality piece.”
“My thesis advisors, Associate Professor and Chair of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Haverford, Hank Glassman and Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Bryn Mawr College, Yonglin Jiang, helped me develop my thesis topic by listening to my interests in animal welfare and suggesting what primary sources I could analyze to further this interest (ancient Chinese legal codes, which discuss animal treatment). One of the research librarians, Anna Lacy, helped me with most of my research, but my advisor was essential in helping me narrow my thesis focus. Otherwise, I would have been all over the place!”
Mehta now works as a paralegal at the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. “Interestingly, antitrust connects with agriculture, so I am exposed to animal treatment (albeit from an industry-centered, economic perspective),” Mehta said. “In many ways, my new job is an extension of my thesis, except that I learn about Western laws and their impact on animals today. My thesis helps me reflect on why antitrust laws are written the way they are.”
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.