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Women writers of Chinese poetry in late-Edo period Japan Nagase, Mari

Abstract

his dissertation investigates kanshi poems written by three Japanese women: Ema Saiko (1787-1861), Hara Saihin (1798-1859), and Takahashi Gyokusho (1802-1868). These three women from the late Edo period cultivated excellent literacy in classical Chinese and established their reputations as scholars and poets. However, their works in Chinese have been underestimated in modern scholarship. The goal of my dissertation is to re-situate these highly literary women more accurately in the discourse of "Japanese literature," while challenging established ideas about "women's literature" and "Edo literature." The introductory chapter argues against the dismissal of Edo-period women kanshi writers. Firstly, it examines the general underestimation of women writers from the Edo period and the dismissal of works written in Chinese from the category of "Japanese literature." Secondly, it investigates the late Edo-period cultural and ideological background, which supported the emergence of women kanshi writers. The next three chapters explore works of each poet. Saihin was a vigorous scholar and poet from Kyushu. She lived in Edo for twenty years, determined to make herself a successful Confucian scholar. I illuminate her complex gender identification, as presented in her poems, while describing her astounding aspirations. Ema Saiko, a scholar-painter and poet, is known for her feminine style in the genre of kanshi. While I examine her conscious use of "feminine expressions," I also present the diversity of her poetic subjects. Takahashi Gyokusho from Sendai established herself as an educator and poet in Edo. She often hosted fund-raising literary parties, and published two anthologies during her lifetime. A comparison of Gyokusho and Saihin, two female scholars who lived in Edo, elucidates how affiliations with different poetic societies affected their careers and poetry. The relative prominence of women kanshi writers in the late Edo period becomes clear through this study. The kanshi writers were, indeed, precursors of early modern Japanese women educators and writers. This dissertation bridges the literary effort by women of the Edo and Meiji periods, while contributing to a revision of the history of women's literature in Japan and correcting a distorted image of the literary environment for women of the Edo period.

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