Yiren Zheng

|Research Associate
Academic Appointments
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Society of Fellows

  • Department of Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages

I explore insights latent in premodern Chinese literature from the third to the seventeenth centuries on unconventional means of communication that involves a human or human-like vocal apparatus but decenters speech and human agency. My current book project, Voices Going Awry in Premodern China, examines voices that create surprising connections among the human vocal apparatus, the body, and language (including whistling, talking birds, and a type of sonically mimetic storytelling called kouji) as they are portrayed in stories, biographies, poetry, commentary, and records of reportage. These accounts offer creative responses to questions that still matter to us today: What does it mean to have a human voice? How can a human vocal apparatus enable a meaningful communication when words fall short? As premodern Chinese literary authors and media theorists paid close attention to such voices that are out of place (disembodied, misaligned with host bodies, etc.), they produced a theory of the human voice that prioritizes the nonsensical and the noisy as well as resonance between the human and the nonhuman. I am also working on a project that examines how premodern Chinese poets explore what modern thinkers call "the unconscious" in dream-inspired writing. A comparatist at heart, I am invested in exploring ideas latent in premodern Chinese literary sources that can contribute to theoretical discussions in current sound, voice, and media studies even though these fields often prioritize media practices within Euro-American contexts. I also write short fiction about various types of out-of-place-ness. 


Anonymous, Room 307
HB 6191


Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages


  • B.A. Sun Yat-sen University
  • M.A. Columbia University
  • Ph.D. University of Chicago

Selected Publications