School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Professor Wen-chin Ouyang

Key information

School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies Steering Committee Member and MA Postcolonial Studies China Institute Member
BA, BEd (Tripoli), MA, MPhil, PhD (Columbia)
Russell Square: College Buildings
Email address
Telephone number
+44(0)20 7898 4348
Support hours
Monday 12 noon - 1:00pm
Tuesday 2:00pm - 3:00pm


Wen-chin Ouyang was born in Taiwan and raised in Libya. She completed her BA in Arabic at Tripoli University and PhD Middle Eastern Studies at Columbia University in New York City. She taught Arabic language, literature and culture at Columbia University, University of Chicago and University of Virginia before she moved to London. She is interested in critical theory and thought as well as poetics and prosaics. She has written extensively on classical and modern Arabic narrative and literary criticism.

She is the author of Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture: The Making of a Tradition (1997), Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel (2012) and Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel (2013). She has also published widely on The Thousand and One Nights, often in comparison with classical and modern Arabic narrative traditions, European and Hollywood cinema, magic realism, and Chinese storytelling. She founded and co-edits Edinburgh Studies in Classical Arabic Literature. She chairs the publications committee of Legenda Studies in Comparative Literature. She was Editor-in-Chief of Middle Eastern Literatures (2011-2020) and a member of the editorial board of Bulletin of SOAS (2003-2013). She chaired the editorial board of Middle East in London Magazine (2007-08) and contributes regularly to Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature.

A native speaker of Arabic and Chinese, she has been working towards Arabic-Chinese comparative literary and cultural studies, including Silk Road Studies. She is Fellow of the British Academy (see profile and information on comparative literature) and Academician of Academia Sinica.

Research interests

The Silk Road and World Literature

The Silk Road, which is in a variety of academic, political and cultural programmes around the world, is a metaphor for a form of globalization that predated the twentieth century and the strategic importance of Central Asia today, can serve as a non-Eurocentric framework in the study of cross-cultural interactions and developments.

The key ideas are:

There is a need to go beyond the dominant view of world as made up of discreet, bordered, sovereign realms and consider it as interconnected, networked nodes of continues flow of cross cultural interaction, so as to identify and articulate various patterns of globalization and different forms for cosmopolitanism without privileging one cultural unit or historical moment.

Ideas, languages, cultural expressions and products emerge, take shape and develop or decline within the framework of global networked circulation. It is possible and necessary to identify and describe the various structures of global economy of exchange, across time and space, within which the birth, maturity, death and even revival of ideas, languages and cultural expressions and products may be theorized.

Multilingualism is at the heart of creativity. Each language is always in contact with other languages as well as other systems of expression, especially image and sound, and through such contact it gains and rejuvenates its creative force. It is important to uncover the various forms of multilingualism latent in each linguistic and cultural expression, so as to understand fully and in a more complex fashion the ways in which language, whether based in word, image or sound, produces meaning and makes an impact, and to encourage and support multilingualism and creativity.  Multiculturalism has been in existence in a variety of forms around the globe and is both product and producer of cross-cultural contacts and multilingualism. It is, like multilingualism, the foundation of creative cultural expressions.

Material objects are sites of cultural memory and discourse. They provide evidence of global circulation of ideas, languages and cultural expressions in various forms: the objects themselves, the raw material of these objects, the relevant techniques and technologies, the use and function of these objects in one culture or across cultures, and the cultural legacy accumulated around these objects. (Examples: musical instruments, china, paintings, manuscripts, etc). They are interesting objects of study as such, and can more importantly serve as one key focus of the project.

Literature, the visual arts and music inhere multilingualism and multiculturalism accumulated through cultural encounters across time and space. They tell similar stories of intercultural development but diverge in their expressive outlets, production of meaning and reception, and nuance. Comparative study of these is crucial in understanding and articulating different forms of multilingualism and multiculturalism and the divergent patterns of their development.

It is necessary to adopt a simultaneously multi- and interdisciplinary approach to cultural encounters and intercultural developments, or different forms of globalization (past and present, East and West) that bring together to mutually inform and enrich: (i) languages, literatures, cultures, religions, material culture, music history, politics, development studies, anthropology, and the sciences; (ii) scholars of and from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, to track the circulation of ideas, languages, cultural expressions and products, across various and overlapping networks. (Circulation of silk will not be traced from China centripetally, for example, but to and fro China, Damascus and Venice at the same time).


Multilingualism and Multilingual Identities in World Literatures(s): OWRI Creative Multilingualism Strand 5 Workshop

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Yingxin Chen Translation and reception of British detective fiction in China 1896-1916 ( working title)
Yue Han Militarism in Israeli and Palestinian Cinemas
Charlie Oubridge The Nation in Egyptology: How do current Egyptological representations of ancient Egypt perpetuate 19th- and early 20th-century ideologies underpinning European colonialism and nationalism?
Lan Wei Persian online news reports about China and Iran’s economic relationship from 2013 to 2021


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