Helen Zhang PhD

Director of Interdisciplinary Chinese Studies
Wellspring Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature Henry Kendall College of Arts & Sciences
School of Language and Literature


Educated at Peking University, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, and Yale, Huiwen Helen Zhang 张慧文 identifies herself as a Transreader—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 a synthesized approach that Dr. Zhang utilized in her German book Kulturtransfer über Epochen und Kontinente (De Gruyter 2012) and developed into a 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). The last recognizes poetry as a source for historical studies. Reading poetry as history allows more than just new access to the historical events that mold a poet. It uncovers lost sentiments, struggles, observations, and critiques that advance our understanding of China. Dr. Zhang’s new book (under contract), Prompted Transreading: A Common Language for Cultural Critique, engages those whom Dr. Zhang terms “transreaders of modernity”: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Strindberg, van Gogh, Kollwitz, and Lu Xun. Dr. Zhang’s forthcoming article, “Patience Game—Kafka’s Dao,” demonstrates how through transreading, Kafka conceptualizes a European Dao. It echoes the voices of ancient Chinese poet-philosophers and delivers their messages in an unprecedented and uncompromising way.

Ph.D., Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
M.A., Peking University, Beijing, China
B.A., Peking University, Beijing, China

Buoyant and uncompromising, Dr. 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).
Prompted Transreading is a critical theory that Dr. Zhang has developed to explore how history, literature, philosophy, and art generate and reshape one another.
For Dr. Zhang, Transreading is existential; 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, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lu Xun, Franz Kafka, Feng Zhi, and Mu Dan
Ancient Transreaders transread by Dr. Zhang: Laozi, Zhuangzi, Confucius, Liezi, Sunzi, and Yang Zhu

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

Transreading: a method that Dr. Zhang has developed for interdisciplinary studies, which encompasses four simultaneous and interdependent activities—close reading (lento reading), literary translation, creative writing, and cultural hermeneutics. These practices are 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 (Reading Poetry as History)
Translingual Blogging
Critique via Social Media
Critique via Pop Music
Anatomy of “Breaking News”
Contemplative Cinema
Performing Poetry

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

CHIN 3113 Chinese Through Literature I
CHIN 3133 Untimely Meditations: A Chinese Perspective
CHIN 3143 Modern Poetry and Prose
CHIN 4123 Chinese Microblogging
CHIN 4143 Contemplative Cinema: The Chinese Contribution
CPLT 2343 The Dilemma of Modernity
HON 3003 Modernization and Its Discontents