Wai-yee Li

Wai-yee Li

1879 Professor of Chinese Literature
On leave AY 2022-23
Wai-Yee Li

Wai-yee Li is the 1879 Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard, so named to commemorate the year that Harvard began teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She joined the department in 2000 and is currently serving as Director of Graduate Studies. Li earned her B.A. from the University of Hong Kong (1982) and her Ph.D. from Princeton University (1988), 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. She is interested in early Chinese historical writings, Ming-Qing fiction, drama, and poetry, and the relationship between literature and history. Her new book, The Promise and Perils of Things: Literature and Material Culture in Late Imperial China, will be published by Columbia University Press. She is also editing a book on gender and friendship in China and co-editing an anthology of Ming-Qing plays with Wilt Idema and Stephen West.

Li has received fellowships or grants from the Harvard Society of Fellows, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, ACLS, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, the American Academy in Berlin, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She has taught courses on Ming-Qing culture and literature, early Chinese thought and historiography, gender and sexuality, and pre-modern fiction and drama. In July 2014, Li was elected by Academia Sinica to its List of Academicians.



Plum Shadows and Plank Bridge: Two Memoirs About Courtesans. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020.

The Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan Reader: Selections from China’s Oldest Narrative History, co-authored with Stephen Durrant and David Schaberg.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, forthcoming (2020).

Keywords in Chinese Culture. Co-edited with Yuri Pines.  Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2020.

The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), co-edited with Wiebke Denecke and Xiaofei Tian.  Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian’s Legacy, co-authored with Michael Nylan, Stephen Durrant, and Hans Van Ess. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016. (paperback 2018)

Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals  (annotated translation of Zuozhuan), co-authored with Stephen Durrant and David Schaberg. 3 vols. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016 (Chinese Classics in Translation Series). (AAS Patrick D. Hanan Book Prize for Translation, 2018).

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

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

The Readability of the Past in Early Chinese Historiography.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007.  (Chinese translation 2017)

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

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

Edited Journal Issue:

Cultural Others in Traditional Chinese Literature. Special issue in Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, Durham: Duke University Press 7:1 (2020).

Chapters in books:

“On Reading The Story of the Stone,” in How to Read Chinese Fiction, edited by Shang Wei, Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

“Introduction,” “Looking for the True Self in the Chinese Tradition,” in Keywords in Chinese Culture, edited by Wai-yee Li and Yuri Pines, Chinese University Press, Hong Kong, 2020, pp. ix-xlv, 335-79.

“Recalcitrant Things in Jin Ping Mei,” in Approaches to Teaching Jin Ping Mei, edited by Andrew Schonebaum (MLA, forthcoming).

“Historical Prose,” in How to Read Chinese Prose, edited by Cai Zongqi, Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

“The Problem of Genuineness in Li Zhi’s Writings,” in The Objectionable Li Zhi (1527-1602): Fiction, Criticism, and Dissent in Late Ming China, edited by Rivi Handler-Spitz, Pauline Lee, Haun Saussy. University of Washington Press, 2020, pp. 17-37.

 (In Chinese)《桃花扇》的歷史再現與第二代記憶 (“The Representation of History and Second Generation Memory in Peach Blossom Fan”), 《桃花扇新視野》(New Perspectives on Peach Blossom Fan), edited by Xu Yongming. Hangzhou: Zhejiang guji chubanshe, forthcoming.

Chi , pi , shi , hao : Genealogies of Obsession in Chinese Literature,” in China and the World—the World and China: A Transcultural Perspective, edited by Barbara Mittler, Joachim and Natasha Gentz, and Catherine Vance Yeh, 4 vols. Gosserberg: Ostasien Verlag, 2019, vol. 1, pp. 13-32.

“Recurrent Concerns and Typical Moments in the Book of Songs,” in The Homeric Epics and the Chinese Book of Songs: Foundational Texts Compared, edited by Fritz-Heiner Mutschler. Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing, 2018, pp. 329-58.

“Why Do Classic Chinese Novels Matter?” in The China Questions: Critical Insights Into a Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi. Harvard University Press, 2018, pp. 252-260.

“Poetry and Diplomacy in Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan,” in Poetic Culture from Antiquity Through the Tang, edited by Zongqi Cai. Columbia University Press, forthcoming 2018, pp. 13-29.

“Anecdotal Barbarians in Early China,” in Between Philosophy and History: Rhetorical Uses of Anecdotes in Early China, edited by Sarah Queen and Paul van Els. State University of New York Press, 2017, pp. 113-144.

“June 2, 1927, October 7, 1969,” in A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Wang et al. Harvard University Press, 2017, pp. 319-324.

“Authorship,” “Figures,” “Post Tang Transmission of Classical Literature,” translation from Chinese of “Text and Commentary in the Medieval Period,” Introductory essays on “Traditional Genre Spectrum,” “Modern Perspectives on Genre,” and “Moments, Sites, Figures,” in The Oxford Handbook of Classical Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), edited by Wiebke Denecke, Wai-yee Li, Xiaofei Tian. Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 123-131, 163-169, 235-240, 325-341, 360-376, 399-402, 450-470.

“Nostalgia and Resistance: Gender and the Poetry of Chen Yinke (1890-1969),” in Xiang Lectures on Chinese Poetry. McGill University, 2016, pp. 1-26.

“Hiding Behind a Woman: Contexts and Meanings in Early Qing Poetry,” in Hiddenness in Chinese Culture, edited by Paula Varsano. State University of New York Press, 2016, pp. 99-122.

“Gender, Memory, and Historical Judgment in Early Qing Yangzhou,” in Cities and Urban Life in China, 1400-1950, edited by 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, edited by Wai-yee Li, C.T. Hsia, and Kark Kao. 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.

(In Chinese)〈晚明時刻〉(“The Late Ming Moment”) in 《英語世界的湯顯祖研究論著選譯》 (Tang Xianzu [1550-1616] in English Language 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 Press (Hong Kong), 2012, pp. 337-368.

(In Chinese)〈華夷之辨與異族通婚〉 “Interracial Marriage and the Distinction of Chinese and Barbarians”, in 《談情説異》 (Of Love and Otherness). 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, Vol. 1, Beginnings to AD 600, edited by Andrew Feldherr and Grant Hardy. Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 415-439.

“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 Kuayue guimen 《跨越閨門》. Beijing University Press, 2014, pp. 173-199.)

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.)

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

(In Chinese)〈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: Center of Chinese Studies 漢學研究中心, 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 (1609-1671) 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 (3rd to 6th Century), edited by Zongqi Cai. 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 Love and Emotions in Chinese Literature, edited by Halvor Eifring. Brill, 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.

(In Chinese)〈禍水、薄命、女英雄作為明亡表徵之清代文學女性群像〉(“Femme-fatale, Victim, and Hero: Women as Emblems of Dynastic Collapse in Qing Literature”), in 《世變與維新--晚明與晚清的文學藝術》(Political Disorder and Cultural Renewal: Literature and Culture in Late Ming and Late Qing), 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, edited by Peter Bol, Stephen Owen, Willard Peterson, Pauline Yu. University of California Press, 2000, pp. 93-103, 165-170, 185-192.

"Kowledge and Skepticism in Ancient Chinese Historiography,” in The Limits of Historiography, edited by 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, edited by 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, 428-434.

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

Journal Articles:

(in Chinese) 華夷之辨、華夷之辯:從《左傳》談起, Lingnan Journal of Chinese Studies 《嶺南學報》, Hong Kong (forthcoming).

“Introduction,” “Cultural Identity and Cultural Difference in Zuozhuan,” special issue on “Cultural Others in Traditional Chinese Literature,” Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, Durham: Duke University Press (June 2020).

(In Chinese)懷舊與抗爭:獨立、自由、性別書寫與陳寅恪詩文(“Nostalgia and Resistance: Independence, Freedom, and Gender in the Writings of Chen Yinke”), Modern Chinese Literature《中國現代文學》31(June 2017): 27-54.

Also included in 晚清詩歌論文集 (Essays on Late Qing Poetry), edited by Lin Tsung-cheng. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, forthcoming November 2017.

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


Poetry and Diplomacy in the Zuozhuan,” 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.


(In Chinese)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.


(In Chinese)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.


(In Chinese)〈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, Harvard Journal of Asiastic Studies 74.1(June 2014), pp. 162-167.

Review of Yuri Pines, Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (December 2005), pp. 506-521.

Review of Eva Hung ed., Paradoxes of Traditional Chinese Literature, Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Review 19 (1997), pp. 156-159.

Review of Stephen Durrant, The Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian, Early China 21 (spring 1996), pp. 213-219.

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. 132-134.

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, Digest of Chinese Studies (1988), pp. 53-61, 69-77.

Contact Information

2 Divinity Ave. #215
p: (617) 495-1608
Office Hours: Spring 2022: Tuesday 12:30-1:30 p.m. and Thursday noon-1 p.m.


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