Beauty without Borders A Meiji Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry on Beautiful Women and Sino-Japanese Literati Interactions in the Seventeenth to Twentieth Centuries

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Xiaojing Li



In this paper I investigate a reprint of a Meiji anthology titled Meiren qiantai shi 美人千態詩 (Poems on a thousand manners of beautiful women) by Shang- hai shuju (Shanghai Press) in 1914. This is the first time that this anthology has received critical attention. I examine the poems collected by the anthologist, contextualize the anthology in relation to traditions and trends in Japan and China, and analyze the significance of the poetic tradition centered on images of women for understanding border-crossing literati culture from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries.

My study revises both Japanese and Chinese literary history. I show that the practice of kanshi composition was sustained by major Japanese men of letters through the late Meiji (and even into the Shōwa) era. With the rise of modern Japanese literature, especially in the genre of fiction, it is generally held that there was a rupture between Edo and Meiji-Taisho literature. Within the discursive space carved out by the beauty anthology, however, we see a continuity that unified the Edo and Meiji eras. Furthermore, the Japanese poets’ particular engagement with the subgenre on beautiful women and related sentiments was concurrent with developments among the Chinese literati from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century.

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