Wai-yee Li is a professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University. Her first book, Enchantment and Disenchantment: Love and Illusion in Chinese Literature (Princeton University Press, 1993), traces the discourse on desire and its myriad transformations in the Chinese literary tradition. She is also the author of The Readability of the Past in Early Chinese Historiography (Harvard University Asia Center, forthcoming), which investigates the ordering impulse of Chinese culture in understanding the past, especially in connection with conceptions of rhetoric, exegesis, and interpretation of early China.
During her Radcliffe fellowship, Li will write a book about the relationship between the fall of the Ming dynasty and literary representation in seventeenth-century China. Using the traumatic transition from the Ming (1368–1644) to Qing (1644–1911) dynasties as the divide, she will examine aspects of late-Ming literary, aesthetic, and cultural sensibility and their representation, continuation, and transformation in early-Qing writings. She will also juxtapose cultural self-perception and self-definition before and after the fall of the Ming dynasty in various discourses (on things, on women, on the self, and on history), while noting shifts and differences within the conventional period designations of “late-Ming” and “early-Qing.”
Li earned her BA from the University of Hong Kong and a PhD from Princeton University, where she taught before coming to Harvard University. She was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, and received a senior scholar research grant from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange.