East Asian Languages & Cultures
A.B., Harvard College; M.A., University of Michigan; Ph.D., Harvard University
On Leave Spring '16
Green Hall 336C
Sarah M. AllenAssociate Professor of Chinese
Works on medieval Chinese literature and culture, especially gossip, anecdotes, and tales from the eighth and ninth centuries.
My research focuses on medieval Chinese literature, culture, and historiography, in particular tales and anecdotal literature from the eighth and ninth centuries. Thousands of short narratives survive from this period, ranging from gossip about the escapades (savory and unsavory) of high-ranking government officials to cautionary tales about deadly encounters with zombies. In my work, I investigate what this material meant to readers and writers at the time and what it can tell us about their understanding of the world in which they lived. How did people obtain and interpret information about recent events? How did stories get changed as they were passed around from person to person? How did narrative conventions shape the way stories were told? What does “authorship” mean when a story is a mixture of inherited information and the recorder’s personal embellishments? The majority of these accounts are best characterized as recorded hearsay, information that was of interest because it promised to deliver an inside scoop on events that were presumed to have really happened, whether those events concern the emperor’s love-life or how an exorcist freed a young girl from a fox-demon who had possessed her. But during the ninth century, some writers began to use this form in new ways, crafting increasingly inventive and literary tales, and I am also interested in how writers appropriated the conventions of recorded gossip to create distinctive, intentionally belletristic works.
I explore some of these ideas in my book Shifting Stories: History, Gossip and Lore in Narratives from Tang Dynasty China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014). Doing my research is fun because I read a lot of stories about ghosts, hapless scholars, and animals disguised as beautiful women. But I first became interested in medieval literature simply because classical Chinese is such an elegant and beautiful language.
At Wellesley I teach Chinese literature and culture from its beginnings up through the early 20th century, with an emphasis on pre-modern materials. I also teach Chinese language, both classical and modern.