The Silk Roads of World Literature: Coffee and Tea

Professor Wen-Chin Ouyang presents at the first AIMES Public Lecture of the academic year.

Please note that this is an online event.

Contact Dr Hanem El-Farahaty to register your interest and for the Microsoft Teams access link.

All welcome to attend.

How do we bring Arabic and Chinese together into comparative literature that need not rely on direct influence or turn to parallel studies but still privilege intercultural dialogue? The literary world is saturated with traces of cultural encounter, including bodies of knowledge, such as Orientalism, objects, such as silk, and food and drink, such as bread and tea, whose itineraries of travel around the globe resonate with the Silk Road. The Silk Road haunts many literary works inhabited by people, things, ideas, ideologies and even entire cultural institutions that have come from far and wide to partake in the construction of their textual world. Coffee and tea, staple features of contemporary fictional worlds, are good examples. The history of coffee and tea’s origins and proliferation, and of their production and consumption as well as attendant technologies, material culture, rituals and spaces, has been mapped fully so that it would be possible, in fact, easy to track the global movement of coffee and tea around the world, the rise and development of coffeehouses and teahouses, and the intercultural dialogues embedded in the practice of coffee and tea consumption. 

A comparative reading of Arabic and Chinese texts against the backdrop of the cultures of the Silk Road(s) allows us to reconstruct intercultural dialogues between the Arabophone and Sinophone and, moving beyond East-West comparative studies, engage meaningfully in East-East, South-South, and East-South comparative literature. 


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 is Editor-in-Chief of Middle Eastern Literatures and a member of the editorial board of Bulletin of SOAS. She founded and co-edits Edinburgh Studies in Classical Arabic Literature. She chaired the editorial board of Middle East in London Magazine (2007-2008) 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.