Getting to know… Wei Ran


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

Wei Ran (Associate Professor, Institute of Foreign Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24)
“Imagining China in Hispanic-Filipino Literature between Two Colonizations”

What got you interested in your research topic?

My research delves into the literary and cultural exchanges between China and the Spanish-speaking world, a field shaped by notable Chinese scholars like Dai Jinhua, Wang Hui, Suo Sa, and Zhao Zhenjiang. Their work ranges from translating seminal Latin American writers such as Octavio Paz and García Lorca into Chinese, to studying political movements like Mexico’s Zapatista movement. Though their interests vary, they share a common goal of understanding China’s role from a Global South perspective.

My academic pursuit also emerged from my frustration with the narrow focus of domestic Chinese studies on Latin America, which has been largely limited to international trade and politics. This approach overlooks the rich literary and cultural connections that fascinate the general Chinese public, including the Latin American literature and cinemas from Argentina, Brazil and other countries.

During my time at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, I concentrated on the travels of Latin American intellectuals to China from the 1950s to the 1970s, and the portrayal of Asia and China in Filipino Hispanic literature around the turn of the twentieth century. These periods were marked by profound cross-cultural engagement and a shared outrage against global injustices, fostering a belief in the transformative power of international solidarity.

Inspired by the vibrant intellectual atmosphere at Harvard, where scholars and students remain deeply engaged with global justices, I am motivated to collaborate with like-minded contemporaries. Together, we aim to broaden the scope of research on the Spanish-speaking world, fostering a richer, more inclusive understanding of global connections.

Outside of work, where can we find you?

The spaces within and surrounding Harvard Yard have provided abundant opportunities for engaging face-to-face with people, something I’ve come to value deeply after the pandemic. In the classroom, I’ve gained immensely from courses like Prof. Mariano Siskind’s “The Borges Machine” and “Travel and Displacement in Latin American Literature.” Equally enriching were the conversations with friends over hot coffee at Tatte or Café Faro, sparking many research ideas.

Another cherished haunt was the used bookstore. Despite many closures around Harvard Yard after the epidemic, reported by the Harvard-Yenching staff, I discovered gems like the historic Brattle Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith. Each visit felt like a treasure hunt, reinforcing my belief that heaven resembles these quaint old bookshops.

The Harvard Film Archive and the Brattle Theater provided astounding experiences. Over the past year, I frequented these venues over thirty times, encountering films that challenged and expanded my perspectives, such as the Cuban cinema “Memories of Underdevelopment,” the Chilean documentary “The Battle of Chile,” and Fernando Solanas’ trilogy “The Hour of Furnace,” which I watched in a marathon session at the HFA! The diverse film selections and events there truly epitomized Harvard’s cosmopolitan ethos.

Additionally, interacting in Spanish with new Latin American friends both on and off campus has been particularly rewarding. Whether in restaurants or supermarkets, these conversations with Latinx individuals—often overlooked yet vital to the academic community—have been as enlightening as those with Harvard professors, prompting deep reflections on the academic ivory tower’s limitations and academia’s potential as a catalyst for greater cross-cultural understanding.

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

Had I not joined the Academia, I might well have pursued a career in theater, either as an actor or a director. While at Peking University, I was an avid participant in the University Drama Club, engaging deeply in rehearsals of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Sartre’s The Devil and the Good Lord, etc., alongside exploring traditional Chinese theater techniques. The process of molding individual talents and voices through theater was profoundly satisfying, as was the joy derived from being part of a team striving to create something magnificent together. Alain Badiou once suggested that theater is a form of utopia on a miniature scale. Although theater is not my professional path, I cherish the opportunity to maintain my passion for it and would welcome any chance to engage with the theatrical world in the future.

Read Prof. Wei’s bio on our website!

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