Martin Kern

Greg ('84) and Joanna (P13) Zeluck Professor in Asian Studies

Professor and Chair, Department of East Asian Studies

Department of East Asian Studies
210 Jones Hall, Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

Assistant: Amber J. Min-Lee | 609-258-4276



My work cuts across the fields of literature, philology, history, religion, and art in ancient and medieval China, with a primary focus on poetry.

Studying the composition, reception, and canonization of early texts, I am particularly interested in three questions: the performance of texts in political and religious ritual; their role in the formation of ancient and medieval Chinese cultural memory and identity; and the presence and absence of the authorial voice in early texts. These issues lead further into the complex problems of writing and orality and to the phenomenon of texts as material artifacts, especially with newly excavated manuscripts and inscriptions.

Another major field of my interest is in Chinese poetry, its theory, aesthetics, and hermeneutic practices. I am currently spending much of my time on the early history of the Classic of Poetry and the origin and early development of Chinese literary thought. Again, newly excavated manuscripts are of central importance to rethink the fundamentals of classical Chinese poetics.

And some day, I must escape for a while from early China to write a book on Du Fus poetry. In the end, that’s why I study classical Chinese.

Among other duties, I serve as co-editor of T’oung Pao.



Current Projects

  • “The Imperial Tradition of the Lost Original: Calligraphy and Personality in Wang Xizhi’s ‘Ritual to Pray for Good Harvest’.” Essay.

  • “Speaking of Poetry: Pattern and Argument in the Kongzi shilun.” Essay.

  • “Style and Poetic Diction in the Xunzi.” Essay.

  • “Language and the Ideology of Kingship in the ‘Canon of Yao’.” Essay.

  • “Divination and its Rhetoric in Early China.” Essay.

  • 早期中國書寫、詩歌與文化記憶. Collection of Essays.

  • Authorship, Tradition, and Performance in Early China. Monograph.

  • Reading Early Chinese Manuscripts: Texts, Contexts, Methods. Handbook of Oriental Studies, edited with Wolfgang Behr (Zürich) and Dirk Meyer (Oxford). Leiden: Brill.



In my undergraduate lecture course “Introduction to Chinese Literature” (EAS 232), we survey the foundations, major genres, and masterpieces of classical Chinese literature. A new lecture course I have helped to initiate is the sequence “East Asian Humanities” (HUM/EAS/COM 233-234) with faculty from four departments. I also teach upper-level undergraduate seminars on Chinese poetry as well as on early religious ritual and its texts and artifacts (EAS/REL 327). Finally, I have recently developed a new course to rethink the issue of translation in our encounters with the civilizations of East Asia (TRA/EAS 304).

On the graduate level, I teach seminars on Chinese poetry from Zhou through Tang and Song times, but also on literary thought, commentary, historiography, and issues of canonization and anthologizing in ancient and medieval Chinese literature. Current dissertation projects of my graduate students range from pre-imperial Chinese intellectual history to medieval Chinese poetry, the reception history of early texts, classical commentary, and commemorative inscriptions.



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© 2012 Martin Kern

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