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Fantastic Histories: The Battles of Coxinga and the Preservation of Ming in Japan

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People in Japan reacted to the bewilderment they felt at the fall of Ming by creating a bifurcated view of China, evident in encyclopedias and gazeteers: On the one hand, there was the traditional China represented by the Ming; on the other, there was the new China ruled by the Dattan or the Tatars. Such was the power of the Ming as an image that it endured in Japanese literature and theater for centuries after its fall. This article explores the preservation in popular discourse of the Ming as the most natural representation of China, focusing on Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s hit jōruri play The Battles of Coxinga (Kokusen’ya kassen), first staged in 1715 and produced many times after that, showing how the political turmoil was filtered through both misunderstandings and creative fabrications. It shows that The Battles of Coxinga creates a fantastic image of China, as opposed to the barbaric Dattan, by drawing on historical memories internal to Japan and readily available images of foreignness. I argue that the preservation of the Ming in popular theater offered audiences a means of rethinking Japan’s position as the inheritor of a “universal” Chinese essence in an age when knowledge of the world was being dramatically expanded by imported European cartography, complicating earlier views of a world centered on the Three Realms or the Sinocentric world order.


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