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Paper Abstracts

Keynote Lecture 

  • Shiki’s Databases: How Shiki Made it New
Dr. J. Keith Vincent, Boston University
The haiku poet Masaoka Shiki has a reputation as a radical and an iconoclast. In 1893, when he was only twenty-six, writing from his perch at the newspaper Nihon, he claimed that only one in ten of the poems written by the great Matsuo Basho was worth reading. Truly sublime poems, he wrote, were as sparse in Basho’s work as “stars in the morning sky.” In 1898, now all of thirty-one, Shiki claimed that the waka poet Ki no Tsurayuki “was a dreadful poet and the Kokinshu vastly overrated.” At the same time, in his headlong rush to modernize Japanese poetry and to establish the haiku as poetic form expressing the individual artist’s sensibility, Shiki is said to have put an end to linked verse — thus essentially, as one critic has put it, “sound[ing] the death knell of collective versification.” In these moments, Shiki seems to want to leave the past and other poets behind.  And yet a closer look at Shiki and his work reveals a poet with an encyclopedic knowledge and a deep appreciation of the literature of Japan’s past and a poetic practice shaped by the convivial sociality of haiku composition. In this talk, I will introduce Shiki and his work as a writer who, exquisitely aware of his own mortality and disability, was committed not to tearing, but rather repairing the fabric of tradition. Masaoka Shiki, I argue, is perhaps modern Japan’s most compelling example of what it means to “activate” and “respond to the past,” even while making it new.


Panel 1: Representations of Pre-and Post-Colonial Korea

  • The Construction of Patriarchal Lineage in the Korean Ch’ŏnt’ae order and Historical Controversy Concerning Ŭich’ŏn’s Ch’ŏnt’ae Buddhism

Yohong Roh, Temple University, PhD Student, Religious Studies

Since a new Korean Buddhist movement that calls itself the “Ch’ŏnt’ae Jong 天台宗 (Tiantai school)” was founded by its modern founder Sangwŏl (1922-1974) in 1967, Sangwŏl’s group had emphasized that the modern Ch’ŏnt’ae school is a rightful historical successor to Ŭich’ŏn 義天 (1055-1101), the founder of Korean Ch’ŏnt’ae order under the Korean Kingdom of Koryŏ a thousand years earlier. The modern Ch’ŏnt’ae order achieved legitimation for them and their teaching in the eyes of the Korean public. Key to that transition was Sangwŏl’s adaptation of the historically prominent name, “Ch’ŏnt’ae/Tiantai,” and his retrospective creation of a lineage of Chinese and Korean patriarchs to whom he could trace his succession and the origins of his school.

The aim of this presentation is to explore the multiple ways in which the figure of Sangwŏl has been presented as a “Ch’ŏnt’ae patriarch” in the cultural construction of modern Ch’ŏnt’ae Buddhist school in Korea. That strategy of cultural construction has entailed an effort to present Sangwŏl as a “Ch’ŏnt’ae patriarch” in the image of past eminent Korean figures, such as Uich’ŏn. In addition to traditional Buddhist literary forms, such as patriarchal hagiography and lineage narratives that connect Sangwŏl to Uich’ŏn, this presentation will also address creation of rituals for celebration of patriarchal death anniversaries, construction of visual architecture, such as patriarch halls, and images. Lastly, this presentation will explore how Ŭich’ŏn has been constructed and understood in the modern Ch’ŏnt’ae order. Even though the character and historical success of Ŭich’ŏn’s Ch’ŏnt’ae order have remained controversial, the modern Ch’ŏnt’ae order has struggled to restore Ŭich’ŏn’s reputation by singling out contributions that Ŭich’ŏn made as a founding Korean Ch’ŏnt’ae patriarch.

  • Un-Politicizing the Zainichi Koreans: Representations of a Diasporic Community

Suh-Won Chang, University of Pennsylvania

Scholarly interest in the diaspora and the ramifications of the cross-national spaces they inhabit has increased within South Korea since 2007, when a three-part framework of ‘anti-communism’ (반공주의), ‘emphasis on development’ (개발주의) and ‘nationalism’ (민족주의) was introduced for studying the representation of zainichi Koreans by the South Korean government. This and subsequent studies call attention to and criticize how zainichi Koreans were purposely represented in ways that assisted the formation and consolidation of a South Korean national identity against the enemies of North Korea and Japan. However, they are limited in the fact that they are unable to escape a political framework, thereby failing to consider the actual voices of the zainichi Koreans and the unique perspective they hold in regards to ROK-Japan relations as individuals invested in both countries.

The largely political view of zainichi Koreans have continued into the 2020s. However, recent independent films provide a new perspective that “de-politicizes” the zainichi Koreans as a community not associated ideologically solely with South Korea, North Korea, or Japan. This paper argues that studies limited to a political view of the zainichi Koreans cannot capture the changes in attitude towards the diasporic community. By analyzing newspaper articles from the past 20 years, this paper first tracks how national representations of zainichi Koreans have shifted to images that are less polarizing yet are still limited by political associations to North Korea and Japan. The paper then proceeds to examine three documentary films produced by independent directors who had close and intimate relationships with the featured zainichi Koreans. The enormous positive response these films generated in both South Korea and Japan show that the topic of zainichi Koreans need not be unavoidably political in nature. In doing so, the zainichi community voices a hope for peace in ROK-Japan relations that go beyond the heightened nationalistic sentiments of recent years.

  • Reform or Abolish Domestic Servitude: Gender, Labor, and Postwar Development of South Korea

Da-In Choi, University of California Los Angeles

The nationalist narrative tracing South Korea’s successful transformation from a war-torn, decolonizing country into a highly industrial and modern nation-state focuses on the leadership of the developmental state and financial elites. The robust literature on South Korea’s economic growth and postwar industrialization during the Park Chung Hee era similarly prioritizes the role of the developmental state, corporations, and masculinized factory work. However, according to an estimate in Yŏwŏn, a popular women’s magazine in South Korea, singmo (domestic servants) was one of the largest occupational categories for young women in postwar Seoul. The failure of agricultural policies and the destruction from the Korean War triggered a mass migration from the countryside to the city in the 1960s and 1970s. During the period of postwar industrialization, cultural representations about singmo proliferated in popular media such as magazines, newspapers, and films. Expressing anxiety about singmo’s presence in industrializing Seoul as an obstacle to modernization, intellectuals, reformists, and housewives wrote about the need to abolish or reform practices of servitude. Through in-depth examination of the postwar cultural archive about singmo including photographs, memoirs, and essays, the paper examines how domestic servitude became an important cultural site of navigating competing visions of industrial modernity. The set of contradictory ideologies in the popular representations of singmo as a failed product of colonial modernity yet a vital labor force in industrializing households demonstrates the centrality of singmo’s reproductive labor in shaping cultural and social ideas about the meaning of development. The study illustrates how gendered labor relations became a site of modernity’s formation, and how the historicization of postwar industrialization is rooted in societal disavowal of working-class women’s reproductive labors.


Panel 2: Description/Depiction in Modern Asian Aesthetics

  • Japanese Wartime Landscape: Collected Prints of Sacred, Historic and Scenic Places by Tokuriki Tomikichirō

Maria Puzryeva, University of Pennsylvania

In the years of the Second World War, many Japanese artists took the slogan “Serve the nation by art” to heart, be it for patriotic beliefs or economic benefits. The landscapes in woodblock print format were produced in large numbers during these years, however, this genre has often been overlooked by scholars of wartime art as disconnected from reality. This view is rather far from the truth, as landscapes often served to depict the essence of the national polity (kokutai) much better than the battle scenes. By showcasing famous Japanese locales associated with historical events and Shintō beliefs, these landscapes became “a vehicle for collective Japanese identity” (Winther-Tamaki 2013, 111). They constructed the very ahistorical and essentialized culture on which the state ideology rested. The medium of print is also much better suited for the dissemination of ideas than, for instance, painting. It can be produced in large quantities, easily made into postcards, or printed in newspapers. Using Tokuriki Tomikichirō’s Collected Prints of Sacred, Historic and Scenic Places from the Penn Libraries, I explore the problematic topic of the interconnectedness between the state ideology, print production, and the Shintō establishment in the years of World War II. Tokuriki’s version of Japanese history commences with the Ise Shrines and Emperor Jimmu and concludes with the Hakkō Ichiu Tower in Miyazaki City, Kyūshū, built in 1940. It is the version of history that teaches the mythological events of Japan’s divine creation as objective history and thus, forms the basis of the State Shintō. Thus, this project, by closely examining Collected Prints of Sacred, Historic and Scenic Places, sheds new light on the neglected issue of the connection between the fabrication of history and print production in the years of WWII in Japan.

  • The Reshaping of Modern Landscape: Aesthetic Ideas and Discursive Practice in Yu Dafu’s Travel Writing

Yidan Wang, Duke University

The ways in which nature is watched and represented have changed rapidly alongside modernization in 20th-century China. This can be regarded as the product of an epistemological transformation led by the encounter of Chinese and Western cultures. One of the representatives in this transformation and fusion of seeing is Yu Dafu, who, although he was generally known for his fictions, penned many travel writings and descriptions of nature in the 1930s. Regarding Yu’s travelogue as an embodiment of his translingual and transcultural reflections, this paper reviews previous studies on Yu’s travelogue and investigates its latent creativity and antinomy. This article delves into the stylistic and aesthetic features of Yu’s travelogue to uncover the conservatism and misogyny obscured beneath the seemingly value- neutral landscapes, arguing that Yu’s travelogue is a twofold amalgamation of genres and aesthetics. On the one hand, his travel writing is an adaption and combination of the German Baedeker guidebooks and traditional Chinese travel notes (Youji 遊記). On the other hand, Yu’s texts incorporate aesthetic criteria influenced by different natural concepts, demonstrating both his broad vision ahead of time and his conservatism. Yu’s writing on nature and landscapes, as a discursive practice motivated by the emergence of tourism in his era, is a transboundary dialogue between literature and commerce, and the elite and the general public, while also implicitly denying the common people access to the scenery space. Through a close reading of Yu’s frequently employed tropes—picturesque and feminized scenes—I establish an isomorphic relationship between his views on nature, art, and female. Finally, the antinomy inherent in Yu’s landscape imaginary constructed by creativity and conservatism points to the ambiguity of the New Culture.

  • Mediating as a Union: the relation between texts and images in Chinese Propaganda Posters around the Great Leap Forward

Tiantian Cai, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Chinese posters in the Great Leap Forward were considered as effective propaganda and persuasive instruments for political purposes, circulating amongst workers, peasants, and soldiers in both urban and rural regions at large. This paper addresses the dynamic between the texts and images as a union to achieve political missions. The interaction of texts and image hinges on the cohesion of the coexisting signifier and signified. On the one hand, the formal cohesion, which emphasizes the artistic properties, concerns the positions, colors, and characters’ styles. On the other hand, the conceptual cohesion underlines the relation of syntactic components, semantic components, and grammatical functions with corresponding images, figures, and events that a painting presents. Building upon the text-image cohesion, the mutual transmission of information could be further identified as the bilateral elaboration, extension, compensation, and enhancement. These conjoint operations not only establish a text-image union but also project a “rhetorical cluster,” wherein the rhythm and rhyme of the slogans as well as the repetition and parallel of words supply a reinforced lingual dimension with sounds, thus contributing to the movement of the images. In this light, posters construct an audible and living space filled with a jubilant atmosphere and pervasive enthusiasm waiting to open, potentially visualizing the unrealistic prevision vividly, implanting ideology coded as texts, and involving the audiences into collective production. Thus, the organic union built by sounds, texts, and images, through mutually representing and enhancing, magnifies persuasion’s effectiveness to serve propaganda as a whole.


Panel 3 – The Many Lives of Premodern China

  • Solemn Oaths and Sacred Standards: A History of Two Rituals in Shamanic Contention

Stephen Garrett, University of Pennsylvania

What defines a ritual? Is it its origins, its officiants and its deities, or the conceptual beliefs that animated the participants in that ritual? These questions are central to any discussion of the religio- political order of the Manchu state. The study of the Manchus has been defined by debates over Sinicization and the predominance of Manchu identity. Framed from the standpoint of Sinicization, Manchu ritual was a product of Chinese ideas and rituals which served as a steppingstone towards larger designs on China. However, critics of Sinicization as a concept have worked to complicate this narrative by framing Manchu ritual as a crucial arena of contention while leading a many-faced empire with ties to Inner Asia and patronage of Tibetan-rite Buddhism. Lost in this critique, however, is an examination of Manchu native religion, the archetypal “shamanism,” and its role as the cornerstone of Manchu society, empire-building, and their religio-political system. This underdevelopment of the study of Manchu shamanism is due to a limited definition of what constitutes shamanism and a methodological misconception that rituals must remain phenomenologically consistent across periods, cultures, and political contexts. This paper using multilingual primary sources will examine two political rituals that while not originating among the Manchus were nevertheless fixtures in the creation of a Manchu shamanic ritual order. Building upon a foundation of a more expansive definition of shamanism, this paper argues that the nature of Manchu rituals should be defined by how these rituals were understood by the Manchus and how they fit within a larger shamanism-based cosmological canvas rather than any teleological understanding of a ritual’s origins or destiny as a feeder to a Chinese imperial ritual order. This paper will also seek to historicize the interweaving of religio-political ritual influences on the Manchus from both Chinese and Inner Asian traditions.

  • From Seidenstrassen to The Silk Road

Vito Acosta, University of Pennsylvania

The Silk Road, like any concept, is a product of its time, both the time of its invention and that of its popularization. The fact that the phrase “Silk Road” was chosen indicates something about the people who formulated it. My paper contextualizes the development of the concept regarding both the intellectual and political climate as well as the background of those who first used the term.  

I determined that it is simultaneously Euro-centric and Sino-centric: the former because the name focuses on what the Roman and Greek writers noted and Sino-centric because it does not mention the products received in return and overstates the use of silk, among other reasons. Moreover, the traditional conception implies that the raison d’être of the ‘route’ is to deliver silk to the west, a misleading characterization that discounts the centrality of Central Asia, while, in fact, Central Eurasia was the heart and key of the system and a region full of vitality itself. Prior to 1929, when ‘Silk Road’ was first translated from an English-language academic article which had in turn, taken the term from German scholarship, Chinese did not have a term for the unity of routes to the west, regardless of name. My paper thus highlights the consequences of translation as the term evolved from various German scholars into French and English before reaching Chinese. In each of these iterations, and continuing onward to the present-day, the ‘Silk Road’ grew to encompass ever more both temporally and spatially, expanding significantly, as I show, from the original, limited academic usage into a popular, ambiguous metaphor for globalization.  

  • Gaming mediates and nationalizes the past: Simulacra serialization and the distortions and difficulties inherent in modernizing history

Xiaowan Cai, University of Pennsylvania

My past experience at China’s top gaming firm taught me that traditional culture is not as natural or pure as it looks on the surface. It is not a natural part of any contemporary country. The so-called traditional culture is the contemporary result of the propaganda machine known as university nationalizing pre-modern cultural elements. The difficulties of transformation — much as disciplines like comparative literature struggle to do comparable operations — and the primary reasons for this may become more apparent in practice if we recognize the necessity to modernize traditional culture. This is an essential yet under-discussed subject and a key research point.

The home gaming market with traditional culture as a theme has exploded in recent years. In a broad sense, these games are contemporary efforts to re-mediate traditional Chinese culture. Song of Eternal Sorrow in Painted Land and Nishan Shaman are studied. This work reproduces the distinctive beauty of Chinese classical poetry. The key selling point of Song of Eternal Sorrow in Painted Land is its new media presentation of Traditional Chinese culture. Make the game fit the original meaning of the poetry in Bai Juyi’s Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and it will pass. Painting Everlasting Regret allows digital natives to rediscover the great accomplishments of Chinese traditional literature. Nishan Shaman is perhaps the most thoughtful example of a game re-mediating traditional culture. The main distinction between Nishan Shaman and the game outlined above is that the game’s story and interaction elements merge together cleverly throughout play. Nishan Shaman is a game about the medium transition between auditory and tactile. But more crucially, shamanistic rituals are dominated by sound media, with the shaman curing patients via drumming and chanting. However, using today’s digital technology to replicate the old culture, its medium material, the shaman’s mountain carefully avoids heavy convey the tale of mountain, Thus, traditional culture is remediated.

  • Depicting Concubines in Inner Quarters: The Portrayal of Marginalized Womanhood in South Song China

Doris Tang, University of Pennsylvania

Scholars have stressed in recent decades that whereas elite wives in the Song dynasty (960-1276) still enjoyed a degree of inheritance rights, the social status of women overall turned sour in this epoch. Under the influence of Neo-Confucian teachings, the patriarchal system of the Southern Song (1127-1276) set the foundation for the gender hierarchy from the late middle period onward until the twentieth century. Female voices were omitted from the description of their own lifestyles, leaving them up to interpretation by male authors’ conviction. Artworks and poetry thus barely present a direct depiction of this decline. Consequently, unaccustomed to such direct renderings of feminine beauty and vernacular subject matter, connoisseurs have been disinclined to engage with these paintings on an analytical level. This preference accounts for the lack of scholarly attention so far.

This research examines the portrayed female figures in paintings of Shinü from the Southern Song to present how symbolism permits a material view into the construction of a concubine’s femininity. By doing so, I intend to reclaim the images of concubinage in this era by surveying depictions of these understudied women. Because of their versatility as entertainers, courtesans, and members of domestic staff, concubines were ever-present in upper-class households. And yet, elite women and male literati often criticized them on moral grounds, which resulted in their precarious social-domestic standing. I argue that paintings of Shinü reflect this dynamic and illustrate a compound imagery conveying the judgment of, and desire for, the femininity of concubines.

Contributing new interpretations of the metaphorical and tangible forms of interaction among women and men to the literature on Southern Song Shinü paintings, this study strives to unravel the agency of social interpretation and reception in constructing concubinage by analyzing the use of symbolism in artworks and poetry. In conclusion, dwelling on the middle ground between the literati world and the feminine space dominated by legal wives, concubines were accused of disrupting familial unity, precipitating an unwelcoming social reception for such women.


Panel 4 – Japan and “Japaneseness” Across Time and Space 

  • Japonic Fields: Cultivating National Identity in Small Town Japan

Karen Yoshida Weldon, University of Michigan

Since Japan’s post-war economic growth, rice paddy landscapes have become a prominent symbol of Japanese identity. As rural communities struggle due to population decline and agricultural land is abandoned as farmers dwindle, city dwellers romanticize perfectly manicured rice paddies as representing a uniquely Japanese heritage. While much attention has been paid to this ideology, little scholarship has focused on the role that farming philosophies play into this rhetoric. Through a case studying on a struggling rural city in Ishikawa, Japan, this paper illustrates the importance of farming methods for manifesting a Japanese agricultural identity. In 2010, a group of individuals in the city of Hakui embraced natural cultivation (自然栽培), a farming method that eschews the use of agrichemicals and outside inputs and sees weeds as the basis for fertility. In the past ten years, city leaders have created a support system for this farming method and given the city the moniker, “the Mecca of natural cultivation.” For these leaders, natural cultivation is Japonic, a uniquely Japanese relationship to farming that has been rediscovered after decades of contact with Western nations. Through embracing this philosophy, the city strives to revitalize its farming heritage and become a global model for sustainability.

Drawing on Benedict Anderson and Thongchai Winichakul’s theories of national identity formation and Rebecca Karl’s analysis of “flexible imaginaries,” I argue that methods of working the land can become a mediator of identity for rural communities in Japan. This ideology is constructed through first adopting and then subverting the common symbology of a Japanese agricultural heritage. For a declining rural community, a farming philosophy becomes a way to rebuild itself and assert its relevance on both the national and global stage.

  • Searching for Homes: Burakumin Migrations in the 1920s-1930s

Rory Huang, University of California Los Angeles

By tracing the transnational migration of burakumin between the 1920s and 1930s, this paper discusses how this largely neglected history points to buraku historical research’s tendency to solely focus on the image of “idealized bukuramin” as those who challenged discrimination in their homeland. The historical significance of their experiences lies in the fact that they blur the binaristic distinction between colonial victims and perpetrators as these burakumin’s dreams of economic freedom were forged by participation in imperial agendas. Seeking new economic opportunities, many buraku emigrants left hometowns for Hokkaido, the Americas, the Korea Peninsula, and Manchuria as either government-contract or private- contract migrants. The two decades witnessed the establishment of many emigrant/colonial schools in buraku communities to persuade the poor local population to migrate to the empire’s newly acquired colonies. These schools, funded mainly by their movement leaders with state funds, painted rosy pictures of foreign land of no discrimination. For those settled in Hokkaido and Manchuria under the state-sanctioned programs, many buraku emigrants played the role of settler colonialists in these colonies. They became active participants and imperialist agents in Imperial Japan’s dream of forming the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

It’s easy to dismiss their participation in the migration projects as reactionary or nationalist, but that would leave a whole other important realm of inquiry unexplored: what convinced them to leave the homeland? It’s about the dreams of land, dreams of a world free of discrimination, dreams of being fully Japanese for the first time, and dreams of being able to participate in the agendas of the nation. This paper thus sheds light on how members of subjugated groups as burakumin could also be complicit in (settler) colonialism in pursuing economic freedom, as well as how these emigrants’ desires could pluralize our understanding of liberation.

  • Aesthetics of Self-Censorship in Yoshiya Nobuko’s ‘Yellow Rose”

Alice Liu, Univeristy of Pennsylvania

Studies of censorship in modern Japan largely center on the period from the late 1920s to the end of the Pacific War, when the Japanese government promulgated ever stricter censorship laws aimed at quashing political dissent. But a formal system of press censorship had been in place since 1887; and in the realm of popular magazine fiction, particularly girls’ fiction, the didactic intentions of editors added yet another layer of informal censorship. The environment in which these works were created was certainly not a free one.

This paper seeks to contribute to the growing body of scholarship on modern Japanese genre fiction by complicating the discourse surrounding the censorship of magazine fiction during the pre-war period. It takes as its focus Yoshiya Nobuko’s 1923 short story “Kibara” (“Yellow Rose”), published in the girls’ magazine Shōjo no tomo as part of Yoshiya’s popular story collection Hana monogatari. Yoshiya’s prewar work, including “Yellow Rose,” is decidedly liberal in terms of content matter as compared to her wartime work, which has led scholars to situate the two in clear contrast to each other. However, through a close reading of the aesthetic elements Yoshiya utilizes in “Kibara,” this paper argues that her work even before the war encapsulates an ethos of self-censorship. It shows that in “Kibara,” Yoshiya’s writing style, the generic traditions she worked within, and the fantastical fictional worlds she created allow her to explore topical issues such as gender roles, same-sex romance, and U.S.-Japan relations without posing a direct (and therefore dangerous) challenge to the status quo. 



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