- China Reinterpreted: Staging the Other in Muromachi Noh Theatre by Leo Shingchi Yip
China Reinterpreted is the first comprehensive scholarship on how Japanese nō theatre responded, incorporated, used, re-interpreted, and represented Chinese themes and characters during the late medieval Muromachi period. Implementing various theories on the dichotomy of Self vs. Other, Leo Shingchi Yip analyzes eleven Chinese-themed nō plays, examining three key factors—"the sociopolitical climate, the patrons and audiences of noh, and the dramaturgy of noh" (p. 16)—and reveals how those factors contributed to a specific presentation of China in each play. Those specific presentations are divided into five different categorizations of the other that comprise each chapter:
1. The "Auspicious Other": Celebrating with Chinese Deities in Seiōbo, Tōbōsaku, and Tsurukame
2. The "Sympathetic Other" and the "Distanced Self": Recasting Legendary Chinese Beauties in Shōkun and Yōkihi
3. The "Exotic Other": The Spectacular China in Shakkyō and Ryōko
4. The "Destructive Other": Threats from China in Haku Rakuten and Zegai
5. The "Harmonious Other" and the "United Self": The Socially and Religiously United Chinese in Sanshō and Tōsen
Each chapter traces in detail original Chinese themes and/or characters, how they have been depicted in various forms of literature, painting, dance, and music both in China and Japan, their socio-political backgrounds and religious implications, the aesthetic and popular tendencies of nō playwrights and patrons/audiences of the specific historical period, and how nō dramaturgy incorporated these into specific plays.
To set the stage for such extensive investigations in the ensuing chapters, Yip provides a comprehensive account of the long [End Page 270] Sino-Japanese relationship in the "Introduction." There, he pays close attention to the Muromachi period, to various theories of the other and the self, and to the Muromachi practice of adapting Chinese themes and characters into nō plays. He references both contemporaneous secret treatises of nō (written during the Muromachi period) and modern theories on audience, and proposes that "the Japanese Self is indeed fluid and the Chinese motifs are incorporated according to the need of the changing Japanese Self" (p. 16). Further in "Conclusion," Yip concisely summarizes the argument of each chapter and concludes that "the China depicted in the Chinese play is not 'the Other,' but … a 'modified Self,'" that is at once the present self—a product of contemporary context—but at the same time a construction that would have been impossible without the past self, earlier Japanese works and interpretative practices (pp. 178–179).
The concepts and image of the other and the self in this study are depicted as ever evolving, as is the very Sino-Japanese context, which continuously responds to ever changing social and sociopolitical conditions. This study deftly portrays that fluid yet multi-layered state of cultural construction, in the frame of the Chinese plays in the nō repertory of Muromachi period. In doing so, it sheds new light on the understanding of medieval nō theatre, and how it interpreted and staged its major "other." By extension (as Yip states in "Conclusion"), this work invites and sets the stage for future study on curatorial practices of Chinese plays in subsequent periods, and at particular historical junctures (p. 180). Such a study would do well to lean on Yip's book as a detailed, yet concise theoretical framework.
Both appendixes, "An Annotated Translation of Yōkihi" and "A List of Chinese Plays with Selected Bibliography," are helpful and informative. The former provides details of Yōkihi, one of the featured plays in this study, revealing how its actual text is structured and laid out, and offering the reader a chance to trace the unfolding argument, while referencing an actual play text. The latter, offering other Chinese plays not featured in this study, including bangai kyoku (plays that are no longer performed), caters to the reader's curiosity for further investigation.
Minor mistakes occur. For example, introducing representative plays for the discussion of the exotic Other, the author refers to "three plays...