Wai-yee Li

Professor of Chinese Literature


Wai-yee Li (李惠儀) 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, was published in 2015, as was her co-authored book, Sima Qian and the Letter to Ren An.

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.

Research interests: early Chinese literature (beginnings – ca. third century AD); late-Imperial Chinese literature (Ming and Qing dynasties).

Selected Publications


  • 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 / Zuozhan: 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.

Recent Articles and Chapters

  • (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.
  • “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 癡, pi 癖, shi 嗜, hao 好: 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.
  • Cultural Others in Traditional Chinese Literature. Special issue in Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, Durham: Duke University Press 7:1 (2020).