Poetry and Diplomacy in Early Heian Japan The Embassy of Wang Hyoryŏm from Parhae to the Kōnin Court

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Brendan Arkell Morley



This paper examines the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Parhae as it developed over the eighth and early ninth centuries, with particular attention paid to the literary activities surrounding the reception of an embassy dispatched from Parhae to Japan in the year 814. Led by the noted poet Wang Hyoryŏm, the embassy was welcomed enthusiastically by Japan’s Emperor Saga, a sovereign for whom achievements in the realm of statecraft were linked closely to achievements in the realm of poetry. Of the eight poems by Parhae literati that survive in Japanese collections, a full six come from Wang Hyoryŏm’s embassy and are included in the second of Saga’s royal anthologies, Bunka shūreishū. No other foreign embassy is better represented in sources of the era, and none speaks with greater clarity to the nexus between diplomacy, poetry, and court politics that obtained during Emperor Saga’s reign. This study complements previous scholarship concerning the function of poetry in the diplomatic process by explicating the formal properties of poems composed and exchanged at diplomatic encounters, and it contributes to the growing body of work in the field of Japanese kanshibun (poetry and prose in classical Chinese) by foregrounding the role of diplomacy in Emperor Saga’s literary legacy building.

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