In The Tale of Genji and Its Chinese Precursors: Beyond the Boundaries of Nation, Class, and Gender, Jindan Ni departs from a “nativist” tradition which views The Tale of Genji as epitomizing an exclusively Japanese aesthetic distinct from Chinese influence and Buddhist values. Ni contests the traditional focus on Japanese essentialism by detailing the impact of Chinese literary forms and presenting the Japanese Heian Court as a site of dynamic and complex literary interchange. Combining close reading, the archival work of Japanese and Chinese scholars, and comparative literary theory, Ni argues that Murasaki Shikibu avoided the constraint of a single literary tradition by drawing on Chinese intertexts. Ni’s account reveals the heterogeneity that makes The Tale of Genji a masterpiece with enduring appeal.
Jindan Ni is a Chinese lecturer in the Department of Global and Language Studies at RMIT University.
Chapter 1 Passages by the light of the Moon
Chapter 2 Pride, Desire, and the Making of the Living Phantom
Chapter 3 Class, Gender, and Literary Transcendence
Chapter 4 Rethinking the Narratives of Fallen Women
Chapter 5 Repetition, Substitution, and Tragedy
Chapter 6 The Feminine Voice of Subversion and Inversion
This rich study contains many valuable and occasionally inspiring insights that should encourage readers to return to Genji and to Heian literature in general. Ni’s freewheeling cross-cultural bricolage in this volume makes an appealing attempt to revive a kind of Jungian literary criticism that looks at archetypes across culture.
The Tale of Genji and Its Chinese Precursors offers a fresh and remarkable perspective on Murasaki Shikibu’s masterpiece. Previous scholars have signaled the importance of Chinese literature at the Heian court and tracked literary sources and citations. Jindan Ni takes the next literary step, skillfully revealing a continuous dialogue between Chinese and Japanese literatures unfolding in multiple registers in The Tale of Genji, but her master stroke lies in tracing the resonance between this literary dialogism and interactions between women in the novel. The result is an enlarged field of influence, an ongoing process of mutual alteration. This makes The Tale of Genji a work of world literature. Its heroines become harbingers of another possible world of gender.
In this refreshingly novel approach to The Tale of Genji, Jindan Ni provides a much-needed contemporary re-reading of an age-old classic that has made its way into the canon of world literature. Capitalizing on recent advances in literary scholarship, Ni deploys with consummate skill the lenses of feminism, reception, and global literary studies to unravel new layers of meaning in the novel. She argues cogently for the presence of a ‘feminine voice’ that addresses the predicament of female characters, and for Murasaki Shikibu’s assertive reuse of influential Chinese literary antecedents of her time.
Brilliant insights emerge from this analysis of how Murasaki Shikibu (973–after 1013) inventively wove Chinese themes of the suffering of women found in the poetry of Bai Juyi (712–846) and other Chinese sources into The Tale of Genji. Ni suggests, for example, that Lady Rokujō’s murderous living spirit represents a combination of the Japanese idea of wronged male courtiers’ vengeful ghosts with the Chinese idea of the spirits of lovelorn living persons flying off to join their lovers in their dreams. Ni interprets Empress Fujitsubo and the Third Princess as variations on the Chinese motif of transgressive female immortals banished from heaven for their unruly passions. Ni also thinks the outspoken protagonist in The Story of Yingying by Yuan Zhen (779–831) inspired the creation of two minor women characters in The Tale of Genji who openly rebel against men’s infidelity. Deft references to a wide range of theorists, from Aristotle to Nietzsche, Freud, Woolf, and Butler, pepper this provocative discussion of literary influence. Highly recommended.