Office Number: 14N-433
Phone Number: (617) 253-3581

Wiebke Denecke

S. C. Fang Professor of Chinese Language and Culture

Wiebke Denecke (魏樸和) is professor of East Asian Literatures. She was trained in Sinology, Japanology, Korean studies, Philosophy, and Medicine in her native Germany, in Hungary, Norway, Dalian, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, and Boston. She received her BA and MA from the University of Göttingen and her PhD from Harvard University.

Her research and teaching encompass the classical literatures and philosophical traditions of China, Japan, and Korea, comparative studies of East Asia and the premodern world, world literature, and the politics of cultural heritage and memory.

Prior to joining MIT she held appointments at Barnard College/Columbia University, at Boston University, and visiting professor appointments at Dōshisha University (Kyoto) and Korea University (Seoul).

Denecke is co-editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literature and co-curates the book series East Asian Comparative Literature and Culture with Brill Publishers. In 2019 she established the Hsu-Tang Library of Classical Chinese Literature (Oxford University Press) and became its Inaugural Editor-in-Chief.

Denecke is currently working on a history of Japanese literary culture from a global perspective, on translations of Japanese and Korean Sinitic poetry, and on the soft-power effects of poetry in premodern East Asian diplomacy. With a close team of colleagues from around the world she develops new methodologies for comparative studies of premodern East Asian cultures and promotes the global transformation of the humanities, which will help us learn from millennia of human experience on our planet and work towards a shared future in challenging times.


Subjects taught the current academic year:
On Leave Fall 2023

21L.040[J] Foundations of East Asian Literature and Culture: From Confucius to the Beats (Fall 2024)

21L.494[J] Classics of Chinese Literature in Translation (Fall 2024)

Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.040[J] Foundations of East Asian Literature and Culture: From Confucius to the Beats (Spring 2024)

21L.491[J] Gateway to Korean Literature and Culture (Spring 2023)

21L.493[J] Gateway to Japanese Literature and Culture (Spring 2024)

Research Interests
I am interested in the mutually productive comparative exploration of premodern thought traditions of philosophy, persuasion, and rhetoric; poetry and poetics; court cultures; the development of literary traditions in multiliterate environments; literary historiography; poetry, cross-cultural encounters, and diplomacy; the history of knowledge formation and knowledge cultures; and the creative recapturing of East Asian traditions in the global present.

In The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi (Harvard University Press, Asia Center, 2011) I argue that the desire for a Chinese equivalent for Western philosophy has warped our understanding of early Chinese thought, and shows how texts like the Confucian Analects or the Laozi can instead be read as part of a distinctive Chinese genre of the “Masters” or “Masters Literature.” In Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons (Oxford University Press, 2014), I examine the development of younger literatures vis-à-vis older, authoritative “reference cultures” by comparing the way early Japanese authors wrote their texts through and against Chinese literary precedents to the way Latin authors appropriated Greek literary precedents. My book calls for “deep comparisons” of premodern cultures from a social and functional perspective.

I am broadly interested in the formation of knowledge and the history of knowledge cultures around the world. Much of my recent work has focused on the role of “literature” and the literary within humanistic inquiry. My collaborative publications on this topic focus on the case of East Asia (The Concept of “Letters” and “Literature” in Japan (日本における文とブンガク Nihon ni okeru bun to bungaku, with Kōno Kimiko; Tokyo: Benseisha, 2013; and the three-volume revisionary literary history A New History of Japanese “Letterature” 日本「文」学史 Nihon “bun”gakushi, with Kōno Kimiko et al. Benseisha, 2015-19). They aim to rediscover the world of premodern “Letters” (文) as a realm of cultural commonalities between China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, in this current moment, when national ideologies and the aftermath of 20th century atrocities overshadow the distinctive shared East Asian cultural heritage. The third volume, From “Letters” to “Literature”: Re-configuring East Asian Literatures (2019), is the first comparative literary history of China, Japan, and Korea from the early modern period to our moment. We wrote this together with a team of largely Japanese, Chinese, and Korean scholars—a memorable experiment in academic diplomacy.

View full list of publications. A list of Selected Publications appears below.


2014                 Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons (New York: Oxford University Press). (347 pp.) Russian Translation in preparation (for publication by Academic Press, in 2024)

2011                 The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series no. 74 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). (370 pp.)

Edited Volumes

2019                 The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature, under the general editorship of Ken Seigneurie. 6 vols. Editor of Volume 1, with Ilaria Ramelli (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing) (674 pp.) [Finalist of the 2021 PROSE Award of the Association of American Publishers]

2019                 日本「文」学史 Nihon “bun”gakushi [A New History of Japanese “Letterature”], edited with Kōno Kimiko, Shinkawa Tokio, Jinno Hidenori

Volume Three: 「文」から「文学」へ――東アジアの文学を見直す “Bun” kara “bungaku” e: Higashi Ajia no bungaku o minaosu [The Path from “Letters” to “Literature”: A Comparative History of East Asian Literatures] (Tokyo: Bensei shuppan) (in Japanese) (607 pp.)

2017                 The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE – 900 CE), edited with Wai-yee Li and Xiaofei Tian (New York: Oxford University Press) [CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title 2018] (607 pp.)


2018                 Co-editor, The Norton Anthology of World Literature, fourth edition, shorter edition, under the general editorship of Martin Puchner. 2 vols. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company).

2018                 Co-editor, The Norton Anthology of World Literature, fourth edition, under the general editorship of Martin Puchner. 6 vols. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company).

2014                 Co-editor, The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, ninth edition, under the general editorship of Martin Puchner. 2 vols. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company).


2021                 “Comparative Global Humanities Now.” In Journal of World Literature (forthcoming in 2022 issue, as advance article in 2021).

2020                 “Pushing for Poetry, Again.” In Korean Literature Now 48.

2020                 “Suffering Everlasting Sorrow in Chang’an’s ‘Everlasting Tranquility’: The Poetics of Japanese Missions to the Tang Court.” East Asian Journal of Sinology 東亞漢學硏究 14: 253–390 (in English and Korean).

Awards & Grants

2018–2019  Korea Foundation Field Research Fellowship (Award declined).

2014–2017  “New Directions” Fellowship of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

2010           Honorary Member, Phi Beta Kappa

2010           Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, Italy

2009–2010  Japan Foundation Fellowship, International Research Center for Japanese Studies (“Nichibunken”), Kyoto

2008–2009  Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

2008–2009  Chinese Fellowship for Scholarly Development from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)

2004–2006  Society of Fellows, Columbia University

2002–2004  Ph.D. Fellow of the German National Merit Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)

1999–2000  Elected Scholar of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst)

1998  Magister Artium “With Distinction”

1991–1999  Elected Scholar of the German National Merit Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)

Recent Lecture Highlights

2023.4.12           The 18th Annual Robert C. Staley Distinguished Lectures in East Asian Studies (Arizona State University)
The Birth of East Asian Literary Cultures: A Small History in Five Miracles

2023.3.8            Special BK 21 Lecture (Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul)
한시 (漢詩), 전근대 동아시아의 소프트 파워 -한자문화권의 사신 외교와 평화 구축 [Poetry as Global Soft Power? Mission Diplomacy and Peace-Making in Early Modern East Asia] (in Korean)

2021.11.12         Opening Pitch and Presentation for “Worlds Enough and Time”: Towards a Comparative Global Humanities” (MIT)
Why Philosophy Can’t Globalize?! The Promise of Metaphilosophy and the New Comparative Global Humanities.

2021.5.28           Keynote Lecture (Tsinghua University)
以故为新:“世界比较古典学” 与 “文学史” 的挑战 [How to Make the Old Anew: “Global Comparative Classics” and the Challenges of Literary Historiography] (in Chinese)

2021.3.23           Keynote Lecture for “Textual Heritage for the 21st Century: Exploring the Potential of a New Analytic Category” (Ca’Foscari University of Venice)
“ ‘Textual Heritage’: Déjà-vu or Catalyst for History Making and Writing?”

2021.1.30 Keynote Lecture for Annual Conference Colorado University Boulder Asian Studies Graduate Association (CUBASGA)
The Art of Asking the Right Questions: Prospects and Projection Points for the Study of Premodern East Asia.

2019.10.11         6th International Colloquium on Sinographic Texts and Literatures of Ritsumeikan University, Nanjing University, Korea University (Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto)
以古開今:目錄學的傳統和新研究目標 [Making an Old Discipline Anew: Traditions and New Research Opportunities in Historical Bibliography] (in Chinese)

2019.5.23           Keynote Lecture for “Ovid and the Latin Classics in Chinese” (Columbia University Global Center, Beijing)
Exile Literature: Ancient and Modern, East and West.

2018.3.22 Keynote Lecture for „Konzepte des Klassischen in ostasiatischen Kulturen“ (Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Zentrum für Klassikforschung)
Prolegomena zu einer Komparatistik des Klassischen: Werte, Institutionen, Paradoxa.

2018.2.8            Dahlem Humanities Center Lecture (Freie Universität, Berlin)
Capitalizing on the Humanities Crisis: Premodern Comparisons, and the (Ab)uses of Global Cultural Memory.

2018.2.6            The George Steiner Lecture (Queen Mary, University of London)
World Literature, Premodern Comparisons, and Global Cultural Memory in Action.

2014.5.18           Keynote lecture for Special Conference of the Sino-Japanese Literature Association on the Literature of the Saga Court (Kyoto)
嵯峨朝の文学を考える―比較文学の立場から [Rethinking the Literature of the Saga Court Through the Lens of Comparative Literature] (in Japanese).