I am a scholar of Chinese literature and thought, specializing in the period from roughly 200 CE through 1100.
Much of my work centers on the question of what positive conclusions we can draw from the vast amount we don’t know. This theme is at the core of my first book, on the poet Du Fu 杜甫 (712–770), and it is also pertinent to my second major project, on the much-remarked “pluralism” of medieval China. I am interested in understanding how the medieval Chinese tolerance for obscurity eventually gave way to a more optimistic account of our capacity for knowledge, and whether that more optimistic account may sometimes have been linked to a decreased interest in difference and diversity.
In exploring these questions, I focus on the intersection of thought and literature. What most of us do not and perhaps cannot know was an important theme in all of the major strands of medieval Chinese thought, from Xuanxue 玄學 (“Obscure Learning”) to Buddhism, Daoism, and even Classicism (or Confucianism). And literary and poetic forms are, as many medieval Chinese writers remarked, particularly important in navigating a world we do not always understand.
At Yale, I teach courses on Chinese literature from the Han dynasty through the Song, Chinese philosophy, and comparative topics.