AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 53

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Session 53: Derivations and Detours in the Material and Literary Culture of East Asia

Organizer: Laura Miller, University of Missouri, St. Louis, USA

Chair: Teri Silvio, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Discussant: Marc Moskowitz, University of South Carolina, USA

This interdisciplinary session examines some recent trajectories in popular and folk cultural production in Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, asking how these innovations and practices relate to issues of appropriation, soft power initiatives and cultural identity. In the literary arts and in the making of material artifacts we find that producers and consumers relish the opportunity to rummage through cultural history in order to create meaning and value, yet often face certain anxieties about doing so. Presenters investigate spaces where the Nushu writing system and genre, the classic Tale of Genji, collectible character toys, and divination cards are created and consumed, and what such innovations and resurrections tell us about contemporary concerns and aspirations. By looking at changes in their design and interpretation we hope to draw attention to the highlighted role of reimagined tactile and visual artifacts in contemporary life.

Cute and Novel Japanese Oracle Cards
Laura Miller, University of Missouri, St. Louis, USA

Recently fans of divination and the occult have created and celebrated a new storehouse of exotic Tarot cards and other types of oracle card decks. Tarot cards first became popular in Japan during the 1970s, but recently an escalation in appreciation has driven the production and consumption of original designs and hybrid forms. Catering to devotees of specific themes, manga, or anime, one may buy beautiful, cute and novel decks that feature Gundam, Hello Kitty, Evangelion, Tiny Twin Stars and other adored characters. There are new opportunities for Tarot and oracle card consumption, and divination experts offer extensive menus of card reading services in a wide range of settings. By providing a portrait of the diversity in card types, images, practices, products and services now sought by adherents, this paper will stress the creativity and energy that characterizes this domain, as well as the fresh ways that cultural capital is thereby made available to the mostly female clientele and connoisseur. Divinatory card enthusiasts root through domestic and foreign history in order to resurrect antique forms of magic while also creating and consuming thoroughly modern innovations.

Genji Envisioned: Setouchi Jakuchō and the Genji Boom
Masayo Kaneko, Murray State University, USA

Re-imagined and reinvented, Japan’s “past” becomes enlivened in both literary and popular cultural representations. The Tale of Genji, the eleventh-century classic, is a prime example of this, as witnessed in the 2008-09 nation-wide celebration “The Tale of Genji at the Millennium.” Setouchi Jakuchō, a twentieth-century Japanese writer and a Buddhist nun (and a major figure in contemporary media), is an influential force behind this “Genji boom” with the publication of her modern rendition of the classic and numerous works of interpretation. Addressing ideologies embedded in contemporary literary production, my paper focuses on the significance of Setouchi’s role in the Genji boom, especially the fact that she has made this “high art” available and relevant to the contemporary audience. She has not only helped bring Genji into pop culture in diverse forms, but also adopted for herself, “playfully,” the pop (techno) genre of “cell phone novel,” offering, under the pseudonym of “Pāpuru” (Purple), yet another reiteration of Genji – Ashita no niji (Tomorrow’s Rainbow). Perceived by some as another example of commodification of the literary/religious, Setouchi’s work on Genji, like her other creative endeavors, I argue, continues to dismantle (and/or reconstruct) various “boundaries,” of “time” and “space,” “genre,” and “center-periphery,” thereby subverting existing understandings of the historical while emphasizing (and producing) a multiplicity of meaning. In the context of globalization, Setouchi’s representations of Japan’s “past” function just as other instances of “soft power” do, and this, I argue, with some twists of contradiction.

Figuring (Out) Identity: Vinyl Toy Design in Taiwan and Hong Kong
Teri Silvio, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Taiwan and Hong Kong are both marginal spaces, with virtually no independent voice in the international political arena (Taiwan since 1976 and Hong Kong since 1997), for the past decade losing their economic and cultural power to the growing Chinese market. In this paper, I explore how the designers of original collectible character toys in Taiwan and Hong Kong react in very different ways to the growing pressure to use “cultural creative industries” to develop soft power. This paper will look at their differences in terms of both Taiwan and Hong Kong’s particular post-colonial situations, and the relationships that groups of designers have been able to create global networks in a subcultural market dominated by Japan and the United States. Designers in Taiwan have been relying on local cultural content (especially folk religion and indigenous tribal cultures) to create distinctively Taiwanese characters, but are pessimistic about their ability to create an identifiably local style that is not seen as derivative. Designers in Hong Kong, on the other hand, have developed a very distinctive style which sells well in the global subculture of “kidult” collectors, relying largely on images from global hip-hop culture and science fiction, but see this style as an escape from the hopelessness of Hong Kong identity.

Nüshu and Spinster Deity in Changing Rural China
Fei-Wen Liu, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Nüshu (literally “female writing”), referring to both a script and the literature written in it, circulated exclusively among women in Jiangyong County, Hunan Province in southern China, from at least the late imperial era, though it was unknown to the outside world until 1982. For centuries, Jiangyong women had used nüshu to write about their life experiences in form of sisterhood letter, biography, wedding congratulation, worship prayer, and narrative. More than 500 nüshu works have been collected in the past three decades. Of all, the prayers written to spinster deities worshipped in temples of Huashanmiao and Longyantang are the least studied, partially because only a very few concerning nüshu were gathered and partially because these temples as a symbol of superstition were ruined during the 1950s. These two temples were respectively rebuilt recently when nüshu is on the verge of extinction. Based upon my ethnographic research of Jiangyong nüshu since 1992, this paper will examine the complicated negotiating processes by which these two temples were reconstructed in conjunction with how the text of nüshu prayers (mostly concerning with son-bearing) projects traditional Jiangyong women’s dilemmas structured by the Confucian androcentric institutions. This research aims to lend insight into the issues of China’s one-child policy and cultural tourism in contemporary rural China when nüshu is at the crossroads between endangerment, perpetuation, and museumification.