Kyokutei Bakin’s Eight Dogs and Chinese Vernacular Novels

  • Author / Creator
    Shan Ren
  • Kyokutei Bakin’s 曲亭馬琴 (1767-1848) magnum opus Nansō Satomi Hakkenden 南総里見八犬伝 (The Chronicle of the Eight Dogs of the Nansō Satomi Clan; hereafter, Eight Dogs, 1814-42) had been long overlooked by both Japanese and Western academia. Although Eight Dogs has recently received more attention, most scholars still hold an oversimplified view of its relationship with Chinese vernacular novels. They believe that the large number of Chinese fictional narratives Bakin incorporated in Eight Dogs can be divided into two parts: Shuihu zhuan水滸傳 (J. Suikoden; Water Margin) and everything else. This claim seems to be plausible because Bakin was indeed obsessed with Water Margin and he did use Water Margin as one of the main sources for Eight Dogs. However, this claim overlooks the possibility of the existence of other Chinese sources which also strongly influenced the composition of Eight Dogs. This research aims to investigate this possiblity of other important Chinese sources and Bakin’s motive and purpose in basing Eight Dogs on Chinese vernacular novels. In order to discuss Bakin’s use of Chinese vernacular novels in Eight Dogs, it is first and foremost important to identify all the crucial Chinese sources for Eight Dogs. Chapter One lays out Eight Dogs’ three main story lines and its three groups of main characters, among which one story line and a group of main characters match those of Water Margin, and the other two pairs match those of Sanguozhi yanyi 三國志演義 (J. Sangokushi engi; Romance of the Three Kingdoms; hereafter, Three Kingdoms) and Xiyou ji 西遊記 (J. Saiyūki; Journey to the West). The analysis of the dissemination processes of the three Chinese vernacular novels in China and Japan is done in Chapter Two. In addition, this chapter also discusses Bakin’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivations for using the three Chinese novels as the main sources for Eight Dogs. Bakin did not merely imitate the Chinese novels, but reworked the writing techniques, main characters and storylines. Chapter Three explores how and why he revised/rewrote these Chinese vernacular novels in Eight Dogs. The relationship between Eight Dogs and Chinese vernacular novels is much more complicated than that “Eight Dogs is a rough adaptation of Water Margin.” Bakin based Eight Dogs’ three main story lines and its main characters on Water Margin, Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West. As a commercial writer, he was confident that Eight Dogs would be a hit due to the popularity of the three Chinese novels in Edo Japan. Besides, as an admirer of Chinese vernacular novels and an ambitious writer, he aimed to create a work which could surpass them. Furthermore, he used the Chinese novels as a mirror to reflect his ideal world and his dissatisfaction with reality.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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