Associate Professor
On Sabbatical Leave: 2020-2021 Academic Year


Rivi Handler-Spitz studies and teaches Chinese literature and intellectual history as well as comparative literature. Her book Symptoms of an Unruly Age: Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity (University of Washington Press, 2017) compares writings by the late Ming dynasty radical intellectual Li Zhi to works by several of his best-known European contemporaries including Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Cervantes. Although these authors wrote independently on opposite ends of Eurasia, their works grapple with remarkably similar questions, among them how to differentiate between truth and falsehood, genuine articles and fakes. By examining the historical context in which these questions arose, as well as the culturally specific responses they generated, Symptoms of an Unruly Age highlights correspondences between early modern Chinese and European literature.

Rivi Handler-Spitz has also translated Li Zhi’s essays from classical Chinese in a volume she co-edited with Haun Saussy and Pauline C. Lee, A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden) (Columbia University Press, 2016). Here is an interview in which she and her co-editors talk about the book. Along with the Pauline C. Lee and Haun Saussy, she has also co-edited The Objectionable Li Zhi: Fiction, Criticism, and Dissent in Late Ming China (University of Washington Press, 2021). This book analyzes Li Zhi’s writings from the perspectives of religious studies, women’s studies, book history, intellectual history, and literary criticism.

Her current research, funded by the National Humanities Center, explores the ethical dimensions of teacher-student relationships by examining canonical collections of “oral teachings” assembled and published by disciples after the death of their master.

Rivi also writes and draws journalistically. Her graphic narratives include “Caution: No Trigger Warning” (Inside Higher Ed) and “Reflections on the Experiences of Chinese International Students” (The Mac Weekly).

Rivi began studying Chinese at Columbia University, where she earned an AB in Comparative Literature (Chinese, French, and Latin). She also studied modern and classical Chinese in Mainland China, Taiwan, and the University of Chicago, where she completed her PhD, also in Comparative Literature. Before joining the faculty at Macalester, she taught courses on Chinese language and literature, world literature, and comparative literature at the University of Chicago, Brown University, and Middlebury College.

Courses taught at Macalester include: Cramming for the Exam: Education in Chinese Literature and History,  Opulence and Decadence: China, Europe, and the Early Modern World, Asian Humanities: Adaptations and Appropriations, Cross-Cultural Encounters: China and the West, Literature and Social Reform in Modern China, Masterpieces of Chinese Literature, Teachers and Students, and Chinese 101.