Newell Ann Van Auken, Ph.D.

Lecturer, Classical Chinese Literature

Newell Ann Van Auken teaches Classical Chinese literature, a world literary tradition spanning over thirty centuries. Her research focuses on early China, and she is also a translator. She is fascinated by the gap between original meanings of texts and later interpretations, including those of current students, and she believes that all interpretations (even “misunderstandings”) still give us valuable insight into those who generated them and the lens through which they view the world.

My research focuses on pre-imperial China (before the 2nd c. BCE). The study of ancient China is inevitably interdisciplinary, and my work incorporates the study of literature, history, commentary studies, and translation, as well as religious studies, archaeology, and gender studies.

My current book project, Spring and Autumn Historiography, concerns an annals from ancient China called the Spring and Autumn (Chūnqiū 春秋). My main concern is not history—what happened?—but historiography—what interpretation did the record-keepers impose onto the events they recorded, and what does this tell us about their priorities, and how they viewed themselves and others?

My first book, The Commentarial Transformation of the Spring and Autumn (SUNY, 2016), addresses a question that has puzzled scholars for centuries: how did the ostensibly objective Spring and Autumn records come to be understood as conveying the judgments of Confucius? My book explores two sets of commentaries on the Spring and Autumn that are embedded in the Zuǒ Tradition, and shows how early commentarial interpretations provide the missing link between ancient historiographical practices and the later orthodox interpretation.

I have a secondary interest in Chinese linguistics, and together with Richard VanNess Simmons (Rutgers/HKU) I co-edited Studies in Chinese and Sino-Tibetan Linguistics: Dialect, Phonology, Transcription and Text (Taipei: Academia Sinica Institute of Linguistics, 2014).

I teach Classical Chinese literature, a major world literary tradition spanning over thirty centuries, deeply influential throughout East Asia and extending into contemporary times and resonating across the globe.

All of my courses include a creative component, such as a writing a creative adaptation of a literary work or a translation. In doing these assignments, my students engage deeply with the literary works and are transformed from readers and observers to active participants in the literary tradition.


  • WLLC/ASIA/TRNS:3208 - Classical Chinese Literature Through Translation
  • WLLC/ASIA/GWSS:2222 - Women in Premodern East Asian Literature
  • WLLC/ASIA:1510 - Ghost Stories & Tales Of The Weird in Premodern Chinese
  • WLLC:1000 - First-Year Seminar (Cinderella International)
  • WLLC/ASIA:1016 - Classical Chinese Short Fiction
  • CHIN:4101 - Classical Chinese: First Semester
  • CHIN:4102 - Classical Chinese: Second Semester

Selected Publications

See also:


book cover of spring and autumn historiography
book cover of the commentarial transformation of the spring and autumn
book cover of studies in Chinese and Sino-Tibetan linguistics








Articles & Chapters (selected)

  • 2019, What if Zhào Dùn Had Fled? Border Crossing and Flight Into Exile in Early China. JAOS 139.3 (Sept. 2019): 569 – 590. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.139.3.0569
  • 2016, Judgments of the Gentleman: A New Analysis of the Place of junzi Comments in Zuozhuan Composition History. Monumenta Serica 64.2: 277–302. doi:10.1080/02549948.2016.1259819
  • 2014, Killings and assassinations in the Spring and Autumn as records of judgments. Asia Major (3d series) 27.1: 1-31.  url:
  • 2014, Spring and Autumn use of jí 及 and its interpretation in the Gōngyáng and Gǔliáng commentaries. In Simmons & Van Auken, Studies in Chinese and Sino-Tibetan Linguistics.
  • 2012, Who is a rén 人? The use of rén in Spring and Autumn records and its interpretation in the Zuǒ, Gōngyáng and Gǔliáng commentaries. JAOS 131.4 (Dec. 2011): 555-590. url:
  • 2010, Could “subtle words” have conveyed “praise and blame”? The implications of formal regularity and variation in Spring and Autumn (Chūn qiū) records. Early China 31 (2007), 47-111.  doi:10.1017/S0362502800001802
  • 2004, The modal negative wu in Classical Chinese. In Meaning and Form: Essays in Pre-modern Chinese Grammar and Semantics 意義與形式–古代漢語語法 論文集, edited by Takashima Ken’ichi 高嶋謙一 and Jiang Shaoyu 蔣紹愚. München: Lincom Europe, 91-210.
  • 2002, The etymonic determinatives of wanq (望, 朢). JAOS 122.3 (Sept. 2002), 520-533. url:
Newell Ann Van Auken
Ph.D. in Chinese, University of Washington (Seattle), M.A. in Chinese, University of Washington (Seattle), B.A. in History and East Asian Studies, University of Virginia

624 Phillips Hall (PH)
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States