Oriental Coefficient:
The Role of China in the Japanization of Yôga

By Bert Winther-Tamaki


Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 18, no. 1 (Spring 2006), pp. 85-119


This article explores the manifestation of diverse tropes of China in paintings by Japanese artists who dedicated their careers to the mastery of yôga, or “Western painting.” Yôga was one of the most important movements of modern Japanese painting and the desire for possession of the West that fueled much of this art historical development also brewed a compensatory need to render this nominally Western art form more conducive to the expression of Japanese subjectivities, particularly in the milieu of increasing militarism and imperialism in the early twentieth century. This article argues that tropes of China were deployed as coefficients of change in the process of rendering yôga Japanese or Asian. The Chinese preoccupations of four of the most prominent painters in the canon of early twentieth-century yôga are examined: Fujishima Takeji, Yorozu Tetsugorô, Kishida Ryûsei, and Umehara Ryûzaburô. Their diverse configurations of the Chinese cultural past served as uniquely gratifying vehicles for differentiating their métier of oil-on-canvas from its European precedents by enabling a Japanese authorship of the modernization of the sinocentric heritage of East Asia .

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