Director, Monumenta Nipponica Institute, Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan
Angela Yiu's profile
Sōseki Translating China
This paper shows how Sōseki delivers two diametrically opposite China to the reader in his works. With his profound knowledge and interest in kanshi (Chinese poetry), kangaku (Chinese learning), and Chinese art and philosophy, Sōseki was at the head of a list of what Japanese scholars and critics termed “Shinatû” (connoisseurs of things Chinese), a list that include some of his Meiji contemporaries as well as Taishō writers such as Akutagawa, Satō Haruo, Tanizaki, and Nakajima Atsushi. However, in contrast to his mastery of classical Chinese, Sōseki had no knowledge of the modern Chinese language. Thus there are at least two categorically different and contradicting China in his works: one is the utopian, ancient, aesthetic world incorporated in the form of kanshi, visual imagery, philosophy, and legends in his works, as in his kanshi and Kusamakura, while the other is the impoverished, savage, gritty, and unhygienic reality that he recorded in his travel journal Mankan tokorodokoro (Here and there in Manchuria and Korea, 1910) and diary. Apart from having to negotiate China as utopia in his mind and dystopia in reality, Sōseki also reflects on Japan’s status as a rising colonizer both in relation to China and the Western colonizers he encountered in his travels. This presentation will focus on Sōseki’s encounter with China in reality, in a landscape and language simultaneously dear and alien to him, and how he negotiates and translates his experience, both intensely intellectual and physical, of traveling through northern China as an individual and a national of a rising empire.