The Master in the Clouds: Imagining Li Yu in Early Modern Japan




The Chinese novelist and playwright Li Yu 李漁 (1610~1680) enjoyed great fame in Japan since the 1690s when he was introduced to Japanese readers of the Tokugawa period. Particularly important in the reception history of Li Yu in Japan was Jieziyuan huazhuan, the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. The reproduction and reinterpretation of Jieziyuan huazhuan in Tokugawa Japan shaped Li Yu’s reputation as a literatus ideal among his Japanese readers in spite of his obscure reputation among his Chinese contemporaries. Through a wide range of primary materials, this article examines the idolization of Li Yu in the middle and late Tokugawa period and argues that it was a result of the misrepresentation of Li Yu as a literati painting master, as well as a hermit fiction writer. The close connection established between him and Jieziyuan huazhuan led to the recognition of him in Tokugawa Japan as one of the greatest literati painting artists. Meanwhile, the imagination of him as a hermit further established his image as the ideal of literati spirit among his Japanese admirers. Such idolization in turn contributed to his reputation in early modern China when his works were re-introduced to Chinese readers in the 1930s.


Author Biography

Jingyi Li, University of Arizona

PhD Candidate in Japanese History,

East Asian Studies Department,