Comparative History of East Asian Literatures

In 2014 the International Comparative Literature Association commissioned a cross-border, multilingual history of the literature of the East Asian region, reaching back to the beginnings of writing. Such a project is unprecedented. Good histories of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other East Asian literatures already exist, some of them written in European languages. But they are typically organized so as to make the development of the national tradition appear to be a self-sustaining process. A history in the comparative mode will not reduplicate those histories but give its attention to the interacting elements in East Asian literary history, elements the national focus of existing histories has hitherto underemphasized. Much has been written on cultural interactions between Asia and Europe, but the cross-pollination of texts and ideas within the region has a much longer history and deserves independent treatment.

The Research Committee is convening scholars from many countries to compile a history of cultural transfer, of influences, of migrating genres, forms, plots and ideas. The regional cultures of East Asia are porous; none is an island (indeed the “island culture” of Japan is perhaps the most porous of all). The major national literature in the region, that of China, has integrated philosophies, forms, motifs and materials from India, from the nomadic peoples on the northern frontier, from the Central Asian corridor, from Tibet, from the southern highlands, and from the cultures Chinese merchants and emissaries encountered in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Though the Chinese language, with its peculiarities of script, has the reputation of being resistant to external influences, this is easily shown to be an exaggeration. In addition to Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, with their Chinese-script heritage, other languages sure to play significant roles in the project are Tibetan, Tangut, Mongolian, Manchu, Turkic, and Sogdian.

Similar interchanges can be mapped for each of the other countries of East Asia. It will be no easy task bringing clarity and order to these often neglected histories. An editorial committee is drawing up the geographical and historical bounds of each of a probable 6 or 7 volumes that the project will eventually produce. We are eagerly recruiting editors specializing in sub-areas of our topic and seeking contributors and translators (many chapters, we expect, will be translated from other languages into English for publication). In the first few years of the project, members have met in Utrecht and Chicago to plan the volumes. These discussions continued during the 2019 Congress in Macau.

Potential contributors—including any scholar writing in any language about cross-border literary and cultural phenomena within East Asia—are invited to contact the committee president about their topic of interest.

Chair: Haun Saussy, University of Chicago, USA

Wiebke Denecke, Boston University, USA
Yorimitsu Hashimoto, Osaka University, Japan
Ge Zhaoguang, Fudan University, PRC
Abhishek Jain, University of Poznán, Poland
Kenichi Kamigaito, Otsuma Women’s University, Japan
Khor Boon Eng, Tunku Abdul Rahman University, Malaysia
Noriko Hiraishi, University of Tsukuba, Japan
Hou Jue, University of Chicago, USA
Kenichi Kamigaito, Otemae University, Japan
Ulrich Timme Kragh, University of Poznán, Poland
Wei-cheng Lin, University of Chicago, USA
Chandra Mohan, Comparative Literature Association of India
Francesca Orsini, University of London, UK
Hitoshi Oshima, Fukuoka University, Japan
Sangjin Park, Busan University of Foreign Studies, ROK
Sowon Park, University of California – Santa Barbara, USA
John Duong Phan, Columbia University, USA
Neil Schmid, Dunhuang Academy, PRC
Magdalena Szpindler, University of Poznán, Poland
Karen Thornber, Harvard University, USA
Makoto Tokumori, University of Tokyo, Japan
Yang Huilin, Renmin University, PRC
Nicholas Wong, University of Chicago, USA
Sylvia Wu, University of Chicago, USA
Zhang Longxi, City University of Hong Kong, HKSAR
Zhou Xiaoyi, Peking University, PRC
[… the list remains open…]

To download the yearly reports of the Committee to the ICLA, click below: