Professor Judith Zeitlin receives Guggenheim fellowship

Judith Zeitlin, a scholar of Chinese literature, cultural history and opera, has received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Zeitlin, a Professor of East Asian Languages & Civilizations, will use her fellowship to complete a manuscript titled The Culture of Musical Entertainment in Early Modern China: Voice, Instrument, Text. The book will explore musical culture in China during the late Ming and early Qing periods (roughly 1560-1700). 

“China was an intensely musical culture,” Zeitlin said. “Opera and singing were at the heart of social life in this period.”

This year’s 180 Guggenheim fellows were chosen from among 3,000 applicants on the basis of their “prior achievement and exceptional promise,” according the foundation.

“The most significant thing about the foundation may be the continuity of our mission, a commitment to funding individuals at the highest level to do the work they were meant to do,” John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation President Edward Hirsch wrote in a statement.

Zeitlin’s research highlights the broad role that music played during the Ming/Qing period. Courtesan culture reached its zenith during the late Ming; courtesans often performed opera at private homes or social gatherings, and their musical skill was highly prized. Zeitlin plans to structure the book around studies of the singing voice, musical texts, and musical instruments, with a particular focus on how these elements interacted with courtesan culture.

“I was really thrilled,” Zeitlin said of receiving the fellowship. “A lot of the time, it feels like you’re laboring in the dark, so it’s nice to get some recognition—and it’s a wonderful incentive to continue working on the book.”

Zeitlin is the author of The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature and Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale. She co-edited Thinking with Cases: Specialist Knowledge in Chinese Cultural History, and Writing and Materiality in China, and, most recently, a special issue of The Opera Quarterly on Chinese opera film.

Along with graduate student Yuhang Li, Zeitlin is curating an exhibition on Chinese opera and visual culture, Performing Images, set to open at the Smart Museum of Art in 2014.

She received her AB, AM, and PhD from Harvard University.