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Discussing "The tale of the Heike" in the Edo period : didactic commentaries as guides to wise rule for warrior-officials Lushchenko, Alexey

Abstract

In the premodern period, the Tale of the Heike (thirteenth century CE) was regarded either as a source for popular entertainment, such as musical and performing arts, or a historical text used for scholarly purposes. Most studies on the Tale of the Heike’s reception have focused on the work’s literary and artistic side, while scholarly reception has remained neglected. This dissertation explores the use of the Tale of the Heike by seventeenth-century scholars of “military studies” (heigaku or hyōgaku), who compiled treatises and commentaries (gunsho) on leadership, statecraft, history, and ethics aimed at domain lords and warrior-officials of different levels. This study focuses on the category of evaluative commentaries (hyōban) on medieval texts that combined critical discussion, admonition of rulers, and plausible “secrets” in order to caution against mistakes and explain proper leadership. I argue that the commentary Heike monogatari hyōban hidenshō (1650) reinterpreted the courtly and Buddhist content of the Tale of the Heike in terms of pragmatic leadership and ethics relevant to warrior-officials of the Edo period (1603-1868), and that this commentarial appropriation brought the Tale of the Heike into the sphere of warrior-officials’ scholarship and cultivation. The dissertation begins with a detailed overview of the understudied field of military studies in premodern East Asia and Japan. Based on an analysis of primary sources, I then discuss the content and commentarial approaches of evaluative commentary on the Tale of the Heike, its readership and circulation, as well as related texts. The study concludes with a comparative analysis which situates the commentary within the Japanese discourse of historical discussion and admonition, and also places it in the category of didactic guides to statecraft that are found in different cultures and are known as “mirrors for princes.” This study reveals a new facet of the Tale of the Heike’s reception centered on didactic commentarial works influenced by military studies, which constituted an important current in premodern Japanese intellectual history that shaped perceptions of state, society, leadership, and identity of warrior-officials throughout the Edo period.

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