Dr Xiaofan Amy Li

Lecturer in Comparative Literature


Dr Xiaofan Amy Li joined the Comparative Literature Department at the University of Kent in September 2016. After completing undergraduate studies in French and Art History at Edinburgh University and at the École du Louvre, Paris, her interests turned to Comparative Literature and she earned her MPhil and PhD (2014) at Queens' College, Cambridge. 

From 2013-16 she was Junior Research Fellow in Comparative Literature & Translation at St Anne's College, Oxford. Prior to coming to Kent, Dr Li taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and SOAS (2012-14). In 2019, she is Visiting Scholar at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. 

In 2018 Dr Li started serving as co-editor of the new book series Routledge Studies in East Asian Translation. Previously (from 2014-15), she edited the Oxford Comparative Criticism & Translation Review (OCCTR). She is a member of the European Association for Chinese Studies and of the Society for French Studies, and is external associate of the Oxford Comparative Criticism & Translation research programme, for which she was coordinator in 2015. 

Research interests

Dr Li's research spans French and Chinese literatures, with a focus on comparisons and exchanges between France and China/East Asia. She has a strong interest in cross-cultural, cross-period, and transnational comparisons, paying particular attention to conceptual and aesthetic dialogues as well as questions of reception between the ancient and modern. 

Her first book Comparative Encounters between Artaud, Michaux and the Zhuangzi (Oxford: Legenda, 2015) discusses these issues by re-reading two sinophilic French writers and the dreamlike classical Chinese text Zhuangzi through their poetic and philosophical encounter. Currently she is finishing a co-authored book entitled Translation and Literature in East Asia: Between Visibility and Invisibility (forthcoming, Routledge), and is working on her second monograph, which aims to rethink comparative criticism and literary imagination through the idea of play. 

She also has a keen interest in transnational avant-gardes, Francophone and Chinese literatures in a global context, text and image studies, cultural representation, theories and methods of Comparative and World Literature. 


Dr Li teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels on theories of Comparative Literature, World Literature, ludic literature, travel/exilic literature, and transcultural East Asia. She also teaches on topics within both French and Asian Studies. 



  • Li, X. (2018). Blood, Cannibalistic Desire, and Embodying the Other: Artaud's and Leiris's Anthropological Encounters. Modern Language Notes 133:1026-1051.
  • Li, X. (2018). Playful You (?) in the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties Literati Writing. Journal of the British Association for Chinese Studies [Online] 8:1-28. Available at: http://bacsuk.org.uk/journal/journal-current-and-past-entries/playful-you.
    This essay explores the notion of you ? in the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties literati writing through a comparative reading. Used interchangeably with its variant you ?, you ? has various uses and meanings, from the more literal “swim in water”, “move in an unobstructed way”, “wander”, and “travel afar”, to its extended meanings including “ramble in a carefree way”, “travel
    playfully”, “travel into foreign or unknown space”, or “enjoy a leisurely activity”. You is also,significantly, combined with other characters to form compound expressions specifying different playful activities, e.g. youxi ?Ç: “play and frolic”, “amuse oneself”, or “game”; youwan ??: “play outdoors” (with an emphasis on movement); and lüyou Ù?: “travelling for leisure”, or “tourism”—which have very different connotations from lüxing Ù?, “journey”, or “travel (the main purpose of which is not pleasure)”. In these different uses and expressions of you, in both classical and modern Chinese, what we find in common is the connotation of an unhindered, playful movement that is closely connected to its spatial context. In the context of the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties literature, therefore, can we find articulations of you as a playful activity? If yes, in what specific ways is you playful, especially in regard to the space and context in which it occurs? Finally, what do the differences and similarities between the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties writing say about the evolution of the notion of you within the Daoist and Neo-Daoist discourse?
  • Li, X. (2018). A Distant Dream: Balthus, Henri Michaux, and the Chinese Aesthetic Tradition. Word & Image [Online] 34:281-296. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/02666286.2018.1460566.
    This article examines the relation between twentieth-century artists Balthus, Henri Michaux, and Chinese painting and poetic imagery. The constant echo of a seemingly “Chinese aesthetics” in Balthus’s and Michaux’s works gives rise to a few important questions. How do Balthus’s and Michaux’s creative practices and works engage with and re-invent the Chinese aesthetic tradition? What new understandings of Balthus and Michaux will be revealed if they are seen in the light of Chinese notions about painting, calligraphy, and poetic imagery? What would this say about the relation between artistic influence and creativity, especially in the case of the transformation of aesthetic forms and ideas across cultures and time? By discussing how Balthus’s figurative and landscape paintings relate to the Zhuangzi’s dream imagery and Song dynasty shanshui (mountain–water) paintings, and how Michaux’s ink paintings are integrated into his critical endeavor to break away from Orientalist stereotypes, it is argued that both artists are transformed by the Chinese aesthetic tradition, as well as actively transform how it is understood.
  • Li, X. (2017). Eating One's Way through Cultures: Antonin Artaud's Autoexoticist Diets and Epistemologies. PMLA [Online] 132:434-441. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1632/pmla.2017.132.2.434.
  • Li, X. (2017). Introduction: From the Exotic to the Autoexotic. PMLA [Online] 132:392-396. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1632/pmla.2017.132.2.392.
  • Li, X. (2016). The Abject Heterotopia: Le Città Invisibili and ‘Junkspace’. Forum for Modern Language Studies [Online] 52:70-80. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fmls/cqv052.
    This article explores and compares the spaces of abjection in Italo Calvino's Le città invisibili and the ‘Junkspace’ of contemporary cities, as theorized by the architect Rem Koolhaas. Depicted as being simultaneously devastating and scatological as well as exhilarating and aesthetic, abject space is revealed to be paradoxical and disturbing, a formlessness that puts place and identity into suspense. Here, Foucault's notion of heterotopia serves as a perspective from which the nature of this abject space can be better understood. The characteristics of heterotopia – such as heterogeneity, disorientation, fragmentation – are reflected in both the fictional space of Le città invisibili and the concretely lived space of Koolhaasian architecture. But in addition, the abject heterotopias in Calvino and Koolhaas rethink and challenge the Foucauldian heterotopia, for they break down Foucault's oppositions between heterotopia and utopia, offering greater critical potentiality and even utopian implications.
  • Li, X. (2015). Temporality in the Construction of Comparative Interpretation. Comparative Critical Studies [Online] 12:235. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/ccs.2015.0169.
  • Li, X. (2015). The Notion of Originality and Degrees of Faithfulness in Translating Classical Chinese: Comparing Translations of the Liezi. Early China [Online] 38:109-128. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/eac.2015.2.
    This article compares several post-1950s translations of the Liezi, and examines the concept of originality, the degrees of closeness to the original text a modern translation can achieve, and how this “faithfulness” can be understood. I first discuss how the problem of the Liezi's originality has negatively influenced critics' and translators' perception of the text's significance, then compare its different translations to show their specific translational and interpretational problems. Finally, I reflect on the overarching methodological question that frames my comparisons of translations, namely, why compare? I argue that comparing translations cannot be a means to ascertain the best translation, because both concepts of originality and faithfulness are multiple in meaning rather than singularly defined. Instead of measuring translations in terms of “fidelity,” a more insightful practice would be discovering the insights different translations offer into the relationships between the original and translated texts, source and target languages, as well as questioning the construction of texts as “original source texts” through translation by recognizing the potential fluidity and multiplicity of the source text itself.
  • Li, X. (2012). How Much of a Chimera is Comparability? Reflections on Comparative Studies in Sinology. Dissertation Reviews.


  • Kiaer, J., Guest, J. and Li, X. (2019). Translation and Literature in East Asia: Between Visibility and Invisibility. [Online]. Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Translation-and-Literature-in-East-Asia-Between-Visibility-and-Invisibility/Kiaer-Guest-Li/p/book/9780815358275.
  • Li, X. (2015). Comparative Encounters between Artaud, Michaux and the Zhuangzi: Rationality, Cosmology and Ethics. [Online]. Oxford: Legenda. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Comparative-Encounters-Between-Artaud-Michaux-and-the-Zhuangzi-Rationality/Li/p/book/9781909662674.
    The encounter between different minds and perspectives across time and space has always haunted the literary and philosophical imagination. Just such an encounter is staged and played out in this comparative study, which connects the twentieth-century Francophone writers Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) and Henri Michaux (1899-1984) with the ancient Chinese text Zhuangzi (c. 4th-3rd century BCE). These disparate texts are bridged by questions that draw them into close dialogue: how can Artaud and Michaux, who read about and admired ancient Chinese literature and culture, be rethought through certain philosophical concerns that the Zhuangzi raises? If the points of conceptual intersection focus on rationality, cosmology and ethics, what can they tell us about these important issues? By imagining, constructing and developing this thought-encounter, Li re-envisages Artaud, Michaux and the Zhuangzi through the kaleidoscope of comparative interpretation, juxtaposing and recombining ideas and contexts to form new patterns and meanings.

Book section

  • Li, X. (2017). When Do Different Literatures Become Comparable? - The Vague Borders of Comparability and Incomparability. in: Reynolds, M. et al. eds. Minding Borders: Resilient Divisions in Literature, the Body and the Academy. Oxford: Legenda.
  • Li, X. (2016). Preserving Life Force: Artaud and Zhuangzi on the body. in: Ferreboeuf, R., Noble, F. and Plunkett, T. eds. Preservation, Radicalism, and the Avant-Garde Canon. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 153-169. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137474377.

Edited journal

  • Li, X.A. ed. (2017). The Exotic and the Autoexotic. PMLA [Online] 132. Available at: http://www.mlajournals.org/toc/pmla/132/2.


  • Li, X. (2017). Book Review: Intercultural Masquerade: New Orientalism, New Occidentalism, Old Exoticism, eds. Regis Machart et al. (Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer 2016) ISBN 9783662470558 Machart, R., Dervin, F. and Gao, M. eds. Oxford Comparative Criticism & Translation Review [Online]:1-2. Available at: http://www.occt.ox.ac.uk/cct-review/intercultural-masquerades-new-orientalism-new-occidentalism-old-exoticism-eds-regis.
  • Li, X. (2017). Book Review Marcus, L., Bradshaw, D. and Roach, R. eds. Forum for Modern Language Studies [Online] 53:376-376. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/fmls/cqx028.
  • Li, X. (2016). Book Review of THOMAS MICHAEL: In the Shadows of the Dao: Laozi, the Sage, and the Daodejing. (SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture.) xx, 311 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. $90. ISBN 978 1 438 45897 7. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies [Online] 79:682-684. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0041977X1600080X.


  • Li, X. (2020). Pascal Quignard as Sinophile: Recreating Chinese Antiquity in Contemporary France. Comparative Literature.
  • Li, X. (2019). East Asian Francophone Writers and Racialised Aesthetics. Esprit Createur.
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