Helen Zhang - Faculty & Adjuncts

Helen Zhang, PhD

Helen Zhang, PhD
Wellspring Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature
College of Arts & Sciences
Language and Literature
918-631-2411 Website Oliphant Hall Room 187


PhD – Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany MA – Peking University, Beijing, China BA – Peking University, Beijing, China


Educated at Peking University, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, and Yale, Huiwen Helen Zhang identifies herself as a transreader, i.e. a lento reader, poetic translator, creative writer, and cultural critic in one. The role of transreader and the theory of transreading link Dr. Zhang’s research on Chinese, German, and Scandinavian literature, philosophy, history, and art.

Transreading is an interdisciplinary approach that Dr. Zhang utilized in her German book, Kulturtransfer über Epochen und Kontinente (Gruyter 2012) and developed into a critical theory in her English articles, “‘Translated, it is: ...’—An Ethics of Transreading” (Educational Theory 2014), “Lu Xun contra Georg Brandes: Resisting the Temptation of World Literature” (EU-topías 2017), and “Mu Dan’s Poetry as a History of Modern China” (Oxford 2018).

Dr. Zhang’s current projects combine panoramic vision with meticulous methodology. Her second book, Transreading: A Common Language for Cultural Critique (under contract), engages those whom Dr. Zhang terms “transreaders of modernity”: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Strindberg, Döblin, Kollwitz, and Lu Xun. It uses transreading to reconstruct a transcontinental dialogue that illuminates common responses to modernity which prompt us to ponder the nature of and the solutions to the problems of our time. As the first panoramic portrayal of the modern breakthrough in three ethnolinguistic circles (Chinese/Scandinavian/German), it will build bridges between cultures for scholars and the general public alike by demonstrating how cross-cultural dialogue helps diverse cultures better understand one another as well as themselves.

Dr. Zhang’s third book, Kafka’s Dao: The Patience Game, challenges the reader to decipher one of the most astonishing cross-cultural enigmas: how, through transreading, Kafka transplants the seed of Dao and nurtures it in a European mind. Distinct from the approaches of his contemporaries, Kafka’s Dao is a patience game with words and thoughts maneuvered like marbles. Not only does his voice echo ancient Chinese thinkers, but he also delivers their messages in an uncompromising way that informs and inspires.

Research Interests

Buoyant and uncompromising, Huiwen Helen Zhang is a Transreader across genres (poetry, drama, fiction, essay, diary, correspondence, commentary, art critique), media (literature, music, painting, engraving, sculpture, cinema), and cultures (Scandinavia, Germany, Japan, China).

Transreading is a critical theory that Dr. Zhang has developed to explore how history, literature, philosophy, and art generate and reshape one another.

Transreading is existential for Dr. Zhang; mother tongue is any language with which a momentary intuited intimacy enables her fully to convey an otherwise inexpressible thought, feeling, or sentiment.

Modern transreaders transread by Dr. Zhang: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Søren Kierkegaard, Georg Brandes, Friedrich Nietzsche, August Strindberg, Vincent van Gogh, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, Richard Wilhelm, Martin Buber, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lu Xun, Alfred Döblin, Franz Kafka, Feng Zhi, and Mu Dan

Ancient transreaders transread by Dr. Zhang: Laozi, Confucius, Liezi, Zhuangzi, Yang Zhu, and Sunzi

To learn more about Dr. Zhang’s research, please visit:











Multimedia & Multilingual


Teaching Interests

Transreading: a method that Dr. Zhang has developed for interdisciplinary studies, which integrates four interdependent activities—lento reading (slow-close reading), literary translation, creative writing, and cultural hermeneutics. The synergy of these practices is instrumental to understanding the cosmopolitan figures in modern intellectual history that continue to inform our world with works that are often cryptic, but foundational.

German, Scandinavian, and Japanese Literature, Philosophy, and Intellectual History

Modern and Classical Chinese Philology, Poetics, and Philosophy

European-Asian Cultural Transfer and Dialogue

Critical Thinking & Language Innovation

Philosophy in Literature (Literaturphilosophie)

Literature as History (Transreading Poetry as History)

Transreading for Creative Writing

Translingual Blogging

Critique via Social Media

Critique via Popular Music

Anatomy of “Breaking News”

Contemplative Cinema

Performing Poetry


To learn more about Dr. Zhang’s teaching, please visit:













Multimedia & Multilingual


Courses Taught

  • Topics in Chinese Media
  • Transreading Creative Writing
  • Topics in Chinese Literature and Culture
  • Modernization and Its Discontents