Between 1965 and 1975, Yi went to Xinjiang to join the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. From 1975 to 1978, he taught at a middle school for the children of employees at a steel production firm in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Yi studied ancient Chinese literature in Wuhan University under the tutelage of Hu Guorui (胡国瑞) and graduated in 1978 with a professional degree. In 1981, after obtaining a MA degree from Wuhan University, he became a lecturer at his alma mater. He is currently a professor and Ph.D supervisor at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Xiamen University's School of Humanities.
In 2005, Yi appeared on CCTV-10's Lecture Room programme. His series of lectures on personalities of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period were successful, but there was also criticism about the academic quality of his lectures. Due to the popularity of his lectures, in 2006 CCTV-10 made a contract with him to produce a series of 52 lectures on the history of the Three Kingdoms period. In 2008, he started a series of 36 lectures about the Hundred Schools of Thought on Lecture Room.
In 2013, Yi wrote Yi Zhongtian Zhonghua Shi (易中天中华史; Yi Zhongtian's History of China). A year later, he wrote San Guo Ji (三国纪; Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms) to dispel myths about the historical figures Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Sun Quan and Zhuge Liang.
Chinese culture series:
Xianhua Zhongguo Ren (闲话中国人; The Gossiping Chinese)
Zhongguo De Nanren He Nüren (中国的男人和女人; China's Men and Women)
Du Cheng Ji (读城记; Reading and Cities)
Pin Ren Lu (品人录; Analysis of People)
CCTV-10 Lecture Room series:
Han Dai Fengyun Renwu (汉代风云人物; Prominent Personalities of the Han Dynasty)
Pin San Guo (品三国; Analysis of the Three Kingdoms)
Xian Qin Zhuzi Baijia Zhengming (先秦诸子百家争鸣; The Hundred Schools of Thought Before the Qin Dynasty)
Diguo De Chouchang (帝国的惆怅; Melancholy of the Empire)
Diguo De Zhongjie (帝国的终结; End of the Empire)
Feicheng Fengyun: Meiguo Xianfa De Dansheng He Women De Fansi (费城风云：美国宪法的诞生和我们的反思; Philadelphia: The Birth of the United States Constitution and Our Reflections)
Po Men Er Ru (破门而入; Forced Entry)
Chengdu Fangshi (成都方式; The Chengdu Method)
Shusheng Yiqi (书生意气; Scholar's Spirit)
Shusheng Shaqi (书生傻气; Scholar's Foolishness)
Gao Gao De Shu Shang (高高的树上; High Up on the Tree)
Dahua Fangyan (大话方言; Discussion on Dialects)
Zhongguo Zhihui (中国智慧; Chinese Intelligence)
Wo Shan Zhi Shi (我山之石; The Rock of My Mountain)
Yi Zhongtian Zhonghua Shi (易中天中华史; Yi Zhongtian's History of China)
"History is no singular entertainment with the door closed. It's only with a global view that you can see it clearly."
"I walk into the room of a historical period, I slice it into cubes, then I walk from one cube to another in the room to figure out the clues, like a detective."
Yi's academic interests include literature, art, aesthetics, psychology, anthropology and history. His published works focus on popularizing academic subjects. This has caused some controversy, but has also led to the popularity of his works.
Fang Zhaohui, a professor with Tsinghua University, says such books, regardless of their academic value, are a good challenge to mainstream history publications.
"The majority of history books are dry and too purposeful," Fang says. "They often try to force a rigid pattern on readers."
Such history books often describe officials of a failing dynasty as corrupt and emperors as incompetent.
"People are looking for books that are easy and fun to read," Fang says. "They are looking for history told from different perspectives that is more humane."
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