Rivi Handler-Spitz, 2020–21

Project Title:

Contentious Conversations: Masters, Disciples, and the Culture of Yulu Literature in Late Ming China

Macalester College

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Rivi Handler-Spitz

Fellowship Work Summary

Rivi Handler-Spitz studies early modern Chinese literature and intellectual history from a broadly comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. She also draws graphic essays. Her current book project, Contentious Conversations: Masters, Disciples, and the Culture of Yulu Literature in Late Ming China, examines the ethics of teacher-student relationships as portrayed in “recorded conversations” (yulu) between masters and their pupils. Stepping outside the scholarly tradition that has regarded these texts as authoritative repositories of each master’s doctrines, Handler-Spitz takes seriously their literary form and examines their depictions of teachers and students jockeying for legitimacy, expressing dissent, joking seriously, and elaborating upon a venerable tradition of master/student dialogues dating back to Confucius. Contentious Conversations shows that studying these texts’ composition, circulation, and consumption provides a valuable historical and trans-cultural vantage point from which to approach contemporary problems facing liberal arts educators: how can we promote open dialogue, respectful dissent, and challenging debate between professors and students?

Contentious Conversations grows out of Handler-Spitz’s previous scholarship, which focuses on the late Ming dynasty polymath and intellectual provocateur Li Zhi (1527–1602). Her publications include a monograph, Symptoms of an Unruly Age: Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity,  which compares Li Zhi’s writings to works by several of his best-known European contemporaries, such as Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Cervantes, a translation of Li Zhi’s major writings, A Book to Burn and A Book to Keep (Hidden), coedited with Haun Saussy and Pauline C. Lee, and an edited volume The Objectionable Li Zhi: Fiction, Criticism, and Dissent in Late Ming China, also coedited with Haun Saussy and Pauline C. Lee.


Selected Publications

Symptom of an Unruly Age