Assistant Professor of Chinese Literature
Current research interests:
I am a scholar of early modern Chinese literature. My research approaches texts as material objects and technological innovations: as things that can enfold imagined worlds and transport those lively and inventive worlds across time and space. In one research project, this entails looking at a lifestyle manual from a single 17th-century literatus; in other projects, it means reading broadly across several genres, from erotic short stories to treatises on garden design, to discern the meanings of gender in early modern China. I work on a range of late Ming and early Qing texts, whether fiction, plays, or essays, and situate them within the rapid cultural and economic transformations of that historical period.
I am currently finishing a book on the cultural entrepreneurship of the maverick literatus Li Yu (1611-1680), who made a living publishing his own fiction, plays, and essays, designing gardens on commission, and directing a traveling theater troupe in the early decades of the Qing dynasty. I explore how he engineered and marketed a new experience of the everyday in the burgeoning market economy of the early Qing dynasty, arguing that his representation and commodification of these experiments challenged received ideas about what constituted cultural capital, markers of social status, and narratives of viable identities alike. My strategy is to bring his literary experiments into conversation with his extra-literary practice in publishing, theater direction, and garden design. Taking visual and material cultures seriously in this way allows me to show how text and practice informed and transformed each other in Li Yu’s work.
Whereas my current book manuscript foregrounds the material realities of literary texts and their production, the other major project I am working on emphasizes the literary career of one particular late Ming object: silver. Recent scholarship in Chinese history has explored the rising commodity economy and accompanying changes in regimes of value and taste in the early modern period, focusing in each instance on the conversion of the Ming economy to silver and a surge of silver imports from Japan and the New World in the mid-16th century. I build on this body of historical research to explain the anxieties, aspirations, and flights of imagination that silver and commodity circulation inspired over the next two centuries, as they were incorporated into discourses of morality, family, and China’s place in the world. By reading biji and short fiction, I argue that the representation of silver in the late Ming elucidates and responds to a peculiar situation in which the empire looms large even while material life and exchange are no longer arbitrated in an imperially denominated form.
In addition to these book-length projects, I am working on a series of essays on gender in early modern China, highlighting the relationship between notions of sex, theater, and the emerging commodity market. Another stream of my research contributes to the China Biographical Database Project (CBDB), an online relational database, which will enable scholars to engage in more detailed social network and spatial analysis of the early Qing empire, and in particular the social networks (including more than 800 people) created and sustained by Li Yu’s publishing projects, his gardens, and theatrical performances.
My teaching interests include premodern Chinese drama and fiction, translation, gender and sexuality, 17th-century culture, and classical Chinese. At the undergraduate level, I have taught topics courses such as “Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern China” as well as a more general introduction to Chinese literature in transnational perspective, “Globalizing China.” At the graduate level, I have taught an introduction to the humanistic study of China, and I look forward to teaching graduate seminars on Ming and Qing literature, print culture in early modern East Asia, and on theorizing technology in the cultural history of early modern China.