Xiaofei Tian

Xiaofei Tian

Professor of Chinese Literature
Xiaofei Tian

After teaching at Colgate University and Cornell University, I joined the Harvard EALC faculty in 2000. My principal teaching and research area is Chinese literature and cultural history of the Middle Period (first through thirteenth century CE), but I have also taught and published on literature and culture from late imperial and modern times. My interest in poetry and poetics, the mediality of literature, court culture, and Chinese literature’s complex negotiations with Buddhism has been driving much of my work. My book Tao Yuanming and Manuscript Culture (a Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2006), for instance, examines how scribes, editors, readers, and commentators participated in constructing the image of the iconic poet. Another book, Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502–557), contextualizes the splendid court literature of a much maligned period in Chinese history and proposes the emergence of a new poetics informed by the Buddhist view of the phenomenal world. My book in Chinese on the great sixteenth-century novel The Plum in the Golden Vase (see here and here) explores the Buddhist vision embodied in the narrative of the novel’s Chongzhen recension, and argues for an awareness of the cultural politics and ideological choices embedded in modern scholarship.

How does one articulate difficult personal experiences, such as trauma, violence, or encounters with the foreign and the strange, in literary writings? How has premodern Chinese cultural tradition continued, in fascinating metamorphoses, into modern and contemporary times? These are the questions I explore in, for instance, Visionary Journeys, a book on the travel writings from early medieval and nineteenth-century China, and The Halberd at Red Cliff, a book devoted to the interface of the literature of the Jian’an era and literature, broadly defined, about the Three Kingdoms period, from the turn of the third century CE to the present day. I have also written many articles on modern Chinese poetry, especially modern and contemporary poetry in classical forms.

My interest in the nineteenth century, a time that witnessed the negotiation of old and new, led to the translation of a memoir presenting a child’s point of view of the Taiping War, The World of a Tiny Insect, with a critical introduction and notes (awarded the inaugural Patrick D. Hanan Prize by Association for Asian Studies in 2016). I have long been interested in the cultural implications and traumatic impact of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), and have been teaching a course, Art and Violence in the Cultural Revolution, since 2001 (for my presentation on the Big-Character Posters, click here).

I edited Reading Du Fu: Nine Views, the first collection of essays in English dedicated to the poetry of Du Fu (712–770), often considered the greatest Chinese poet, and co-edited with Wiebke Denecke and Wai-yee Li The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE–900 CE) (a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2018). I authored the chapter “From the Eastern Jin through the Early Tang (317–649 CE)” in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, and contributed to The Cambridge History of Travel Writing, A New Literary History of Modern China, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature, and other volumes.

In 2019–2020, as an ACLS Donald J. Munro Centennial Fellow in Chinese Arts and Letters, I completed a translation of Family Instructions for the Yan Clan and Other Works by Yan Zhitui (531–590s), forthcoming from De Gruyter. I currently work on a book manuscript entitled Writing Empire and Self: Cultural Transformation in Early Medieval China, and my next project will be on slaves and things in Tang. I serve as a member of the Editorial Board of the Library of Chinese Humanities (LOCH), a series that presents important works in the classical Chinese tradition in facing-page, scholarly English translation along with the best Chinese texts, available both in print and Open Access online (for instance, see here). I am the incoming editor of Early Medieval China and a co-editor of The Nanyang Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture.

For links to some of my courses and publications, see my website.

Curriculum Vitae

Contact Information

2 Divinity Ave. #220
p: (617) 495-7937
Office Hours: Fall 2020: Wednesday 3-4 and by appointment

Faculty Fields

Faculty Area