Educated at Peking University, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, and Yale, Huiwen (Helen) Zhang defines herself as a transreader—a lento reader, poetic translator, creative writer, and cultural critic in one. Transreading is an interdisciplinary method that she has developed to explore how history, literature, philosophy, and art generate and reshape one another.
Professor Zhang utilizes transreading throughout her work. Her first book with De Gruyter, Kulturtransfer über Epochen und Kontinente (2012), explores how Feng Zhi transformed a gory legend of revenge from 400 BCE into a lyrical allegory of the 1940s wartime generation’s search for home. Her online publication with Oxford, “Mu Dan’s Poetry as a History of Modern China” (2018), illustrates poetry as a source for historical studies.
Professor Zhang’s open-access article in Orbis Litterarum, “A perfect bliss-potential realized: Transreading ‘Wish, to Become Indian’ in light of Kafka’s Dao” (2021), reveals how, through creative writing, Kafka not only penetrates esoteric Daoist classics, but also furthers their spirit in a way that transcends Richard Wilhelm, the pioneer European Sinologist. Her latest article in Migrating Minds with Routledge, “Transreading across Cultures: American Students Decipher a Modern Chinese Classic” (2021), exhibits both the scholarly and pedagogical value of transreading, proving it an effective approach to developing cultural cosmopolitanism.
Professor Zhang’s second book with Gruyter, Transreading: A Common Language for Cultural Critique (under contract), engages those whom she terms “transreaders of modernity”: Lu Xun in Chinese; Kierkegaard, Ibsen, and Strindberg in Scandinavian languages; and Nietzsche, Döblin, and Kollwitz in German. 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, 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.
Professor 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 philosophers, but he also delivers their messages in an uncompromising way that informs and inspires.
Transreading for me is existential. It enables me to explore the greatest minds in human history and convey otherwise inexpressible thoughts and sentiments.
“Wunsch, Indianer zu werden” im Lichte des Dao Kafkas übersetzend gelesen/Transreading “Wish, to Become Indian” in light of Kafka’s Dao
Walking an unexplored path, Huiwen Helen Zhang contextualizes Kafka’s pithy and cryptic parable, “Wish, to Become Indian,” in his transplantation of Daoist philosophy—an astonishing cross-cultural enigma that Zhang terms “Kafka’s Dao”—and parses it through a micro-level approach that Zhang terms “transreading.” Contextualizing “Wish, to Become Indian” in Kafka’s dialogue with ancient Chinese philosophers such as Laozi, Liezi, and Zhuangzi enables the reader to comprehend a series of otherwise incomprehensible puzzles. Zhang’s scrutiny of Kafka’s Dao shows how, through creative writing, Kafka not only penetrates esoteric Daoist classics, but also furthers their spirit in a way that transcends Richard Wilhelm, the pioneer European Sinologist. Transreading “Wish, to Become Indian” illuminates nuances that otherwise might have been overlooked. Wordplay, punctuational oddity, syntactic complexity, lyric density, and the curiously interlaced tenses and cases are all part of the idiosyncratic delivery of Kafka’s message. Integrating the four activities of transreading—lento reading demanded and enhanced by cultural hermeneutics, creative writing required and inspired by poetic translation—unravels Kafka’s riddle as a historical-cultural phenomenon.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Det er mørkt og kaldt her. Men varmen jeg blir møtt med fra mennesker jeg møter, er som solskinn
Poetry is a luxury in normal times. In times like ours, poetry is a necessity.
Transreading poetry as history uncovers lost sentiments, struggles, observations, and critiques that advance our understanding of modern China.
Created and taught over thirty courses in comparative literature, philosophy, religion, history, politics, cinema, popular culture, social media, creative writing, and journalism:
1. Modernity and Its Discontents: Scandinavia—Germany—Japan—China [Spring 2020, Spring 2019, Spring 2018, Spring 2017, Fall 2015, Fall 2014]
2. Transreading for Creative Writing [Fall 2020]
3. Tradition and Revolution [Fall 2020, Fall 2017]
4. Critical Thinking and Language Innovation [Spring 2020, Spring 2018]
5. Critique via Social Media [Spring 2020, Spring 2017]
6. Modern Europe Transreads China: Alternative Solutions for 20th-Century Issues [Fall 2019]
7. Contemplative Cinema [Fall 2019, Spring 2016]
8. Kafka and Daoist Philosophy [Summer 2019]
9. Poet—Warrior—Philosopher [Spring 2019]
10. Critique via Popular Music [Spring 2019]
11. Transreading across Genres [Fall 2018]
12. Anatomy of “Breaking News” [Fall 2018]
13. Voicing Sentiments [Spring 2018]
14. Transreading Literature as History [Fall 2017]
15. Philosophy in Literature [Spring 2017]
16. Transreading Prose Poetry [Spring 2016]
17. Cross-cultural Microblogging [Fall 2015, Spring 2015]
18. Modern Poetry and Prose [Fall 2015, Spring 2015, Fall 2014]
19. Untimely Meditations: A Chinese Perspective [Spring 2014]
20. Global Cinema: The Chinese Contribution [Spring 2014]
21. The Dilemma of Modernity: Kierkegaard to Kafka [Fall 2013]
22. Concealment and Revelation: Transreading Lu Xun [Spring 2013]
23. The Wanderer in Hong Kong Cinema [Fall 2012]
24. Modernization and Its Discontents: China—Germany—Scandinavia [Fall 2012]
25. Chinese Microblogging [Fall 2014, Fall 2013, Spring 2012]
26. Authentic Beauty: Chinese Perspectives (1979-present) [Spring 2012]
27. Modernization and Its Discontents: Lu Xun—Nietzsche—Georg Brandes [Fall 2011]
28. Act it out—Chinese through Theatre [Fall 2011]
29. Authentic Beauty: Chinese Perspectives (1917-1978) [Fall 2013, Fall 2012, Fall 2011]
30. The Treasure of Sorrow: China’s Lost Generation [Spring 2011]
31. Blessed in Translation [Spring 2011]
32. Four Faces of the Wanderer: An Exploration of Modern Chinese Literature [Fall 2010]
33. Nietzsche’s Superman and Daoist Philosophy [Spring 2009]