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Title: The compassionate saviour and lethal temptresses: Kannon and Femme Fatales in setsuwa literature during the Heian period
Authors: Liaw, Jia Xuan
Keywords: Humanities::History::Asia::Japan
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Liaw, J. X. (2022). The compassionate saviour and lethal temptresses: Kannon and Femme Fatales in setsuwa literature during the Heian period. Final Year Project (FYP), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: Kannon, also known as Avalokiteśvara or Kuan-yin, is the bodhisattva of compassion who remains a popular focus of Buddhist veneration in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Appearing more often than any other deities in medieval Japanese texts, tales of Kannon featured prominently in premodern Japanese tales called setsuwa. Scholarship on setsuwa has focused on the feminine depiction of unusual and supernatural creatures. This thesis extends a different perspective of Kannon beyond a subject of supplication and examines her role in shaping Japanese society during the Heian period. By placing Kannon and other female fantastic across two setsuwa collections into conversation — the Nihon Ryōiki (ca. 822) and the Konjaku Monogatarishū (ca. 1120) — I explore how female fantastic in these tales framed the lives of Japanese men and women. The quasi-historical reality depicted by setsuwa is a period where mortals lived alongside gods, heroes, and the supernatural. Thus, this paper argues that Kannon, as a saviour, dictated the idealized female behaviour. By juxtaposing Kannon against the trope of lethal Temptresses, who often function as literary devices with the aim of policing male behaviour, I argue that Kannon indirectly polices female behaviour in Heian society. Above all, this paper addresses the wanting presence of the divine in secondary literature that has limited contemporaneous understanding of the medieval Japanese worldview about gender and religion.
Schools: School of Humanities 
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:SoH Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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