Wai-yee Li

Wai-yee Li

Professor of Chinese Literature
Director of Graduate Studies
Fall 2016 Office Hour: Monday 11-1
Wai-Yee Li

Wai-yee Li has been Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard since 2000. Li earned her B.A. from the University of Hong Kong and her Ph.D. from Princeton University (1987), where she was associate professor from 1996 to 2000. She also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Li’s research spans topics ranging from early Chinese thought and narrative to late imperial Chinese literature and culture. Her recent publications include The Readability of the Past in Early Chinese Historiography (Harvard, 2007), which investigates the ordering impulse of Chinese culture in understanding the past, as evinced by how different conceptions of rhetoric and exegesis determine interpretation; and Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (Harvard, 2014), which explores how history and literature intersect, how the multivalent presence of women in different genres mediates the experience and expression of political disorder during the seventeenth century Ming-Qing dynastic transition and beyond. Li’s co-edited volume of translations of ten seminal plays from the 13th and 14th centuries, The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama, was also published in 2014. Her annotated translation of Zuozhuan, in collaboration with Stephen Durrant and David Schaberg, will be published in 2015. Her co-authored book, Sima Qian and the Letter to Ren An, is being reviewed for publication. She is co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature with Wiebke Denecke and Tian Xiaofei. Li has received fellowships or grants from the Harvard Society of Fellows, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, ACLS, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, and the American Academy in Berlin. She has taught courses on Ming-Qing culture, early Chinese thought and historiography, gender and sexuality, and premodern fiction and drama. In July of 2014, Li was elected by Academia Sinica to its List of Academicians.




The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature, co-edited with Wiebke Denecke and Xiaofei Tian.  Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017.

The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian’s Legacy, co-authored with Michael Nylan, Stephen Durrant, and Hans Van Ess. University of Washington Press, 2016.

Annotated translation of Zuozhuan, in collaboration with Stephen Durrant and David Schaberg. University of Washington Press, 2016.

Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature.  Harvard University Asia Center, 2014 (Joseph Levenson Prize, 2016).

The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama, co-edited with C.T. Hsia and George Kao. Columbia University Press, 2014.

The Readability of the Past in Early Chinese Historiography.  Harvard University Asia Center, 2007.

Trauma and Transcendence in Early Qing Literature, co-edited with Wilt Idema and Ellen Widmer.  Harvard University Asia Center, 2006.

Enchantment and Disenchantment: Love and Illusion in Chinese Literature.  Princeton University Press, 1993.

Chapters in books:

“Nostalgia and Resistance: Gender and the Poetry of Chen Yinke,” in Xiang Lectures on Chinese Poetry, McGill University, 2016, pp. 1-26.  Also included in Essays on Late Qing Poetry 晚清詩歌論文集, edited by Lin Tsung-cheng.  Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

“Authorship,” “Figures,” “Post Tang Transmission of Classical Literature,” Introductory essays on “Traditional Genre Spectrum,” “Modern Perspectives on Genre,” and “Moments, Sites, Figures” in The Oxford Handbook of Classical Literature, edited by Wiebke Denecke, Wai-yee Li, Xiaofei Tian.

“Recurrent Concerns and Typical Moments in the Book of Songs,” in Homer’s Epics and the Book of Songs, edited by Fritz-Heiner Mutschler.

“The Problem of Genuineness in Li Zhi’s Writings,” in Writing, Virtue, and the Social World in Sixteenth Century China: Essays on Li Zhi, edited by Rivi Handler-Spitz and Pauline Lee.  

“Anecdotal Barbarians in Early China,” in Anecdotes in Early China, edited by Sarah Queen and Paul van Els.  SUNY Press, forthcoming.

“Poetic Negotiations in Zuozhuan,” in Stories of Chinese Poetic Culture, edited by Cai Zongqi, Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

“June 2, 1927, October 7, 1969,” in A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Wang et al., Harvard University Press, forthcoming.

“Hiding Behind a Woman: Contexts and Meanings in Early Qing Poetry,” in Hiddenness in Chinese Culture, edited by Paula Varsano, SUNY Press, forthcoming.

“Gender, Memory, and Historical Judgment in Early Qing Yangzhou,” in Cities and Urban Life in China, 1400-1950, ed. Luca Gabbiani. Editions de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris, 2016, pp. 107-128.

“Historical Understanding in ‘The Account of the Xiongnu’ in Shiji,” in Views from Within, Views from Beyond: Shiji as an Early Work of Historiography, edited by Dorothee Shaab-Hanke, Olga Lomova, Hans van Ess. Harrasowitz Verlag, 2015, pp. 79-102.

“Introduction,” ten introductory essays to ten plays, translation of the Yuan edition of The Zhao Orphan, translation of Tricking Kuai Tong, co-translation of Saving a Sister, On Horseback and Over the Garden Wall, and the Ming edition of The Zhao Orphan, in The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama, Columbia University Press, 2014.

 “Riddles, Concealment, and Rhetoric in Early China,” in Facing the Monarch: Modes of Advice in the Early Chinese Court, edited by Garret Olberding, Harvard University Asia Center, 2013, pp. 100-132.

〈晚明時刻〉”The Late Ming Moment,” in Yingyu shijie de Tang Xianzu yanjiu lunzhu xuanyi (An Anthology of Critical Studies on Tang Xianzu in Western Scholarship), Hangzhou: Zhejiang guji chubanshe, 2013, pp. 28-64. 

“Romantic Recollections of Women as Sources of Women’s History,” in Covert and Overt Treasures: Sources of Women’s History in China, edited by Clara Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2012, pp. 337-68.

〈華夷之辨與異族通婚〉 “Interracial Marriage and the Distinction of Chinese and Barbarians”, in Tanqing shuoyi 《談情説異》.  Taipei: Center for the Study of Foreign Cultures, Shih-hsin University, 2012, pp. 45-63.

“Pre-Qin Annals and Their Commentary Traditions,” in Oxford History of Historiography, edited by Grant Hardy, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 415-39.

“Women Writers and Gender Boundaries During the Ming-Qing Transition,” in The Inner Quarters and Beyond: Women Writers from Ming through Qing, edited by Grace Fong and Ellen Widmer, Brill, 2010, pp. 179-213. (My Chinese translation, 〈明清之際的女性詩詞與性別界限〉, in the Chinese version of The Inner Quarters and Beyond, Beijing University Press, 2014, pp. 173-99.)

Shiji as Higher Narrative: The Idea of Authorship,” in Epic and Other Higher Narratives: Essays in Intercultural Studies, edited by Stephen Shankman and Amiya Dev, Pearson, 2010, pp. 159-197.

“Early Qing to 1723,” in Cambridge Literary History of China, edited by Stephen Owen and Kang-i Sun Chang, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 152-244. (My Chinese translation of the chapter, 〈清初文學〉, in Jianchao zhongguo wenxue shi 《劍橋中國文學史》, Beijing: Sanlian, 2013, pp. 178-277.)

〈說真: 《牡丹亭》與明末清初文化〉 (“On Being Genuine: Peony Pavilion from Late-Ming to Early-Qing”), in Kun Opera and The Peony Pavilion from Comparative Perspectives 《崑曲春三二月天--面對世界的崑曲與牡丹亭》, edited by Hua Wei,  Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2010, pp. 448-465.

〈明末清初流離道路的難女形象〉 (“The Abducted Woman: Victimhood and Agency during the Ming-Qing Transition”), in 《空間與文化場域:空間移動之文化詮釋》 (Cultural Interpretations of Mobility),  edited by Wang Ayling, Taipei: Hanxue yanjiu zhongxin, 2009, pp. 143-186.

Entries on “Courtesans in Chinese History,” “Liu Rushi,” in Encyclopedia on Women’s History, edited by Bonnie Smith and Paul Ropp, Oxford University Press, 2008.

“Introduction: Existential, Literary, and Interpretive Choices,” “Confronting History and Its Alternatives in Early Qing Poetry” and “History and Memory in Wu Weiye’s Poetry,” in Trauma and Transcendence in Early Qing Literature, edited by Wilt Idema, Wai-yee Li, and Ellen Widmer, Harvard University Asia Center, 2006, pp. 1-148.

“Women as Emblems of Dynastic Fall from Late-Ming to Late-Qing,” in Dynastic Crisis and Cultural Innovation: From the Late-Ming to the Late-Qing and Beyond, edited by David Wang and Shang Wei, Harvard University Asia Center, 2005, pp. 93-150.

Shishuo xinyu and the Emergence of Chinese Aesthetic Consciousness in the Six Dynasties,” in Chinese Aesthetics: The Orderings of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties, edited by Cai Zong-qi, Hawaii University Press, 2004, pp. 237-276.

“Languages of Love and Parameters of Culture in The Peony Pavilion and The Story of the Stone,” in Emotions in Chinese Literature, edited by Halvor Eifring, Brill, Leiden, 2003, pp. 233-270.

“On Becoming a Fish: Paradoxes of Immortality and Enlightenment in Chinese Literature,” in Self and Self-Transformation in the History of Religions, edited by David Shulman and Guy Stroumsa, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 29-59.

“Femme-fatale, Victim, and Hero: Women as Emblems of Dynastic Collapse in Qing Literature”〈禍水、薄命、女英雄﹕作為明亡表徵之清代文學女性群像〉, in Political Disorder and Cultural Renewal: Literature and Culture in Late Ming and Late Qing 《世變與維新--晚明與晚清的文學藝術》, edited by Hu Siao-chen, Academia Sinica, Institute of Literature and Philosophy, 2001, pp. 301-326.

 “Full-length Vernacular Fiction,” in Columbia History of Chinese Literature, edited by Victor Mair, Columbia University Press, 2001, pp. 620-658.

“Between ‘Literary Mind’ and ‘Carving Dragons’: Order and Excess in Wenxin diaolong,” in A Chinese Literary Mind: Culture, Creativity, and Rhetoric in Wenxin diaolong, edited by Cai Zong-qi, Stanford University Press, 2001, pp. 193-225, 275-282.

“On Making Noise in ‘Qiwu lun’”; “The Crisis of Witnessing in Du Fu’s ‘A Song of My Thoughts When Going From the Capital to Fengxian: Five Hundred Words’”; “Mixture of Genres and Motives for Fiction in ‘The Story of Yingying’” in Ways With Words: Reading Texts From Early China, eds. Peter Bol, Stephen Owen, Willard Peterson, Pauline Yu, University of California Press, 2000, pp. 93-103, 165-170, 185-192.

“Knowledge and Skepticism in Ancient Chinese Historiography,” in The Limits of Historiography, ed. Christina Kraus, Brill, 1999, pp. 27-54.

“Dreams of Interpretation in Early Chinese Historical and Philosophical Writings,” in Dream Cultures: Toward a Comparative History of Dreaming, ed. David Shulman and Guy Stroumsa, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 17-42.

“The Late-Ming Courtesan: Invention of a Cultural Ideal,” in Writing Women in Late Imperial China, edited by Ellen Widmer and K’ang-i Sun Chang, Stanford University Press, 1997, pp. 46-73, 428-34.

 “The Fantastic as Metaphor: A Study of Hsi-yu pu (Supplement to Journey to the West),” Essays in Commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the Fung Ping Shan Library.  Hong Kong: Fung Ping Shan Library, HKU, 1982, pp. 248-280.

Journal Articles:

〈女英雄的想像與歷史記憶〉("Imagining Heroic Women and the Burden of Historical Memory"). In Lingnan Journal of Chinese Studies  《嶺南學報》, Hong Kong (March 2015): 86-108.

“Aesthetics and Politics: Poetry and Diplomacy in Zuozhuan,” inaugural issue of Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, Durham (November 2014): 242-262.

“Gardens and Illusions from Late Ming to Early Qing,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 72.2 (December 2012): 295-336.

〈性別與清初歷史記憶:從揚州女子談起〉(“Gender and Historical Memory in Early Qing Yangzhou”), Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies《臺灣東亞文明研究學刊》7.2 (December 2010): 290-344.

〈世變與玩物: 略論清初文人審美風尚〉 (“The Discourse on Things and Early-Qing Literary-Aesthetic Sensibility”), Journal of the Institute of Literature and Philosophy 《中國文哲研究集刊》, Academia Sinica no. 33 (2009): 1-40.

“Heroic Transformations: Women and National Trauma in Early Qing Literature,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 59.2(December 1999): 363-443.

“The Collector, the Connoisseur, and Late-Ming Sensibility,” T’oung Pao, Vol. LXXXI (1995): 269-302.

“The Representation of History in The Peach Blossom Fan,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 115.3 (1995): 421-433.

“The Rhetoric of Spontaneity in Late-Ming Literature,” Ming Studies 35(August 1995): 32-52.

“The Idea of Authority in Records of the Historian,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 54.2(December 1994): 345-405.

〈警幻與以情悟道〉(“The Goddess Disenchantment and the Idea of Enlightenment Through Love in Chinese Culture”), Zhongwai wenxue  《中外文學》 (Zhongwai Literary Monthly), Vol. 22, No. 2 (July, 1993): 46-66.

“The Feminine Turn of Rhetoric in Chinese Literature,” The International Journal of Social Education 6 (1991): pp. 17-41.  (Special issue on “Productions of Women: Gender and Education from East Asian Perspectives.”)

“Dream Visions of Transcendence in Chinese Literature and Paintings,” Asian Art 3 (1990): 52-78.


Poems by Xiong Lian, Zong Wan and Guo Shuyu, in Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism, ed. Kang-i Sun Chang and Haun Saussy.  Stanford University Press, 1999, pp. 514-521, 618-623, 708-710.

“The Filial Woman of Jiangdu,” Renditions no. 70 (2008), pp. 89-100.

The Zhiyanzhai commentary on Hongloumeng, annotated translation of the comments on chapters 1 and 13, Renditions, forthcoming.


Review of Xiaorong Li, Women’s Poetry of Late Imperial China, in HJAS 74.1(June 2014), pp. 162-67.

Review of Yuri Pines, Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, in HJAS (December 2005), pp. 506-21.

Review of Eva Hung ed., Paradoxes of Traditional Chinese Literature in Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Review 19 (1997), pp.156-59.

Review of Stephen Durrant, The Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian, Early China 21 (spring 1996), pp. 213-19.

Review of Jing Wang, The Story of Stone, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 54.2 (December, 1994), pp. 588-602.

Review of Zhang Longxi, The Tao and the Logos, Journal of Religion (January, 1994), pp. 132-34.

Review of Robert E. Allinson, Chuang Tzu for Spiritual Transformation: An Analysis of the Inner Chapters, Journal of Religion (April, 1991), pp. 300-301.

Review of Karl S.Y. Kao, Classical Chinese Tales of the Supernatural and the Fantastic: Selections From the Third to the Tenth Century, Journal of American Oriental Society 109 (1989): pp. 492-494.

Reviews of various scholarly books and articles in Chinese appear in the Digest of Chinese Studies (1988), pp. 53-61, 69-77.

Contact Information

2 Divinity Ave. #228
p: (617) 495-1608

Faculty Fields

Faculty Area

Primary Field