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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien


Rule by Quotation: The Power of Genroku Culture

1. December 1999

Michael Eastwood, Chicago University

In early modern Japan, the house (ie) was the vessel of legitimate power, and the weight of precedents could overrule the power of its living head. The Genroku era shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (r. 1680-1709), however, asserted his personal power by seeking to transform the nature of precedent itself and deepening its roots into the classical past and anchoring it with the perennial ethical form of benevolence rather than the particular traditions of the house. Creating a new cultural politics guaranteed by benevolent reign, Tsunayoshi and his inner circle used the form of quotation to overpower the warrior past with the depths of the ancient Japanese and Chinese textual worlds. Committed to creating a neo-classical utopia, this program succeeded in transforming the nature of legitimate rule and precedent from a matter of house records to the accomplishment of a moral matrix based on the Confucian classics and Buddhist structures. My talk outlines a revolution in the workings of early modern Japanese power by analyzing its dimensions of legitimacy – culture, precedent, and benevolence.