Pauline Lee

The Divinity School is pleased to announce that Professor Pauline Lee, Visiting Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Religions at The Divinity School, will give a public lecture entitled "Tales of a Late Ming Iconoclast: Li Zhi 李贄, the Childlike Heart, and Play."

The lecture will be November 7 at 5pm in Swift Lecture Hall (3rd floor). A reception will follow.

The 16th century Chinese iconoclast Li Zhi 李贄 (Zhuowu) has been rightly celebrated as a pioneer of individualism, a great voice of social protest, an original mind powerfully arguing for genuine self-expression, and more. He was a Confucian official and erudite in the classics, yet in his sixties he took the Buddhist tonsure, and late in life befriended the Jesuit Matteo Ricci. His A Book to Burn “sold like hotcakes,” and attracted enough trouble that reportedly readers would surreptitiously hide their copies tucked up their sleeves. Li once wrote that the power of his writing resides in his ability to go straight for the enemy’s defenses, eat his grain, command his troops—thus starting from the midst and fighting his way out—in the end effortlessly leaving the enemy utterly shattered. In this talk, Pauline Lee will show ways in which Li Zhi indeed stands in the middle of his cultural tradition and fights his way out by playing with the word, the genre, the literary reference, the commentarial tradition, thereby reclaiming places and creating spaces for play, holding together tradition and innovation, the self and community, and cleverly step by step re-writing the social world.

Pauline Lee is Associate Professor of Chinese Thought and Cultures at Saint Louis University. Her scholarship focuses on ethics in Chinese thought, placing her work at an intersection of disciplines including religious studies, philosophy, and literature. She is the author of Li Zhi, Confucianism, and the Virtue of Desire (SUNY Press, 2012), which examines the 16th century Chinese iconoclast Li Zhi and his views on the role of self-expression and desire in a good life. With Rivi Handler-Spitz and Haun Saussy, she has co-edited A Book to Burn and A Book to Keep (Hidden) (Columbia UP, 2016), the first English-language volume of translations on this major thinker, and The Objectionable Li Zhi: Fiction, Syncretism, and Dissent in Late Ming China (University of Washington Press, 2021). She has published or developed projects in the areas of comparative religions, feminisms, space and place, conceptions of children, democracy in China, digital humanities, and public facing art. Her current major project, provisionally entitled Play in China: The Trifling, the Wicked, and the Sacred, examines changing views of play in China through a study of religious and philosophical classics, commentaries on these works, as well as paintings and playthings. She has served as Co-Chair of the Confucian Traditions Unit of the American Academy of Religion, and at Saint Louis University, she is the co-founding director of the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) Center, and with Rachel Lindsey, co-director for the initiative Lived Religion in the Digital Age (, supported by a Henry R. Luce Foundation Grant for Advancing Public Scholarship on Religion and Theology.