Professor Nienhauser honored at Nanjing University literature conference


UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Nanjing University President Lyu Jian unveiled the first volume in the newly-republished edition of the Grand Scribe’s Records, translated into English and annotated by a team led by Professor William Nienhauser.

An international literature conference hosted by Nanjing University provided an opportunity to recognize UW-Madison’s Halls-Bascom Professor of Classical Chinese Literature William H. Nienhauser.

At a special ceremony Friday, May 24, Nanjing University leaders gave Professor Nienhauser the new title of adjunct professor, recognizing his years of work to translate into English and annotate a key text in Chinese literature, the Shiji (史记), or The Grand Scribe’s Records, which dates to about 100 BCE.

“I’m almost without words – almost,” said Nienhauser at the ceremony. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.”

The evening before the literature conference, Nanjing University Press launched a new collaborative re-issuing of the entire translation of the Shiji, working with Indiana University Press, the publisher of the original multi-volume work, which first went to press in 1995.  In addition, Professor Nienhauser was featured prominently in a documentary about the UW–NJU relationship that was shown to an audience of about 100 provincial and university leaders, including a UW–Madison delegation led by Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

“Professor Nienhauser has been conducting classes (at NJU) on translating the Shiji into English since 2016,” said Nanjing University School of Liberal Arts Dean Xu Xingwu.  “This is the only course taught by a Western Sinologist among all Chinese universities.”

In his remarks at the start of the literature conference, Professor Nienhauser spoke of his “wonderful experience” 35 years ago at Nanjing University working on the Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1986), a copy of which he presented to NJU.  This positive experience in the 1980s contributed to Professor Nienhauser’s interest in returning to Nanjing in 2016 to start an annual translation workshop with graduate students.  The two-week summer program allows graduate and post-doctoral students the opportunity to join the on-going translation and annotation project.  The workshops have also resulted in student and faculty exchanges between Madison and Nanjing.

“With every workshop and joint conference and student exchange and research project, we are strengthening and expanding a partnership that has become a model for international cooperation,” said Chancellor Blank, during opening remarks at the literature conference.

Nanjing University Press, through the collaboration with Indiana Press, will publish the eighth volume in the Shiji series in August, with two additional volumes planned over the next two years to complete the entire translation into English of Ssu-ma Chi’en’s revered classic on early Chinese history.

“At this point, 92 of 130 chapters are out,” said Professor Nienhauser.

This year’s fifth annual workshop followed a two-day “International Conference on Chinese Linguistics, Literature and Their Narrative Traditions,” May 24-25 hosted by Nanjing University’s School of Liberal Arts.  Among the 54 participants was a six-member faculty cohort from UW-Madison, including two professors from Language Sciences (Yafei Li and Eric Raimy), one from History (Joe Dennis), and three from Asian Languages and Cultures (Professor Nienhauser, along with Rania Huntington and Anatoly Detwyler).

Professor Li has offered a number of linguistics lectures at Nanjing University in past years, while Professor Huntington studied literature there as a graduate student.  The UW cohort members each presented papers on either linguistic or textual themes, with talks on how diseases are depicted in Ming tales (Huntington), the May Fourth Movement and author Shen Congwen (Detwyler), and book donations to Ming and Qing libraries (Dennis).

The literature conference was part of several interrelated events in Nanjing – including a workshop on intellectual property organized by faculty from the UW and NJU law schools – that culminated in the signing of a strategic partnership May 24, calling on both campuses to explore new educational opportunities across disciplines and to strengthen existing partnerships.  This year marks the 40th anniversary of a 1979 delegation to China, which spent several days in Nanjing and resulted in a sister-university relationship between the two campuses.  A documentary created for the strategic partnership signing ceremony described the history of the two campuses, including an interview with Professor Nienhauser and notes about both Professors Li Yafei and Huntington.  The Wisconsin China Initiative is preparing to screen the film again at a public event in Madison in September.


Professor Nienhauser presented a new copy to the Nanjing University president, while NJU Press Editor-in-Chief Jin Xinrong presented a copy to Chancellor Blank.


Asian Languages & Cultures Professors Anatoly Detwyler, Rania Huntington and Bill Nienhauser sign the guest book at the start of a ceremony at Nanjing University.