Theses Doctoral

From Translation to Adaptation: Chinese Language Texts and Early Modern Japanese Literature

Hartmann, Nan Ma

This dissertation examines the reception of Chinese language and literature during Tokugawa period Japan, highlighting the importation of vernacular Chinese, the transformation of literary styles, and the translation of narrative fiction. By analyzing the social and linguistic influences of the reception and adaptation of Chinese vernacular fiction, I hope to improve our understanding of genre development and linguistic diversification in early modern Japanese literature. This dissertation historically and linguistically contextualizes the vernacularization movements and adaptations of Chinese texts in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries, showing how literary importation and localization were essential stimulants and also a paradigmatic shift that generated new platforms for Japanese literature.

Chapter 1 places the early introduction of vernacular Chinese language in its social and cultural contexts, focusing on its route of propagation from the Nagasaki translator community to literati and scholars in Edo, and its elevation from a utilitarian language to an object of literary and political interest. Central figures include Okajima Kazan (1674-1728) and Ogyû Sorai (1666-1728). Chapter 2 continues the discussion of the popularization of vernacular Chinese among elite intellectuals, represented by the Ken'en School of scholars and their Chinese study group, "the Translation Society." This chapter discusses the methodology of the study of Chinese by surveying a number of primers and dictionaries compiled for reading vernacular Chinese and comparing such material with methodologies for reading classical Chinese. The contrast indicates the identification of vernacular Chinese as a new register that significantly departed from kanbun. Chapter 3 provides a broader view of the reception of Chinese texts in Japan in the same time period, discussing Hattori Nankaku (1683-1759), a kanshi poet and Ogyû Sorai's successor in literary criticism. Nankaku's contributions include a translation and annotation of the Tang shi xuan (J. Tôshi sen), an anthology of Tang poetry compiled by Ming poet Li Panlong (1514-1570). Such commentaries in accessible Japanese prose reflected the changing readership of Chinese texts, as well as the colloquialization of literary Japanese. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on literary translations and adaptations of Chinese narrative texts in different language styles. Chapter 4 analyzes kanazôshi ("kana booklet") stories by Asai Ryôi (1612?-1691) in comparison to their source text, the Ming Chinese anthology of supernatural stories New Tales Under the Lamplight (Jian deng xin hua). For a comparative perspective on translation style, this chapter also addresses adaptations of the same source story by Korean and Vietnamese authors. Chapter 5 looks into the literati genre of yomihon ("reading books") and focuses on Tsuga Teishô's (1718?-1794?) adaptations of Ming vernacular fiction by Feng Menglong. Teishô, a prolific author considered to be the inventor of this important genre, has been grossly understudied due to the linguistic complexity of his works. His adaptations of Chinese vernacular stories bridged different narrative traditions and synthesized various language styles. This chapter aims to demonstrate Teishô's innovative prose style and the close connections between vernacular Chinese and the development of early yomihon as a sophisticated, experimental genre of popular literature.

This dissertation illustrates the inextricable relationships between language transformation and genre development, between vernacularization and narrative literature. It departs from the long-standing paradigm of Sino-Japanese (wakan) literary study, which treats Sinitic writing as an integral part of Japanese literary discourse, emphasizing rather a comparative linguistic approach that addresses Chinese and Japanese linguistic and literary movements in parallel. Within this framework, this project is intended as a platform for further explorations of issues of cultural interaction and translation literature.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Shirane, Haruo
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 25, 2014