Ryukyu Kingdom

Ryukyu Kingdom

Anthem: " Ishinagu nu uta" ( 石なぐの歌) [1]
Ryukyu orthographic.svg
Capital Shuri
Common languages Ryukyuan (native languages), Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese
Ethnic groups
Ryukyuan religion, Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism
Government Monarchy
King (國王)  
• 1429–1439
Shō Hashi
• 1477–1526
Shō Shin
• 1587–1620
Shō Nei
• 1848–1879
Shō Tai
Sessei (摂政)  
• 1666–1673
Shō Shōken
Regent (國師)  
• 1751–1752
Sai On
Legislature Shuri cabinet (首里王府), Sanshikan (三司官)
• Unification
5 April 1609
• Reorganized into Ryukyu Domain
27 March 1879
2,271 km2 (877 sq mi)
Currency Ryukyuan, Chinese, and Japanese mon coins[3]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Empire of Japan
Satsuma Domain
Ryukyu Domain
Today part of  Japan

The Ryukyu Kingdom[a] was a kingdom in the Ryukyu Islands from 1429 to 1879. It was ruled as a tributary state of imperial China by the Ryukyuan monarchy, who unified Okinawa Island to end the Sanzan period, and extended the kingdom to the Amami Islands and Sakishima Islands. The Ryukyu Kingdom played a central role in the maritime trade networks of medieval East Asia and Southeast Asia despite its small size. The Ryukyu Kingdom became a vassal state of the Satsuma Domain of Japan after the invasion of Ryukyu in 1609 but retained de jure independence until it was transformed into the Ryukyu Domain by the Empire of Japan in 1872.[b] The Ryukyu Kingdom was formally annexed and dissolved by Japan in 1879 to form Okinawa Prefecture, and the Ryukyuan monarchy was integrated into the new Japanese nobility.


Origins of the Kingdom

Royal seal of the Ryukyu Kingdom ( 首里之印)

In the 14th century, small domains scattered on Okinawa Island were unified into three principalities: Hokuzan (北山, Northern Mountain), Chūzan (中山, Central Mountain), and Nanzan (南山, Southern Mountain). This was known as the Three Kingdoms, or Sanzan (三山, Three Mountains) period.[citation needed] Hokuzan, which constituted much of the northern half of the island, was the largest in terms of land area and military strength but was economically the weakest of the three. Nanzan constituted the southern portion of the island. Chūzan lay in the center of the island and was economically the strongest. Its political capital at Shuri, Nanzan was adjacent to the major port of Naha, and Kume-mura, the center of traditional Chinese education. These sites and Chūzan as a whole would continue to form the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom until its abolition.[citation needed]

Many Chinese people moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or to engage in business during this period[citation needed]. At the request of the Ryukyuan King, the Ming Chinese sent thirty-six Chinese families from Fujian to manage oceanic dealings in the kingdom in 1392, during the Hongwu emperor's reign. Many Ryukyuan officials were descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers.[6] They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations.[7][8][9] On 30 January 1406, the Yongle Emperor expressed horror when the Ryukyuans castrated some of their own children to become eunuchs to serve in the Ming imperial palace. Emperor Yongle said that the boys who were castrated were innocent and did not deserve castration, and he returned them to Ryukyu, and instructed the kingdom not to send eunuchs again. According to statements by Qing imperial official Li Hongzhang in a meeting with Ulysses S. Grant, China had a special relationship with the island and the Ryukyu had paid tribute to China for hundreds of years, and the Chinese reserved certain trade rights for them in an amicable and beneficial relationship.[10]

These three principalities (tribal federations led by major chieftains) battled, and Chūzan emerged victorious. The Chūzan leaders were officially recognized by Ming dynasty China as the rightful kings over those of Nanzan and Hokuzan, thus lending great legitimacy to their claims. The ruler of Chūzan passed his throne to King Hashi; Hashi conquered Hokuzan in 1416 and Nanzan in 1429, uniting the island of Okinawa for the first time, and founded the first Shō Dynasty. Hashi was granted the surname "Shō" (Chinese: ; pinyin: Shàng) by the Ming emperor in 1421, becoming known as Shō Hashi (Chinese: 尚巴志; pinyin: Shàng Bāzhì).[citation needed]

Shō Hashi adopted the Chinese hierarchical court system, built Shuri Castle and the town as his capital, and constructed Naha harbor. When in 1469 King Shō Toku, who was a grandson of Shō Hashi, died without a male heir, a palatine servant declared he was Toku's adopted son and gained Chinese investiture. This pretender, Shō En, began the Second Shō Dynasty. Ryukyu's golden age occurred during the reign of Shō Shin, the second king of that dynasty, who reigned from 1478 to 1526.[11]

The kingdom extended its authority over the southernmost islands in the Ryukyu archipelago by the end of the 15th century, and by 1571 the Amami Ōshima Islands, to the north near Kyūshū, were incorporated into the kingdom as well.[12] While the kingdom's political system was adopted and the authority of Shuri recognized, in the Amami Ōshima Islands, the kingdom's authority over the Sakishima Islands to the south remained for centuries at the level of a tributary-suzerain relationship.[13]

Golden age of maritime trade

For nearly two hundred years, the Ryukyu Kingdom would thrive as a key player in maritime trade with Southeast and East Asia.[14][15] Central to the kingdom's maritime activities was the continuation of the tributary relationship with Ming dynasty China, begun by Chūzan in 1372,[12][c] and enjoyed by the three Okinawan kingdoms which followed it. China provided ships for Ryukyu's maritime trade activities,[16] allowed a limited number of Ryukyuans to study at the Imperial Academy in Beijing, and formally recognized the authority of the King of Chūzan, allowing the kingdom to trade formally at Ming ports. Ryukyuan ships, often provided by China, traded at ports throughout the region, which included, among others, China, Đại Việt (Vietnam), Japan, Java, Korea, Luzon, Malacca, Pattani, Palembang, Siam, and Sumatra.[17]

Seal from Qing China giving authority to the King of Ryukyu to rule.
The main building of Shuri Castle

Japanese products—silver, swords, fans, lacquerware, folding screens—and Chinese products—medicinal herbs, minted coins, glazed ceramics, brocades, textiles—were traded within the kingdom for Southeast Asian sappanwood, rhino horn, tin, sugar, iron, ambergris, Indian ivory, and Arabian frankincense. Altogether, 150 voyages between the kingdom and Southeast Asia on Ryukyuan ships were recorded in the Rekidai Hōan, an official record of diplomatic documents compiled by the kingdom, as having taken place between 1424 and the 1630s, with 61 of them bound for Siam, 10 for Malacca, 10 for Pattani, and 8 for Java, among others.[17]

The Chinese policy of haijin (海禁, "sea bans"), limiting trade with China to tributary states and those with formal authorization, along with the accompanying preferential treatment of the Ming Court towards Ryukyu, allowed the kingdom to flourish and prosper for roughly 150 years.[18] In the late 16th century, however, the kingdom's commercial prosperity fell into decline. The rise of the wokou threat among other factors led to the gradual loss of Chinese preferential treatment;[19] the kingdom also suffered from increased maritime competition from Portuguese traders.[12]

Japanese invasion and subordination

Around 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi asked the Ryukyu Kingdom to aid in his campaign to conquer Korea. If successful, Hideyoshi intended to then move against China. As the Ryukyu Kingdom was a tributary state of the Ming dynasty, the request was refused. The Tokugawa shogunate that emerged following Hideyoshi's fall authorized the Shimazu familyfeudal lords of the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture)—to send an expeditionary force to conquer the Ryukyus. The subsequent invasion took place in 1609, but Satsuma still allowed the Ryukyu Kingdom to find itself in a period of "dual subordination" to Japan and China, wherein Ryukyuan tributary relations were maintained with both the Tokugawa shogunate and the Chinese court.[12]

Occupation occurred fairly quickly, with some fierce fighting, and King Shō Nei was taken prisoner to Kagoshima and later to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). To avoid giving the Qing any reason for military action against Japan, the king was released two years later and the Ryukyu Kingdom regained a degree of autonomy;[20] however, the Satsuma domain seized control over some territory of the Ryukyu Kingdom, notably the Amami-Ōshima island group, which was incorporated into the Satsuma domain and remains a part of Kagoshima Prefecture, not Okinawa Prefecture, to this day.

The kingdom was described by Hayashi Shihei in Sangoku Tsūran Zusetsu, which was published in 1785.[21]

Tributary relations

Ryukyu Trading Port (circa 18th century)
An 1832 Ryukyuan mission to Edo, Japan; 98 people with a music band and officials.
Traditional Ryukyuan clothes in late period, which were much closer to the Japanese kimono.

In 1655, tribute relations between Ryukyu and Qing dynasty (the dynasty that followed Ming in 1644) were formally approved by the shogunate. This was seen to be justified, in part, because of the desire to avoid giving Qing any reason for military action against Japan.[20]

Since Ming China prohibited trade with Japan, the Satsuma domain, with the blessing of the Tokugawa shogunate, used the trade relations of the kingdom to continue to maintain trade relations with China. Considering that Japan had previously severed ties with most European countries except the Dutch, such trade relations proved especially crucial to both the Tokugawa shogunate and Satsuma domain, which would use its power and influence, gained in this way, to help overthrow the shogunate in the 1860s.[citation needed]

The Ryukyuan king was a vassal of the Satsuma daimyō, but his land was not considered as part of any han (fief): up until the formal annexation of the islands and abolition of the kingdom in 1879, the Ryukyus were not truly considered part of Japan, and the Ryukyuan people were not considered to be Japanese.[citation needed] Though technically under the control of Satsuma, Ryukyu was given a great degree of autonomy, to best serve the interests of the Satsuma daimyō and those of the shogunate, in trading with China. Ryukyu was a tributary state of China, and since Japan had no formal diplomatic relations with China, it was essential that China not realize that Ryukyu was controlled by Japan. Thus, Satsuma—and the shogunate—was obliged to be mostly hands-off in terms of not visibly or forcibly occupying Ryukyu or controlling the policies and laws there. The situation benefited all three parties involved—the Ryukyu royal government, the Satsuma daimyō, and the shogunate—to make Ryukyu seem as much a distinctive and foreign country as possible. Japanese were prohibited from visiting Ryukyu without shogunal permission, and the Ryukyuans were forbidden from adopting Japanese names, clothes, or customs. They were even forbidden from divulging their knowledge of the Japanese language during their trips to Edo; the Shimazu family, daimyōs of Satsuma, gained great prestige by putting on a show of parading the King, officials, and other people of Ryukyu to and through Edo. As the only han to have a king and an entire kingdom as vassals, Satsuma gained significantly from Ryukyu's exoticness, reinforcing that it was an entirely separate kingdom.[citation needed]

Japan ordered tributary relations to end in 1875 after the tribute mission of 1874 was perceived as a show of submission to China.[22]

Annexation by the Japanese Empire

In 1872, Emperor Meiji unilaterally declared that the kingdom was then Ryukyu Domain.[23][24][25] At the same time, the appearance of independence was maintained for diplomatic reasons with Qing China[26] until the Meiji government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom when the islands were incorporated as Okinawa Prefecture on 27 March 1879.[27] The Amami-Ōshima island group which had been integrated into Satsuma Domain became a part of Kagoshima Prefecture.

The last king of Ryukyu was forced to relocate to Tokyo, and was given a compensating kazoku rank as Marquis Shō Tai.[28][29][page needed] Many royalist supporters fled to China.[30] The king's death in 1901 diminished the historic connections with the former kingdom.[31] With the abolition of the aristocracy after World War II, the Sho family continues to live in Tokyo.[32]

Major events

List of Ryukyuan kings

Kings of Ryukyu Islands
Name Chinese characters Reign Dynasty Notes
Shunten 舜天 1187–1237 Shunten Dynasty
Shunbajunki 舜馬順熈 1238–1248 Shunten Dynasty
Gihon 義本 1249–1259 Shunten Dynasty
Eiso 英祖 1260–1299 Eiso Dynasty
Taisei 大成 1300–1308 Eiso Dynasty
Eiji 英慈 1309–1313 Eiso Dynasty
Kings of Chūzan
Tamagusuku 玉城 1314–1336 Eiso Dynasty
Seii 西威 1337–1354 Eiso Dynasty
Satto 察度 1355–1397 Satto Dynasty
Bunei 武寧 1398–1406 Satto Dynasty
Shō Shishō 尚思紹 1407–1421 First Shō Dynasty
Shō Hashi 尚巴志 1422–1429 First Shō Dynasty as King of Chūzan
Kings of Ryukyu
Name Chinese characters Reign Line or Dynasty Notes
Shō Hashi 尚巴志 1429–1439 First Shō Dynasty as King of Ryukyu
Shō Chū 尚忠 1440–1442 First Shō Dynasty
Shō Shitatsu 尚思達 1443–1449 First Shō Dynasty
Shō Kinpuku 尚金福 1450–1453 First Shō Dynasty
Shō Taikyū 尚泰久 1454–1460 First Shō Dynasty
Shō Toku 尚徳 1461–1469 First Shō Dynasty
Shō En 尚圓 1470–1476 Second Shō Dynasty a.k.a. Kanemaru Uchima
Shō Sen'i 尚宣威 1477 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Shin 尚真 1477–1526 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Sei 尚清 1527–1555 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Gen 尚元 1556–1572 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Ei 尚永 1573–1586 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Nei 尚寧 1587–1620 Second Shō Dynasty ruled during Satsuma invasion; first king to be Satsuma vassal
Shō Hō 尚豊 1621–1640 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Ken 尚賢 1641–1647 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Shitsu 尚質 1648–1668 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Tei 尚貞 1669–1709 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Eki 尚益 1710–1712 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Kei 尚敬 1713–1751 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Boku 尚穆 1752–1795 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō On 尚温 1796–1802 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Sei (r. 1803) 尚成 1803 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Kō 尚灝 1804–1828 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Iku 尚育 1829–1847 Second Shō Dynasty
Shō Tai 尚泰 1848 – 11 March 1879 Second Shō Dynasty last King of Ryukyu (then Japanese Marquis 1884–1901)

In popular culture

In the video game Europa Universalis IV there is an achievement called The Three Mountains, which is achieved by conquering the world as the Ryukyu Kingdom.[35]

See also

Location of the Ryukyu Islands
Hokuzan, Chūzan, Nanzan