Yano Ryūkei’s popular political novel Keikoku bidan (The Beautiful Story of Statesmanship, 1883-84) is a fictionalization of the dramatic victory of the democrats over the oligarchs in ancient Thebes, and is among the first modern Japanese literary works to be translated into Chinese and Korean. As such, this work may be construed as a typical case of the translation of modern ideas from the European center into an East Asian periphery. But in playing that function, it notably makes an anachronistic use of a style of classical Japanese fiction that, along with its Korean counterpart, had developed in tight relationship to late-imperial Chinese vernacular fiction. The adoption of the classical narrative form of regional provenance allowed Ryūkei to create a political allegorization of democracy whose legitimacy is not just ideologically imposed but indigenously grounded on history, and facilitated its translation into Chinese and Korean. By examining these texts, this article considers an interperipheral structure of literary exchanges that helped enable a transposition of democracy into the region. It thus illuminates a palimpsestic construct of textual circulation in turn-of-the-century East Asia where the modern center-periphery relationship is intersected with the interperipheral dynamics activated by the afterlives of a classical transnational cultural tradition.

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