Judith Zeitlin, Ph.D.

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Wieboldt 406
Office Hours: By appointment only; email to schedule.
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 2020-2021).

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’m on research leave this year 2019-2020 to work on it, with the support of an NEH fellowship. I’ll be at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing Sept-Jan; Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies Jan-Apr; and the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy, Apr-May.

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, forthcoming fall 2019).The two of us also taught a Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation seminar on “Opera Film, China/Europe: Cases in Media Hybridity” last winter (2019).

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 a recent interview in The Portable Gray ---Noise and Nomads https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/pog/current

Finally, 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

  • The Voice as Something More: Essays Toward Materiality. Co-editor and co-writer of the introduction with Martha Feldman.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Selected Articles


  • “Chinese Theories of the Sounding Voice before the Modern Era: From the Natural to the Instrumental,” chapter in The Voice as Something More: Essays Toward Materiality, ed. Martha Feldman and Judith T. Zeitlin (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, fall 2019.
  • “The Ghosts of Things.” Chapter in Fantômes dans l’Extrême-Orient d’hier et d’aujourd’hui/ Ghosts in the Far East in the Past and Present, ed. Vincent Durand-Dastès and Marie Laureillard. Paris: Presses de Inalco, 2017
  • “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.


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