Obsessions with the Sino-Japanese Polarity in Japanese Literature
280pp. November 2005
Obsessions with the Sino-Japanese Polarity in Japanese Literature
Author: Sakaki, Atsuko;
Using close readings of a range of premodern and modern texts, Atsuko Sakaki focuses on the ways in which Japanese writers and readers revised—or in many cases devised—rhetoric to convey "Chineseness" and how this practice contributed to shaping a national Japanese identity.

The volume begins by examining how Japanese travelers in China, and Chinese travelers in Japan, are portrayed in early literary works. An increasing awareness of the diversity of Chinese culture forms a premise for the next chapter, which looks at Japan’s objectification of the Chinese and their works of art from the eighteenth century onward. Chapter 3 examines gender as a factor in the formation and transformation of the Sino-Japanese dyad. Sakaki then continues with an investigation of early modern and modern Japanese representations of intellectuals who were marginalized for their insistence on the value of the classical Chinese canon and literary Chinese. The work concludes with an overview of writing in Chinese by early Meiji writers and the presence of Chinese in the work of modern writer Nakamura Shin’ichiro. A final summary of the book’s major themes makes use of several stories by Tanizaki Jun’ichiro.

"I highly recommend this work. . . . Obsessions makes a very compelling contribution to postmodern ideas of national identity formation through literary canons and raises important quesitons about the construction of cultural identity." —Journal of Asian Studies (68:4; November 2009)

"This book is of fundamental importance for the study of Japanese literature, of Chinese literature in East Asia, and, more generally, for comparative studies of historically related cultures. . . . Ranging across the centuries and pointing toward the future, this is a ground-breaking ‘wa-kan’ book, a thought-provoking treasure trove of texts, insights, ideas. Sasaki plays in all leagues and on all levels with her imaginative interpretations, her impressive command of a breadth of primary sources, and her ability to go back and forth within a matter of sentences between big issues and the microscopic textual analyses that back them up. Sasaki’s book is most welcome and timely: it helps us incorporate China into the study of Japanese literature and Japan into the study of China and East Asia, both tasks that scholars devote increasing attention to. She envisions new frameworks, engages new materials and, most of all, makes one want to run to the library, with map in hand, and read and test more. What more could you expect of an outstanding book about literature?" —China Review International (14:2, fall 2007)

"[A] well-argued and tightly knit analysis of the complex and dynamic Japanese perceptions of China. Sakaki’s command of postmodern thought, sensibly applied and compactly explained where necessary but never triumphantly foregrounded, in tandem with her ingenious close readings, make for a wealth of findings in this intellectually engrossing study, which could serve as a model in self-reflexivity, methodological sophistication, conciseness, and readability for future investigations of, say, Japanese literary negotiations with the ‘West.’" —Monumenta Nipponica (62:3, autumn 2007)

Author: Sakaki, Atsuko;
Atsuko Sakaki is professor in the Department of East Asian Studies and associate member of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.
Read the introduction (PDF).