Newell Ann Van Auken, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Instruction, Classical Chinese Literature

I teach Classical Chinese literature, a major world literary tradition spanning over thirty centuries, deeply influential throughout East Asia, extending into contemporary times and resonating across the globe. My research focuses on early China, and I am also a translator. I am fascinated by the gap between the earliest readings of texts and their later interpretations, including those of my students today. I believe that all interpretations (even “misunderstandings”) can give us valuable insight into those who generated them and the lens through which they view the world.


My teaching focuses on the literature and texts of premodern China and East Asia, and all of my courses include a creative component, such as a writing a creative adaptation of a literary work or a translation. In my courses, my students engage deeply with the literary works and are transformed from readers and observers to active participants in reinterpreting the ancient literary tradition and bringing it across into our contemporary world.

Courses taught:

  • WLLC/ASIA/TRNS:3208 – Classical Chinese Literature through Translation
  • WLLC/TRNS:2473 – Cinderella
  • WLLC/ASIA/GWSS:2222 – Women in Premodern East Asian Literature
  • WLLC/ASIA:1510 – Ghosts & Tales of the Weird in Premodern Chinese Literature
  • WLLC:1000 – First-Year Seminar: Cinderella International!
  • WLLC/ASIA:1016 – Classical Chinese Short Fiction
  • CHIN:4101;4102 – Classical Chinese: First & Second Semester 

Research interests

My research focuses on pre-imperial China, before the second century BCE. The study of ancient China is inevitably interdisciplinary, and my work incorporates textual and literary studies, history, commentary studies, and translation, and also draws on religious studies, archaeology, and gender studies.

My most recent book, Spring and Autumn Historiography: Form and Hierarchy in Ancient Chinese Annals (Columbia, 2023), concerns one of the earliest historical records transmitted from ancient China down to today, called the Spring and Autumn (Chūnqiū 春秋). My main concern is not history—what happened?—but historiography—what interpretation did the record-keepers impose onto the events they recorded, and what do the records tell us about their priorities, and how they viewed themselves and others?

In The Commentarial Transformation of the Spring and Autumn (SUNY, 2016), I address a question that has puzzled scholars for centuries: how did the ostensibly objective Spring and Autumn records come to be understood as conveying the judgments of Confucius? I explores two sets of commentaries that are embedded in the Zuǒ Tradition, and shows how early interpretations of the Spring and Autumn  provide the missing link between ancient historiographical practices and the later orthodox interpretation.

I have a secondary interest in Chinese linguistics, and together with Richard VanNess Simmons (Rutgers/HKU) I co-edited Studies in Chinese and Sino-Tibetan Linguistics: Dialect, Phonology, Transcription and Text (Academia Sinica, Institute of Linguistics, 2014).

Selected publications:


book cover for spring and autumn histiography
book cover for the commentarial transformation of the spring and autumn book
book cover for studies in chinese and sinotibetan linguistics book






Articles & Chapters:


See also

Newell Ann Van Auken'
Ph.D. in Chinese, University of Washington (Seattle)
M.A. in Chinese, University of Washington (Seattle)
B.A. in History and East Asian Studies, University of Virginia

624 Phillips Hall (PH)
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States