Wilt Idema

Professor of Chinese Literature, Emeritus; Former Director of the Fairbank Center 2002-2005


Wilt L. Idema (伊維德) obtained his BA, MA and PhD from Leiden University. Following a two years’ stay in Japan and Hong Kong (1968-1970) he taught at Leiden University from 1970 to 1999. From 2000 to 2013 he taught at Harvard University in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations as Professor of Chinese Literature. During this period he also served as editor of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (2000-2003), Director of the Fairbank Center (2002-2005), and Chair of EALC (2008-2011).

Idema’s research has mostly focused on the traditions of vernacular literature during the last millennium of imperial China. Following a dissertation on early Chinese vernacular fiction, he published extensively (often in collaboration with Stephen H. West) on early Chinese drama of the Yuan and Ming dynasties. More recently, many of his publications, both studies and translations, concerned the prosimetrical narratives of the Ming and the Qing dynasties in pre-modern editions and modern recordings. He also published on women’s literature of the Ming and the Qing (often in collaboration with Beata Grant). Some of his recent publications are The Metamorphosis of Tianxianpei: Local Opera under the Revolution (1949-1956) (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2015); Two Centuries of Manchu Women Poets, An Anthology (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017); Mouse vs. Cat in Chinese Literature, Tales and Commentary (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019); and Insects in Chinese LiteratureA Study and Anthology (Amherst NY; Cambria Press, 2019).

For his Dutch translations of classical Chinese poetry Idema received the Martinus Nijhoff Award of 1992 and the Special Book Award of China in 2015.

Selected Publications


  • The Legend of Prince Golden Calf in China and Korea (2022) 
  • The Pitfalls of Piety for Married Women: Two Precious Scrolls of the Ming Dynasty (2021) 
  • Mouse vs. Cat in Chinese Literature: Tales and Commentary (2019)
  • Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology (2019)
  • Two Centuries of Manchu Women Poets: An Anthology (2017)
  • Metamorphosis of Tianxian Pei: Local Opera Under the Revolution (2015)
  • The Immortal Maiden Equal to Heaven and Other Precious Scrolls from Western Gansu (2015)
  • Passion, Poverty And Travel: Traditional Hakka Songs And Ballads (2015)
  • The Orphan of Zhao and Other Yuan Plays (2014)
  • The Resurrected Skeleton: From Zhuangzi to Lu Xun (2014)
  • The Generals of the Yang Family: Four Early Plays (2013)
  • Judge Bao and the Rule of Law: Eight Ballad-stories from the Period 1250-1450 (2009)
  • Heroines of Jiangyong: Chinese Narrative Ballads in Women’s Script (2009)
  • Chinese letterkunde (2008)
  • Trauma and Transcendence in Early Qing Literature (2006)
  • The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China (2004)
  • Mirror of Classical Chinese Poetry from the Book of Odes to the Qing Dynasty (1991)
  • White and Black: Imagination and Cultural Confrontations (1990)
  • A Guide to Chinese Literature (1985)
  • The Dramatic Ceuvre of Chu Yu-Tun 1379-1439 (1985)

Recent Articles and Chapters


Blog Posts