Erin Leigh Brightwell

Associate Professor of Pre-modern Japanese Literature, University of Michigan
Faculty Adviser: Thomas Hare

The Mirror of China: Language Selection, Images of China, and Narrating Japan in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333)


"Kara kagami" (The Mirror of China) is something of an enigma--only six of an original ten scrolls survive, and there is no critical edition with comprehensive annotation or previous translation. A work composed for Imperial Prince-cum-Shogun Munetaka by the scion of a distinguished line of Confucian scholars, Fujiwara no Shigenori, on a topic of pressing interest in the thirteenth century--the fate of Continental China--it embodies many of the characteristic concerns of Kamakura Japan. Tensions between privatization and circulation of learning, imperial and warrior authority, Japan's envisioning of China and her relations thereto, as well as a larger cosmological narrative all run through the work. Yet they do so ways that challenge now long-held ideas of language, stance towards the Continent and its traditions, and narratives of generic development and resistance. This dissertation explores the ways in which "The Mirror of China" defies familiar-yet-passé conceptions of medieval Japan. It examines afresh how three issues in medieval discourse--language selection, portrayals of China, and narrating Japan--are refracted in "The Mirror of China" in order to better understand text-based claims of political, cultural, and philosophical authority. "The Mirror of China"'s linguistically diverse manuscripts invite question of the worldviews or allegiances of identity a multilingual text can intimate. Its depiction of China and the implied narratives such a vision creates likewise differ markedly from those of contemporary works. And lastly, the linguistic and thematic innovation it brings to the Heian genre of "Mirror" writing marks a previously obscured turning point in medieval historiographic writing, one that allows an appreciation of the genre as a medieval experiment in crafting histories as legitimating narratives. Drawing on multiple understudied works in addition to better-known writings, this dissertation provides a new understanding of how medieval thinkers exploited languages, images, and traditions in order to create their own visions of authority.