Chunjie Zhang

Chunjie Zhang image

Position Title
Associate Professor of German

404 Sproul Hall

Education and Degree(s):

  • Ph.D., Duke University
  • M.A., Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Germany
  • B.A., Peking University, China

Research Interest(s):

  • Empire and coloniality, cosmopolitanism, transculturality
  • Eighteenth Century Studies
  • Modernist Studies 
  • Asian-European Studies
  • Refugee and Migration Studies
  • Drama, travel narrative, and neuroplasticity


I am an associate professor of German and affiliated faculty in Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, East Asian Studies, Critical Theory, Global Migration Center, and Religious Studies.  

The core trajectory of my intellectual pursuits has been exploring global and transcultural perspectives in the study and teaching of literature, culture, and ideas. My first book Transculturality and German Discourse in the Age of European Colonialism (Northwestern UP 2017) situates German literature and philosophy in the polycentric world of the eighteenth century. While the Enlightenment is commonly related to the process of nation building, my book delineates the contour of a transcultural discourse, in which I highlight the influence of non-European cultures on German thinking in a key period of global modernity between 1756 and 1835. Although German intellectuals were fascinated with non-European cultures, the German lands, unlike Britain and France, did not have a central political power and colonies of their own. This difference challenges the basic assumptions of the critique of Empire and the Orientalist representations. Yet German thinkers also developed seminal (and disturbing) concepts such as racial hierarchy and historicist thinking about civilizations. This fact makes it difficult to uncritically embrace Enlightenment legacy. Moving beyond the question of empire or enlightenment, I use the German case as a less-trodden path to shift ground from predominantly critiquing Eurocentrism toward diligently detecting global connections and enhancing the visibility of non-European contributions in global modernity. Non-European cultures are not exotic or on the margins – rather they perform a constitutive force in the German discourse in the age of European colonial expansion. The South Pacific travel writings by George Forster and Adelbert von Chamisso, dramas and Robinsonades by August von Kotzebue and Johann Joachim Campe, Herder’s philosophy of history, and Kant’s theory of geography—all these works demonstrate important elements of a transcultural consciousness next to nationalist movements. The term “German” in my book does not mean the national tradition of literature and culture that defines German identity. Rather this term refers to the language that connects cultural communities spreading across the European continent and registers heterogeneous interactions between German, European, and non-European cultures in a global genealogy.

My current book project (manuscript completed), The Quest for Liberation: Philosophy and the Making of World Culture in China and the West, 1900-1960, delineates the philosophical discourse of cosmopolitan visions in China and German-speaking Europe. Contemporary debate on cosmopolitanism routinely refers to Immanuel Kant as its intellectual origin. A group of Chinese and German-speaking thinkers, however, used classical Chinese philosophy as an alternative intellectual genealogy to imagine different cosmopolitan ethics in economics, politics, and society. Their engagement with Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism broadens the scope of global intellectual history to include a non-European origin of ideas. I have chosen to use the phrase “world culture” to avoid the heavily Kantian connotation of “cosmopolitanism” and the European genealogy of this idea. Due to the differences in their local crises, the Chinese and the European stories are often narrated in separate national and cultural contexts. I intend to bridge the critical divide between Europe and China by examining the thinkers’ shared interest in Chinese philosophy and their common effort to envision a different world other than Western modernity. This book breaks with the common logic of either studying the reception and adaptation of Western ideas in the East or critiquing the misrepresentation of the East in the West. Instead, I emphasize the entanglements between Chinese and European thinkers and highlight their quest for liberation in a globalizing world. Their visions of an ontological commons for everyone help us imagine a better world community in our time of global crises and deepen mutual appreciation between China and the West, beyond the clash of civilizations. 

My edited book Composing Modernist Connections in China and Europe (Routledge, 2019) uses Bruno Latour’s concept of compositionism to stress modernist connections within literature, culture, history, and media beyond the nation state and the bifurcation between East and West. Moving beyond deconstruction, this book composes and forges new combinations, linkages, and translations that place Chinese and European modernisms on equal footing. In the co-edited journal issue “Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures” (Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, 2018), my co-editors and I explore the making of Goethe as a classical writer for the concept of world literature. We endeavor to show the different constructions of Goethe’s image in various historical and cultural contexts. We break the phrase of world literature into worlds and literatures in order to highlight the multiplicity in the long reception history of Goethe’s works around the world. I also edited the scholarly forum on “Asian German Studies” with the journal German Quarterly (93. 1, Winter 2020) to discuss the state of this emerging interdisciplinary field and its teaching and research potentials for the future. Contributors review themes such as Chinese-German, Japanese-German, Indian-German, Vietnamese-German connections in relation to exile studies, Turkish-German studies, global German studies, and transpacific German studies. 

I serve on the editorial board of The German Quarterly and on the advisory board of Eighteenth-Century Studies and also serve as a director-at-large of the Goethe Society of North America. I co-edit the book series “Asia, Europe, and Global Connections” with Routledge. In the past, I co-directed the research cluster and interdisciplinary digital project Migration and Aesthetics at UC Davis in the academic year 2020-2021. In the past, I chaired the program committee of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and also chaired the committee for the DAAD/GSA book prize in literature and cultural studies at the German Studies Association. 

Selected Publications:


1. Quest for Liberation: Philosophy and the Making of World Culture in China and the West, 1900-1960 (Fordham University Press, forthcoming)

2. Transculturality and German Discourse in the Age of European Colonialism (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, May 2017)

Reviewed in: 1. German Quarterly 91:2 (2018), 230-32; Goethe Yearbook25 (2018), 329-30; 2. The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, and Theory, 93:2 (2018), 212-214; 3. Goethe Yearbook 25 (2018), 329-30. 4. German Studies Review 42:1 (2019), 145-47; 5. H-Net: H-TGS by Matthew Erlin, March, 2019,; 6. German Politics and Society 37:1 (2019), 95-98; 7. The Journal of Pacific History,; 8. Zeitschrift für interkulturelle Germanistik 11:2 (2020), 235-39;  

Edited Book and Journal Issues

  1. Literatures, Communities, Worlds: Competing Notions of the Global, co-edited with Dustin Breitenwischer, Frank Kelleter, Miltos Pechlivanos, Samira Spatzek (Würzburg: Königshausen&Neumann, forthcoming)
  2. Gender and German Colonialism: Intimacies, Accountabilities, Intersections, co-edited with Elisabeth Krimmer (London: Routledge, Routledge Research in Gender and History, 2023)
  3. "Aesthetics and Politics in the Wake of Enlightenment," co-edited with Gabriel Trop, a special issue of The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 95: 4 (2020).
  4. "Asian German Studies," Forum in German Quarterly 93:1 (2020), 106-142. 
  5. Composing Modernist Connections in China and Europe (London: Routledge, Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature, 2018)
  6. "Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures," co-edited with Daniel Purdy and Stefan Uhlig, a special issue of Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 54:2 (2018). 


  1. “Max Weber and the Re-enchantment of Charisma,” Journal of the History of Ideas, forthcoming
  2. “Introduction,” in Gender and German Colonialism, co-authored with Elisabeth Krimmer (London: Routledge, 2023), 1-26.
  3. "Hermann Graf Keyserlingk and Gu Hongming's Ethics of World Culture: Confucianism, Monarchism, and Anti-Colonialism," in German Literature as a Transnational Field of Production, 1848-1919, eds. Kurt Beals and Lynne Tatlock (Camden House, 2023), 208-227.
  4. “Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti and the Aesthetics of Translation: Universal Love, Mutual Benefit, and Transience,” in Germany From the Outside: Rethinking German Cultural History in an Age of Displacement, ed. Laurie Johnson (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022), 303-22.
  5. Max Weber’s Confucian Care of the Self,” Critical Inquiry 48, no. 3 (Spring 2022), 594-610.
  6. Chinese Rural Realism: Rereading Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth (1931),” Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History 18, no. 2 (2021), 363-370.
  7. “Identity Freedom or On Choosing Who We Are,” in On Being Adjacent to Historical Violence, ed. Irene Kacandes (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2021), 140-157.
  8. "Hope in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre: Affect Theory, Potentiality, Mistake and Change," The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 95:4 (2020): 278-294.
  9. "Aesthetics and Politics in the Wake of Enlightenment: Jonathan Hess in Memoriam," co-authored with Gabriel Trop, The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 95:4 (2020), 237-240.
  10. "Remembering Colonialism and Encountering Refugees: Decolonization in Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone,” European Review 30, no. 1 (2022), 134-149. (open access 
  11. "Introduction: What Is Asian German Studies,” German Quarterly 93:1 (2020), 106-109. 
  12. "Anna Segher's Ideological Melodrama, Qian Zhongshu's Cosmopolitan Satire, or On Comparison," in Composing Modernist Connections (Routledge, 2019), 32-49.
  13. "Introduction: Latour Compositionism and Global Modernisms," in Composing Modernist Connections (Routledge, 2019), 1-10. 
  14. "Introduction: Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures," co-authored with Stefan Uhlig, in Seminar: A Jounral of Germanic Studies 54: 2 (2018), 121-32.  
  15. "Garden Empire or the Sublime Politics of the Chinese-Gothic Style," in Goethe Yearbook 25 (2018), 77-96.
  16. "Mathias Christian Sprengel: Slavery, the American Revolution, and Historiography as Radical Enlightenment," The Radical Enlightenment in Germany: A Cultural Perspective, ed. Carl Niekerk (Amsterdam: Brill/Ropodi, 2018), 163-83. 
  17. "Krusoe Robinsons Abenteuer. Technik, Identität und maritimes Bewusstsein in deutschen Robinsonaden um 1800,Pazifikismus. Poetiken des Stillen Ozeans, ed. Johannes Görbert and Mario Kumekawa (Würzburg: Könighausen & Neumann, 2017), 157-172.
  18. "Goethe's Chinesisch-deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten: Vernacular Universality, Erotica Sinica and the Temporality of Nachträglichkeit,Reading the Past Across Space and Time: Receptions and World Literature, eds. Brenda Schildgen and Ralph Hexter (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 245-264.
  19. "The Islander Kadu and Adelbert von Chamisso: Relations in Oceania," The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, 58:1 (2017), 79-98. 
  20. "August von Kotzebue's Bruder Moritz, der Sonderling and German Transcultural Consciousness around 1800,” German Studies Review 38:1 (2015), 1-16.
  21. "Reading Goethe's Elective Affinities through The Story of the Stone: Immanent Divinity, Vegetative Femininity, and Nature's Transience," German Literature as World Literature, ed. Thomas Beebee (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 25-42.
  22. "Geschichtsphilosophie zwischen Eurozentrismus und Kritik der kolonialen Praxis: Johann Gottfried Herders Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit,” Herder und seine Wirkung, ed. Michael Maurer (Heidelberg: Synchron, 2014), 361-70.  
  23. "German Indophilia, Femininity, and Transcultural Symbiosis around 1800,” Imagining Germany Imagining Asia: Essays in Asian-German Studies, eds. Veronika Fuechtner and Mary Rhiel (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 2013), 204-19.
  24. "Georg Forster in Tahiti: Sentimentalism, Enlightenment, and the Intrusion of the South Seas,” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies  36:2 (2013), 263-277.
  25. "From Sinophilia to Sinophobia: China, History, and Recognition,” Colloquia Germanica 2 (2008): 97-110. (actual publication year 2010).
  26. "Das Exotische als Scheinwelt. Die China-Rezeption in Die Blendung von Elias Canetti,” Literaturstraße. Chinesisch-deutsches Jahrbuch für Sprache, Literatur und Kultur 5 (2004): 23-42. (translated and published as "Social Disintegration and Chinese Culture: The Reception of China in Die Blendung,” The Worlds of Elias Canetti, eds. William Donahue and Julian Preece (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 127-50.)

Short Essays

  1. Johann Gottfried Herder: Relativism, Historicism, and Critique of Colonialism, in Historical Judgement / Historische Urteilskraft no. 5 (2023), 10-12.
  2. "Why Are We Having Different Experiences?," in German Studies Review 46: 1 (2023), 117-122, co-authored with Tiffany Florvil, Alicia E. Ellis, Damani Partridge, and Eli Rubin. 
  3. What's lost when we're too afraid to touch the world around us?," in The Conversation, April 17, 2020.
  4. “A Conversation about Asylum Seekers in Germany and Jenny Erpenbeck's Novel Gehen, Ging, Gegangen,” co-authored with Julie Allen and Sabine Zimmermann, EuropeNow 30 (October 2019).
  5. "Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in Lu Xun’s Foreign-Language Book Collections,” Lu Xun Research Monthly 12 (2011): 92-94 (in Chinese).
  6. "Gerhart Hauptmann’s The Weavers in Lu Xun’s Foreign-Language Book Collections,” Lu Xun Research Monthly 11 (2011): 86-87 (in Chinese).

Book Reviews

  1. Review of Daniel Purdy, Chinese Sympathies: Media, Missionaries, and World Literature from Marco Polo to Goethe (Cornell University Press, 2022), German Quarterly 96:1 (2023), 1-3. 
  2. Review of Romana Weiershausen, Zeitenwandel als Familiendrama (Bielefeld: Aisthesis Verlag, 2018), Zeitschrift für Germanistik XXIX (2019), no. 3, 632-34. 
  3. Review of Hartmut Böhme, Natur und Figur. Goethe im Kontext (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2016), German Quarterly91.4 (2018), 488-491. 
  4. Review of Norbert Mecklenburg, Goethe. Inter- und transkulturelle poetische Spiele (München: Iudicium, 2014), German Quarterly (90) 2017, no. 1, 92-94. 
  5. Review of Iris Idelson-Shein, Difference of a Different Kind: Jewish Constructions of Race During the Long Eighteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 40 (2017), no. 2, 321-22.  
  6. Review of Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock (eds.), Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia (New York: Berghahn Books, 2014), The Germanic Review 90 (2015), issue 3, 1-3.
  7. Review of Sonia Sikka, Herder on Humanities and Cultural Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), German Studies Review 39 (2016), no. 2, 376-78.
  8. Review of David G. John, Bennewitz, Goethe, Faust: German and Intercultural Stagings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), German Studies Review 39 (2016), no. 1, 165-68. 
  9. Review of Katharina Mommsen, Orient und Okzident sind nicht mehr zu trennen: Goethe und die Weltkulturen (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2012), German Quarterly 86 (2013), 4 (485-87).
  10. Review of Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in the World of Strangers (New York and London: W. W. Norton 2012), China Book Review 中国图书评论 10 (2013): 90-95.  
  11. Review of Elisabeth Johanna Koehn, Daniela Schmidt, Johannes-Georg Schülein, Johannes Weiß, and Paula Wojcik (eds.), Andersheit um 1800. Figuren – Theorien – Darstellungsformen (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2011), German Studies Review 35 (2012), 2: 399-401.

Course(s) Taught:

  • GER/COM 011 Travel and the Modern World (from the eighteenth century to the present)
  • GER 101B Introduction to German Literature from 1800 to the Present (taught in German)
  • GER 120 Introduction to German Culture (focus on refugee crisis or on multimediality, taught in German)
  • GER 168 German Multiculturalism 
  • GER 297 What Is Enlightenment
  • GER 297 Cultural Encounters and Transcultural Imaginations (graduate)
  • GER 297 Cosmopolitanism: History and Meaning (graduate)
  • GER 297 China, Europe, and Representation I: History, Capitalism, and Vitality (graduate)
  • GER 297 China, Europe, and Representation II: Aestheticism, Modernization, and New-Confucian Cosmopolitanism

Select Honors and Awards:

  • Käte Hamburger Centre for Advanced Study (Heritage in Transformation), Humboldt University Berlin, April-September 2024
  • Alexander von Humboldt Re-invitation Fellowship, Peter Szondi Institute, Free University Berlin, January-March 2024 
  • Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, 2018-2021
  • DAAD Research Grant, 2017
  • Hellman Fellowship, 2015-2016
  • Volkswagen/Mellon Fellowship, Free University Berlin, 2014-2015
  • NEH Summer Seminar Fellowship, Stanford University, 2011
  • Harper Schmidt Fellowship, Society of Fellows, University of Chicago, 2011-2015 (declined)
  • INTERACT Postdoctoral Fellowship, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University, 2010-2011
  • Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Fellowship for Dissertation Completion and Undergraduate Instruction, Duke University, 2009-2010
  • May-Fourth-Scholarship, Peking University, China, 1999

Selected Talks and Presentations:

Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti or the Aesthetics of Translation, Ziegler Lecture, The University of British Columbia, March 2022

Max Weber and the Enchantment of Charisma, Cambridge German Research Colloquium, University of Cambridge, November 2021

Confluence, a Conversation with Ilija Trojanow, Archives of Migration, Lecture Series at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, October 2021

World as Method in the Early Twentieth Century: A Comparative Perspective, Worlds of Literature – Competing Notions of the Global, Freie Universität, Berlin, July 2021

Remembering Colonialism and Encountering Refugees in Jenny Erpenbeck's Gehen, ging, gegangen, MLA, Seattle, January 2020

Max Weber, China, Foucault, and the Care of the Self, Universität Göttingen, Germany, May 2018

Empire Studies and Asian German Studies, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany, November 2017

The De-Political of the Political: Refuge, Identity, and Vulnerability, University of Sydney, Australia, October 2017

Transculturality and German Discourse, Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley, September 2017

Garden Empire or the Sublime Politics of the Chinese-Gothic Style, University of Tokyo, Japan, July 2017

Goethe’s Vernacular Universal, German Studies Association, San Diego, Septmber 2016

Marxism, Moism, and the Philosophical Language in Bertolt Brecht's Novel Me-ti or the Book of Transformation,” International Comparative Literature Association Congress, Vienna, July 2016

Noble Savage, Sexuality and the Lapérouse Expedition in the Pacific,” Transpacific Early America (panel), American Literature Association Annual Conference, San Francisco, May 2016

Transculturality and German Discourse around 1800,” Seminar Enlightenment and Revolution, Humanities Center, Stanford University, April 2016

Krusoe Robinson's Adventure: Technology of the Self and Double Consciousness," Poetiken des Pazifiks, Freie Universität Berlin, July 2015

Adelbert von Chamisso in der Südsee, 1815-1817," Ringvorlesung "Emotion und Ethnizität," Universität Trier, January 2015

Immanuel Kant's Physical Geography: Authorship, Spatiality, and Cosmopolitan Practice," How Radical was the Enlightenment, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, November 7-9, 2013 

World Travel, Relation, and German Transcultural Consciousness around 1800," Annual Conference of American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Cleveland, OH, April 2013 

Connected by Water: The Global Left and Avant-garde Filmmakers from Germany and China in the 1930s," Annual Conference of Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Boston, March 2012

Chinese Gardens in Eighteenth-Century Germany,” Reading China during the German Enlightenment, Pennsylvania State University, February 2012

Orientalism and Female Noble Savage in August von Kotzebue’s East Indians (1789),” Annual Conference of German Studies Association, Louisville, Kentucky, September 2011

Melodramatic Realism and Cosmopolitan Satire: Anna Seghers’s The Wayfarers and Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged,” NEH Summer Seminar, Stanford University, August 2011

Popularization of the South Seas in German Discourse Around 1800,” Third European Congress on World and Global History, London School of Economics & Political Science, Great Britain, April 2011

August von Kotzebue’s Transnational Melodrama: Sentimentalism, Sexuality, and Refusal of Tragedy in Brother Moritz (1795),” Columbia University, March 2011

Pacific Cannibalism and Cultural Identity in Georg Forster’s Reise um die Welt (1778),” Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, Oakland, CA, October 2010

Georg Forster and Postcolonial Criticism: Natural History, Sentimentalism, and the Intrusion of the South Sea,” Dartmouth College, January 2010

Herder’s China Reception: Intra-European Obsessions or Response to Intercultural Challenges,” Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, Washington, DC, October 2009

From Sinophilia to Sinophobia: the Image of China, the Universal, and the Recognition From Afar,” Workshop “Visions of the World: History, Form, and Function of Universalism,” Duke University, April 2009

August von Kotzebue’s Virgin of the Sun: Colonial Desire or the Challenges of Cultural Differences,” Annual Conference of American Comparative Literature Association, Harvard University, March 2009

August von Kotzebue and Postcolonial Criticism: Sexuality, Sentimentalism and the Refusal of Tragedy,”UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University Departments of German Work in Progress Series, Durham, NC, November 2008

Johann Gottfried Herders Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit: Geschichtsphilosophie zwischen Eurozentrismus und Kritik an kolonialer Praxis,” Biennial Conference of the International Herder Society, Jena, Germany, August 2008

Herder’s Theory of Historical Empathy,” International Graduate Student Conference Empathy, Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften (IFK), Vienna, Austria, July 2008

Between the Critique of Colonial Practice and Eurocentrism: Herder’s Philosophy of History in Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit,” 61st Annual Kentucky Foreign Language Conference, Lexington, Kentucky, April 2008

Cultural Critique or Eurocentrism: Perception of Foreignness in Johann Gottfried Herder’s Universal Historicism,” Topography of Otherness: 33rd Annual Conference of the Southern Comparative Literature Association, Raleigh, NC, October 2007

Sozialer Zerfall und das Chinesische. Über die China-Rezeption in Canettis Die Blendung,” The Worlds of Elias Canetti, Centenary Conference, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, July 2005