Tian Yuan Tan
Professorial Fellow; Shaw Professor of Chinese
Pre-modern Chinese literature, with emphasis on drama, fiction, and poetry in the later dynasties; Chinese literary history and historiography; court theatre and performance; cross-cultural interactions between China and other countries.
I research in four broad areas outlined below, connected by my interests in the contexts of literary production, criticism, and performance in pre-modern China, the various means and forms through which texts survived, and the making of literary history.
(1) Pre-Modern Chinese Literature, Literary History and Historiography
My research focuses on drama, songs, and other forms of vernacular literature in the later dynasties of China. My book Songs of Contentment and Transgression: Discharged Officials and Literati Communities in Sixteenth-Century North China (2010) reveals how stigmatised genres such as sanqu songs and drama were used by discharged officials in pursuit of a distinctive voice and identity that differentiated them from traditional Chinese elites.
I am also interested in how literary histories are constructed and how they shape our understanding of the literary past. Some areas I have worked on include the significance of the Mid-Ming (roughly 1450—1550) as a literary period, the problems of “attributive authorship”, and the reconsideration of set categories such as North/South and elite/court/popular culture.
(2) Textual Studies and Editing
My research project on “Lost Songs” of Kang Hai (1475-1541)”, funded by the British Academy and the Sino-British Fellowship Trust from 2008 to 2010, focused on collating and punctuating a sixteenth-century sanqu collection newly rediscovered in Taiwan. Building on this project, I edited A Critical Edition of Kang Hai’s Songs with Introduction, Notes, and Two Essays (2011). My engagement in textual studies has also led me to explore issues such as authorship, the instability of performance texts, editing practices of traditional editors and modern scholars, and the functions and limitations of anthologies.
(3) Imperial Court Culture and Performances
My new research project is on court theatre and performances in late imperial China. A Visiting Fellow Research Grant allowed me to conduct archival research at the National Central Library in Taipei. I was also awarded a British Academy Small Research Grant for a two-year research project on the role of literati playwrights in Qing court theatre. Another area I am continuing to work on is the imperial control over literary and theatrical productions.
(4) Reading Chinese Literature across Cultures
In recent years I began working on a few collaborative projects concerning cross-cultural interactions between China and other countries and the reception of Chinese literature across cultures. One focus is on Tang Xianzu (1550-1616), a major playwright and a contemporary of Shakespeare. Using Tang Xianzu and his rich cultural afterlife as a case study, I explore the ways in which major literary writers are regarded as local and national cultural icons, and examine the translatability of their literary legacies across cultures. See Research output: 1616: Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu’s China.
- Current Projects:
- Principal Investigator, ERC-funded project “TEXTCOURT: Linking the Textual Worlds of Chinese Court Theater, ca. 1600-1800”
Co-Director (in collaboration with National Taiwan University), CCFK-funded project “Textual Forms and the Construction of Knowledge in Late Ming Qu Anthologies”
For a list of publications, please see orinst.ox.ac.uk