Getting to know… Sophie Ling-chia Wei


A series introducing the Visiting Scholars & Fellows in residence at HYI this year

Sophie Ling-chia Wei (Associate Professor, Department of Translation, Chinese University of Hong Kong; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24)
“Naming the Way: A Genealogy of the 18th and 19th-Century Translators of the Daodejing

What got you interested in your research topic?

It was when I was working toward my MA, studying translation and interpreting, that I met the teacher who taught me the Yijing, Mr. Wu Ming-Heng, in a temple in Taiwan. That was the point when I began delving deeper into the Yijing. After earning my MA, I worked as a professional interpreter for governmental agencies and NGOs, as well as an interpreting teacher at a university. I was at the time also translating teaching materials for Mr. Wu from Chinese into English. I recall pondering certain questions: Who were the first group of translators of the Dao and Yijing? And who disseminated the knowledge of those to the West? I was fortunate to receive a scholarship from Taiwan that supported me on my journey for answers, a journey which meant PhD studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Prof. Victor Mair, my supervisor, offered me unwavering support and guided me through difficulties that I encountered exploring this new dimension in translation history.

In 2013, I reached another turning point in my research life. While doing archival research at the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), I happened upon the hand-written manuscripts of the Jesuit Figurists, who, as followers of the Hermetic tradition, associated the numbers, images, and interpretations of the Yijing with stories from the Old Testament as support for their proselytization work in China. Through the Figurists’ re-interpretations, the Yijing was Christianized and infused with different types of Christ, in the sense that mythological and historical events in Chinese texts were symbols for later events—in other words, scriptural types. After the archival visit at the Vatican Library, other manuscripts I found in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Library, the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (ARSI), and Archives de la Province de France, continued to inspire me. In the following decade, from 2013 to 2023, these manuscripts formed the impetus for my book Chinese Theology and Translation: The Christianity of the Jesuit Figurists and their Christianized Yijing (2020), and several articles related to the Figurists’ impact on the European understanding and discussion of the Yijing and Dao.

My visit to the Harvard Yenching Institute will help me advance my research endeavors and build networks to work in tandem with other scholars who share similar interests in translation history and missionary studies.

Outside of work, where can we find you?

Each location is a unique source of inspiration. When I need to clear my head and focus my train of thought, my carrel on the third floor in Harvard Yenching Library always calms me down. The common room at Vanserg Hall, especially, is a busy hub of scholarly discussion for HYI scholars; I often have constructive academic exchanges with scholars there. I greatly enjoy the immersive academic environment at Harvard; but I also delight in academic getaways outside of the Yard. My apartment being near MIT, I enjoy frequenting the cafes around the MIT campus, where I can relax and soak in the atmosphere while overhearing conversations about OpenAI at the neighboring tables. I also pay frequent visits to Boston Common. The beautiful foliage in autumn, the layers of snow in winter, and the blossoming flowers in spring always captivate me, each offering its own irresistible appeal. These places have given me the opportunity to appreciate, even more than I had previously imagined, the beauty of Boston and Cambridge.

What would you want to do most as a career if you were not in academia?

Before stepping into academia, I worked as a professional interpreter for six years. Now this role seems like a past life. If I were not in academia, I might have further pursued a career as a professional interpreter, conveying messages across cultural bridges. I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of the audience after interpreting—the same bright smile I see after my conference presentations or public talks.

Read Prof. Wei’s bio on our website

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