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Martin Kern

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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 literature broadly conceived, I am particularly interested in textual performances and their function for the formation of ancient cultural memory; in early Chinese rhetoric; in the presence, absence, construction, and meaning of the authorial voice; and in the origins and development of the intellectual and social system of ancient Chinese textuality. These themes lead further into questions about the interactions between writing and orality, phenomena of composite texts and textual repertoires, and the materiality of text in newly discovered paleographic materials.

Another major field of my study is in Chinese poetry, its theory, aesthetics, and hermeneutic practices, with particular attention to the early history of the Classic of Poetry and its surrounding texts. Here, too, newly excavated manuscripts are important to rethink the fundamentals of the Chinese tradition.

A more recent set of interests is to reflect on questions of China’s place in global antiquity, issues in world literature and translation, and problems of international Sinology. On the side, I have also begun to think and write about medieval calligraphy and its cultural paradoxes and appropriations through the centuries.

Among other duties, I serve as Co-Editor of T’oung Pao as well as Founding Managing Editor of the monograph series Studies in the History of Chinese TextsAt Renmin University of China (Beijing), I serve as the Xin’ao Distinguished Visiting Chair in the Humanities and as Founding Director of the International Center for the Study of Ancient Text Cultures.