Vol. 23 (2016)

China as Self, China as Other: On Ki no Tsurayuki's Use of the <em>wa-kan</em> Dichotomy

Gian-Piero Persiani
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


The article discusses Ki no Tsurayuki's strategic othering of "China" (Kara, Morokoshi)  in order to theorize an independent "Yamato" cultural identity. It opens with an overview of the debate on the wa-kan issue in Japanese and Anglo-American scholarship and then moves on to explore Tsurayuki's use of the wa-kan dychotomy in such texts as the KokinshÅ« prefaces (905) and the Tosa nikki (935). Although Tsurayuki often appears to adopt a regionalist stance in his writings, I stress the strategic nature of these claims (his priority was to exalt his genre of choice, not to lambast Chinese forms), and argue against seeing the making of the KokinshÅ« as the beginning of a cultural move away from China. Rather, cases like Tsurayuki's point to the multiplicity of functions that Kara played within Heian culture. With remarkable pliability, Heian Japan's "China" was both unquestionably part of the Heian self and a convenient inner Other in opposition to which new personal, political, ethnic, and cultural identities could be fashioned.