Judith Zeitlin, Ph.D.

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Wieboldt 406
Office Hours: On leave for 2023-2024
Research Interests: Ming-Qing literature, cultural history, and the arts, with specialties in Chinese opera and the classical tale.


My work combines 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 book The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature (2007), for instance, 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. I regularly teach an undergraduate Signature course--Topics in EALC: Ghosts and the Fantastic in Literature and Film (next slated to be taught in Spring 2023).

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 with a catalogue called Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture at UChicago’s Smart Museum of Art in 2014


One of the best things about this project was collaborating with many current and former University of Chicago MA and PhD students, who contributed to the catalogue. In my projects and research, I’m always actively seeking to create opportunities for students to get involved.    

My interest in music, especially as related to opera (Chinese and European), is driving much of my current research, creative projects, and collaborative endeavors. I’m completing a book on the culture of musical entertainment and its relationship to courtesans, opera, and material culture in early modern China. This book emerges out of research on the voice, musical instruments, and musical texts that I've been engaged in for the past decade.

I was 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 Neubauer Collegium for Art and Society (http://neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu/faculty/the_voice_project/). The result of this collaboration is a co-edited volume entitled The Voice as Something More: Essays Toward Materiality (University of Chicago Press, 2019). In Winter 2023 the two of us are co-teaching a new Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation (CDI) seminar called “Opera Without Borders,” which will explore how markers of race, indigeneity, and other kinds of identity blur historical time and disrupt geopolitical space on the operatic stage.

Another musical project is a bigger leap for me: With the award of a Mellon grant from the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago, I’m collaborating with China-based contemporary composer Yao Chen to co-write an English-language opera called Ghost Village based on a Liaozhai tale. https://graycenter.uchicago.edu/experiments/ghost-village. The two of us taught an experimental seminar called “Literature of the Fantastic and Opera Adaptation” spring quarter 2018 during his residency in Chicago. (On the project, see an interview in The Portable Gray ---Noise and Nomads https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/pog/current)

I’m excited to be on the faculty of the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), which offers a joint PhD with different graduate departments, including EALC, as well as being undergraduate major and offering a special track in MAPH. See https://arts.uchicago.edu/committee-theater-and-performance-studies

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

Selected Publications


Selected Articles


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.


Courses Taught 2018-2019

  • The Literary and Visual Worlds of Xixiang ji (Romance of the Western Chamber, fall)
  • Opera and Film, China/Europe (CDI seminar, co-taught with Martha Feldman, winter)
  • Topics in EALC: Ghosts and the Fantastic (fall)
  • Media Aesthetics: Text (Hum Core, winter)

Courses Taught 2017-18

  • The Literary Life of Things in China (fall)
  •  Literature of the Fantastic and Operatic Adaptation (Gray Center seminar, co-taught with Yao Chen)
  • Introduction to Classical Chinese Poetry (spring)
  • Media Aesthetics: Text (Hum Core, winter)

Other Recently Taught Courses

  • Actors and Playwrights in the Chinese Theater
  • 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