Maddalena Poli


PhD, East Asian Languages and Civilizations


I have a PhD from the EALC department. I completed my dissertation on ancient bamboo manuscripts from the Warring States (453–221 BCE) era, titled Preparing one’s act. Performance supports and the question of human nature in Early China. I identify a series of manuscripts from different collections that, I argue, played a central role in practices of knowledge management and cultural performances. I refer to these manuscripts as "performance supports," to signal their role as aides-memoire and teaching tools in practices such as extemporaneous oral performance. These relied on, but went beyond, the written medium. A central practice that has occupied my research for some time is that of oratory, in the form of witty exchanges among thinkers, or between a minister and his ruler. With the term "oratory" I want to emphasize the performative aspects of speeches delivered by ministers and courtiers, which were meant to showcase one's erudition. More broadly, I am interested in what the manuscripts published in the last decades reveal about processes of textual composition and transmission during a crucial moment of cultural canonization like the Warring States were. 

My work with pre-imperial manuscripts led me to organize several workshops and conferences, such as the 2017 NAKED TEXT, and the 2018 Script and Sound in Old Chinese. My most recent event, The Lunyu 論語 and Its Neighbors, explored the textual history of the Analects across time and space, from military post along the northern border of the Han dynasty to copies of the Analects in Tangut language. I am currently co-hosting a series of talks on various subfields within Sinology, titled Methods in Sinology. I was invited to collaborate on this project by my colleague Mariana Zorkina, who came up with the idea. You can find more about this project here.

In my first three years at Penn, I began a collaboration with the Center for Neuroscience and Society to foster a dialogue between cognitive sciences and humanities. I apply this knowledge in my research to look at how memory and memorization may affect the mechanic mental reproduction of texts, or interfere with rhymed compositions. 

I have received the Chiang Ching-kuo Doctoral Fellowship for the academic year 2020/2021, and of the research grant from the 漢學研究中心 in Taiwan for Spring 2021. Previously, I spent a period of research as a visiting scholar at Fudan University's 复旦大学 Center of Research for Excavated Sources and Palaeography upon receiving the 2019/2020 Confucius Institute Joint Research PhD Fellowship. Other awards include the Summer 2019 Luce/ACLS Pre-dissertation Summer Travel Grant, the EALC Departmental Fellowship for summer research (2018, 2019, 2021), and the uPenn GAPSA Travel Research Grant (2017). I have taught several courses at Penn, and obtained the Certificate for Teaching from the Penn Center for Teaching and Learning.

I collaborate with the Digital Orientalist, writing articles to promote the study of ancient manuscripts and introduce some of the most useful tools available online. I am also a board member of Early Text Cultures, an Oxford-based graduate student research group. During Spring 2019, I was invited to workshops about the grammar of the Zuozhuan 左傳 (NYC), authorship in ancient cultures (Beijing), and language evolution in Ancient Chinese texts (Oxford University).

Prior to my arrival at Penn, I completed my MA degree at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, after working as an exchange student at Peking University and Leiden University.

Fun fact: if I were not an academic (well, getting there!), I'd like to be a photographer


Office Hours
by appointment

University of Pennsylvania, Dept. East Asia Languages and Civilizations

09/2016 – 05/2022. PhD program, early China major (intellectual history, paleography, philology)

(Candidacy exams: intellectual history, paleography, cognitive sciences and humanities)

2018 Master of Arts, East Asian Humanities

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy

2016 MA in Chinese Language and Culture, 110/110 summa cum laude

2013 BA in Chinese Language and Culture

Exchange study experience

2021 Center for Chinese Studies, Taipei, Taiwan

2019/2020 Fudan University, Shanghai, China 

Spring 2015 Leiden University, the Netherlands (International Exchange Student, Erasmus Scholarship) 

Fall 2014 Peking University, China (International Exchange Student, Ca’ Foscari University Overseas program scholarship)

Fall 2012 Huaqiao Foreign Languages Institute, China (International Exchange Student, Ca’ Foscari University Overseas program scholarship

Fall 2011 Capital Normal University, Beijing, China (Language and Literature) 


Research Interests

Early Chinese intellectual history, philology, philosophy, paleography, Old Chinese reconstructions, art history. 

Courses Taught

Fall 2020, Teaching fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Introduction to Chinese Civilization online teaching

Spring 2019, Teaching fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, The Age of Samurai

Fall 2018, Teaching fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Introduction to Chinese Civilization

Spring 2018, Teaching fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Introduction to Japanese Civilization

Fall 2017, Teaching fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Introduction to Chinese Civilization

Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Teaching fellow at Ca’ Foscari University, Venice; modern and classical Chinese

Selected Publications



  • with Adam D. Smith, “Establishing the Text of the Odes. A First Look at the Anda University Bamboo Manuscript.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 84.3: 515-557. doi:10.1017/S0041977X22000015
  • “Baoshan 包山” and “Hanfeizi 韩非子” entires in Wiley’s new Encyclopedia of Ancient History: Asia and Africa. Accepted. 
  • Establishing the text of the Odes. A First Look at the Anhui University Bamboo Manuscript. With Dr. Adam D. Smith. Accepted by BSOAS.
  • Lunyu 論語, The Analects. Database of Religious History, University of British Columbia.
  • Shangshu 尚書 ("Exalted Writings"; also, "Documents"). Database of Religious History, University of British Columbia.
  • Xing zi ming chu 性自命出, Natural Dispositions Come from Endowment. Database of Religious History, University of British Columbia.

2020 editorial review and revision for second edition of A Source Book of Ancient Chinese Bronze Inscriptions. C. Cook and P. R. Goldin eds. Society for the Study of Early China, 2016 (updating bibliography; supervising editing; collaboration with translators).

2018 “Mohism”, Database of Religious History, Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia. DOI 10.14288/1.0385889;

2016 “An idea of Self in the Zhuangzi”, in Hanna N. Li and Gina van der Ling, eds., Proceedings of the Rombouts Graduate Conference: ‘Image’, Leiden: Stichting Shilin

Work in Progress 

The Arousal of Human Nature in Early China.”

“Graphs and Words. A study of 取 in the Xing zi ming chu 性自命出 and velar finals in Old Chinese.” Chinese version “釋戰國竹簡〈性自命出〉的「取」字。”

History and Fiction: the Tsinghua Fu Yue zhi ming 傅說之命 and the formation of the Shangshu 尚書. 


June 2021/June 2022 Coordinator for the East Asia and Transnational Dissertation Writing Group, based at the University of Pennsylvania

2020/2021; 2021/2022 The Digital Orientalist 

2021/2022 Board Committee Member of Early Text Culture (Oxford University)

2020/2021 Member of Early Text Culture (Oxford University)

2019; 2021 MLA association

2019; 2022 American Oriental Society 


CV (url)