Judith Zeitlin

Judith Zeitlin, Ph.D.

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Director of Undergraduate Studies for 2017-18
Wieboldt 406
Teaching and Research Interests: 

Ming-Qing literary and cultural history, with specialties in drama and the classical tale.  

I'm especially interested in combining literary history with other disciplines, such as performance, music, visual and material culture, medicine, gender studies, and film. I often joke that I’m a “ghostologist” since I’ve written so extensively on ghosts and still retain an active interest in the subject. My second book The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature, which came out in 2007, explores the representation of ghosts across the range of literary genres in the late Ming and early Qing, specifically the fantasy of a female corpse revived through love, the imagination of death through a ghostly poetic voice, the mourning of the historical past by the present, and the theatricality of the split between body and soul. Since then I’ve also published on the eighteenth-century painter Luo Ping’s “Ghost Amusement Scroll” (2009), on ghosts in Chinese opera film (2010), and the ghosts of things in Tang dynasty tales (in press).

In recent years, my research and teaching have become increasingly oriented toward the performing and visual arts as way of engaging actively with all the senses, and not just texts, although close reading of texts remains a fundamental part of my scholarship and pedagogy. I co-curated an exhibition called Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture with my former PhD student Yuhang Li (now assistant professor in art history at University of Wisconsin, Madison) at UChicago’s Smart Museum of Art, which ran Feb-June 2014.


We published an extensive exhibition catalogue to accompany the show. One of the best things about the exhibition was being able to collaborate with many current and former University of Chicago MA and PhD students, who contributed essays, entries, and other writings to the catalogue. In my projects and research, I’m always actively seeking to create opportunities for students to get involved.    

For 2015-2016, I will be on leave in China and the UK, completing a book on the culture of musical entertainment and its relationship to courtesans, opera, and material culture in early modern China (the late Ming and early Qing). This book emerges out of research on the voice, musical instruments, and musical texts that I've been engaged in for the past several years. Relevant publications of mine on these subjects include a cultural biography of a rare type of stringed instrument (2009)and an essay on illustrated songbooks from the late Ming pleasure quarters (2013). My interest in music has led me into some interesting new collaborations. The first is that I’ve been the co-principal investigator (with Martha Feldman in Music) of an interdisciplinary faculty seminar on the voice under the auspices of the University of Chicago's new Neubauer Collegium for Art and Society.

http://neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu/faculty/the_voice_project/. Our project will culminate in a conference called “The Voice as Something More” to be held at the Neubauer in Nov. 2015, with the aim of producing an edited volume on the subject.

The second is that I've been working with China-based contemporary composer Yao Chen and pipa virtuoso Lan Weiwei, on a multi-year project inspired by an extraordinary late Ming pipa in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our first collaboration, a concert and workshop in Chicago last spring, was the finale to a five-month campus-wide festival of Chinese arts and culture, which I spearheaded in conjunction with the Performing Images exhibition.  The latest phase of the project just concluded in Jun 2015 in Beijing, with an interdisciplinary conference called “Imagining the Sounds of the Early Modern Pipa,” we organized at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing and an expanded concert of Yao Chen’s piece performed by Lan Weiwei and two Kun opera singers.

Finally, I’m excited to be involved with the Program in Theater and Performance Studies, which is in the process of developing a collaborative PhD track for students in different graduate departments, including EALC. Stay tuned for details. 

On August 28, 2015, I gave the Convocation Address at the University of Chicago's 524th Convocation, which you can read here.

Selected Publications: 


  • The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature. University of Hawaii Press, 2007.
  • Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.  (paperback edition 1997). 


Edited Books and Special Journal Issues

  • Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture, exhibition catalogue. Co-edited with Yuhang Li. University of Chicago Smart Museum of Art, 2014.
  • Chinese Opera Film. Co-edited with Paola Iovene. Special double issue of The Opera Quarterly, vol. 26, nos. 3-4, (Spring-Summer), 2010.
  • Thinking with Cases: Specialist Knowledge in Chinese Cultural History. Co-edited with Charlotte Furth and Ping-chen Hsiung. University of Hawaii Press, 2007.
  • Writing and Materiality in China: Essays in Honor of Patrick D. Hanan. Co-editor and co-writer of the introduction with Lydia H. Liu. Harvard Asia Center Publications, 2003.



  • “The Pleasures of Print: Illustrated Songbooks from the Late Ming Courtesan World.” In Gender in Chinese Music, ed. Rachel Harris, Rowan Pease, and Shzr Ee Tan. Rochester University Press, 2013, 41-65.
  • “The Cultural Biography of a Musical Instrument: Little Hulei as Sounding Object, Antique, Prop, and Relic.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies vol. 69.2  (Dec 2009), 395-441.
  • “Operatic Ghosts on Screen: The Case of A Test of Love (1958).” In Chinese Opera Film, edited by Judith T. Zeitlin and Paola Iovene. Special double issue of The Opera Quarterly, vol. 26 (Summer/Fall 2010): 1-34.
  • “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll: Literary and Theatrical Perspectives.” In Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733-1799), ed. Kim Karlsson et al. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 2009, 52-63.
  • “The Literary Fashioning of Medical Authority: A Study of Sun Yikui’s Case Histories.” In  Thinking with Cases: Specialist Knowledge in Chinese Cultural History, ed. Charlotte Furth, Judith Zeitlin, and Hsiung Ping-chen. University of Hawai’i Press, 2007, 169-202.
  • “’Notes of Flesh’: The Courtesan’s Song in Seventeenth-Century China” in The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, ed. Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon. Oxford University Press, 2006, 75-99.
  • “Music and Performance in Palace of Lasting Life” in Trauma and Transcendence in Chinese Literature, ed. Idema, Li, and Widmer. Harvard University Asia Center, 2006, 456-487.
  • “The Life and Death of the Image: Ghosts and Portraits in Chinese Literature” in Body and Face in Chinese Visual Culture, ed. Wu Hung and Katherine Tsiang (Harvard University Asia Center, 2005), 229-253.
  • “Xiaoshuo” in The Novel, ed. Franco Moretti (Princeton University Press, 2006), 250-261.
  • “Shared Dreams: The Story of the Three Wives’ Commentary on The Peony Pavilion” (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 1994), 127-179.

Selected articles published in Chinese as Cai Jiudi 蔡九迪:

  • 《一人同梦:三妇合评牡丹亭 》[Shared Dreams: The Story of Three Wives' Commentary on The Peony Pavilion], 解芳译.  In《英语世界的汤显祖论文集》[An Anthology of Critical Studies on Tang Xianzu in Western Scholarship], 徐永明,陈靝沅主编 。杭州:浙江大学出版社,2013: 186-224 页.
  • 《乐器、古董、道具、遗物——小忽雷文化传记》 [Instrument, Antique, Prop, Relic—A Cultural Biography of Little Hulei], 宋巧燕译. In 《戏曲研究》 [Research on Chinese Traditional Theater]. Vol. 84 (Apr, 2012): 206-223页. Vol. 85 (Apr, 2012): 169-190页.
  • 《洪昇<长生殿>的音乐与表演》[Music and Performance in Hong Sheng’s Palace of Lasting Life], 颜彦译。In 《励耘学刊》[Liyun Academic Journal]. 10.2 (Oct, 2009): 176-196页.
  • 《重身与分身——明末戏曲中的“魂旦”》[Doubling and Splitting the Phantom Heroine in Seventeenth-Century Drama], 李雨航译. In《汤显祖与<牡丹亭>研究》[Research on Tang Xianzu and The Peony Pavilion], 华玮主编. 台北: 中国文哲研究所, 2006: 511-536页.
  • 《题壁诗与明清之际对妇女诗的收集》[Writing on Walls and the Collection of Women’s Poetry in the Late Ming and Early Qing], 林凌翰译.  In 《明清文学与性别研究》[Ming Qing Literature and Gender], 张宏声主编. 南京: 江苏古籍出版社, 2002: 502-531页.

Upcoming Departmental Courses 2014-2015

  • The Literary Life of Things in China (fall)
  • History of Chinese Theater (winter)
  • Courtesans and the Arts in China (winter)


Recently Taught Courses

  • The Ghost Tradition in Chinese Literature, Opera, and Film
  • The Martial Arts Tradition in Chinese Literature, Opera, and Film
  • The Visual Culture of Chinese Opera
  • Courtesan Culture and the Arts in China
  • Historiography of Chinese vernacular fiction and drama
  • Peach Blossom Fan
  • Palace of Lasting Life
  • The Peony Pavilion
  • Women Writers in Late Imperial China


Additional Information: 
FALL 2017 Office hours Wed 3:30-5:30. To sign up, use link below.