Japan and the Contested Center of Eighteenth-Century East Asia
Eighteenth-century Japan is known for the rise of the publishing industry and the spread of sociability through popular media. Reading against this broader historical context, this paper analyzes texts from different literary genres—namely, a guidebook series called The Illustrated Scenic Beauty of Japan (Fusō meishōzu, 1713–28) and The Battles of Coxinga (Kokusen’ya kassen, 1715), followed by its sequel, The Battles of Coxinga in Later Days (Kokusen’ya gonichi kassen). The paper explores what representative qualities and characteristics were considered Japanese in these texts, especially in contrast to the dominant other at that time, China. For example, drawing from a real historical figure, Zheng Chenggong (1624–1662), otherwise known as Coxinga, the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653–1725) produced a tale about the revival of Ming dynastic rule in collaboration with Tokugawa Japan. Given that certain virtues and values held a particular importance in these texts, they can be read analogously with a rise in ambivalence toward the moral and political authority of the shogunate. The changing visions of ideal leadership suggest that the reading public was partaking in the debate about political legitimacy, albeit in the space of popular culture, adding a renewed significance of popular participation to the production of communal identity during the era known as the “Great Peace under heaven” (tenka taihei).