How do we read across cultures? Do we assimilate a foreign culture through our own cultural assumptions? Or do we find in it terms which we can use to rethink our own practices, without assuming any ready identification? In this essay, Li Hao examines I. A. Richards’s notion of ‘vigilance’ and its critical implications for reading practices. She then extends the discussion to argue that the value of cross-cultural reading lies in its capacity for stimulating ‘negative’, i.e., self-destablising or self-reconfiguring, forms of response. She also probes some of the underlying assumptions of English literary education in China and calls for a radical reconceptualisation of inherited categories of thinking in this tradition.