Nativist legacies of desinicization and nationalist sentiment in poetry during the Second Sino-Japanese War

Dean Brink*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article explores roles poetry played in creating a discourse of Japanese imperialism through both its inherited formal poetics of allusion and its highlighting of Nativist concerns in aestheticizing and naturalizing Japanese colonial and imperial interests in the 1930s and early 1940s and in framing military aggression against China. It explores how the extreme intertextuality in classical poetic modes, revived during the period leading up to the war, helped to blind Japanese to the contradictions within their imperialist and colonialist ideology. Following examples of poetry and song reflecting the ideology of the Japanese Empire and creating a Great East Asian Sphere of Co-prosperity, this article explores in particular the articulation of a national cultural identity crisis in the writings of Yamakawa Hiroshi (1916-1945), whose work foregrounds antiquated Nativist issues of national cultural autonomy and desinicization. These issues were originally expressed by the Nativists as issues related to ancient language and poetry, and with Yamakawa, who studied Nativism, they are again used as such to provide intellectual support for his Japanist and imperialist positions. Thus the desinicization Nativist fantasy of the 18th century comes full circle in the Sino-Japanese War itself, adding to our understanding of the contradictions in Japan's Great East Asian Sphere of Co-prosperity and furthering our understanding of the historical antagonisms within Japan that led to the period of expansionism and fascism. Nativist elements of Japanese nationalism and imperialism are shown to be analogous to the Lacanian traumatic, unknowable Real (little object a) as it is predicated on the impossible recovery of a lost ancient Japanese culture and way of life which has been transformed through the embrace of Chinese language and culture. Thus the symbolic-ideological writing of poetry becomes a screen of symptoms preserving the Nativist fantasy and carrying Japan into disaster.

Original languageEnglish
Article number935127154
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalInter-Asia Cultural Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2011


  • Extreme intertextuality
  • Imperial jouissance
  • Japanese Nativism
  • Japanese poetry
  • Sino-Japanese War in literature
  • Slavoj Žižek


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