Ellen Widmer

Mayling Soong Professor of Chinese Studies & Professor of East Asian Studies

I study traditional Chinese fiction, history of Chinese women's writing, history of the book in China, and missionaries to East Asia.

I have several research topics. Trained in the history of traditional Chinese fiction, I have worked hard to bring women into the picture. There were not many women who wrote fiction, but many consumed it as readers and wrote about it in their poetry. The great eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber takes writing women as its subject and so blends these two streams of my work in another way. The history of the Chinese book is another area of specialization. My several studies of individual bookshops emerge from this interest. Finally I have written on the outreach of colleges like Wellesley and Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut to Christian colleges in China, Japan, and Korea.

My teaching centers on the history of Chinese fiction and drama. Comparisons between Chinese and Japanese fiction are another teaching interest, as is Korean-American literature. I am trying to figure out the best way to bring a third interest, educational interchanges between American colleges and colleges in East Asia, into the realm of my teaching. A second plan for the future is to teach the history of China's women writers. Finally, I am working with colleagues in the department to devise core courses for the major. I may not teach these myself, but I will hope to have a voice in how they are structured and administered.

I am keenly interested in administration at the departmental level. Questions like how to combine Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in one department; how to help language and literature faculty interact with one another; how to adapt courses to reflect the changing profiles of East Asian countries --all these go into the mix of making Wellesley's available assets work to best advantage. As department chair I probably spend as much time thinking about such matters as I spend on my research and teaching.


  • B.A. Wellesley College
  • M.A., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • M.A., Harvard University
  • Ph.D., Harvard University