The Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawan: 琉球國 Ruuchuu-kuku; Japanese: 琉球王国 Ryūkyū Ōkoku; Middle Chinese: Ljuw-gjuw kwok; historical English name: Lewchew, Luchu, and Loochoo) was an independent kingdom that ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th to the 19th century.[note 1] The kings of Ryukyu unified Okinawa Island and extended the kingdom to the Amami Islands in modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Sakishima Islands near Taiwan. Despite its small size, the kingdom played a central role in the maritime trade networks of medieval East and Southeast Asia, especially the Malacca Sultanate.
|Common languages||Ryukyuan (native languages), Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese|
|Religion||Ryukyuan religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism|
|Regent (國師, Kokushi)|
|Legislature||Shuri cabinet (首里王府), Sanshikan (三司官)|
|April 5, 1609|
• Reorganized into Ryukyu Domain
• Annexed by Japan
|March 27 1879|
|2,271 km2 (877 sq mi)|
|Currency||Ryukyuan, Chinese, and Japanese mon coins|
|Today part of||Japan|
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. 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.
Many Chinese people moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or to engage in business during this period. 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. They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations. 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.
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 received the surname "Shō" (Chinese: "Shang") 尚 from the Ming emperor in 1421, becoming known as Shō Hashi (Chinese: Shang Bazhi) 尚巴志.
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.
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. 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.
For nearly two hundred years, the Ryukyu Kingdom would thrive as a key player in maritime trade with Southeast and East Asia. Central to the kingdom's maritime activities was the continuation of the tributary relationship with Ming dynasty China, begun by Chūzan in 1372,[note 2] and enjoyed by the three Okinawan kingdoms which followed it. China provided ships for Ryukyu's maritime trade activities, 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.
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.
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. In the late 16th century, however, the kingdom's commercial prosperity fell into decline. The rise of the wokou ("Japanese pirate") threat among other factors led to the gradual loss of Chinese preferential treatment; the kingdom also suffered from increased maritime competition from Portuguese traders.
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 family—feudal 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.
Occupation occurred fairly quickly, with some fierce fighting, and King Shō Nei was taken prisoner to Kagoshima and later to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). When he was released two years later, the Ryukyu Kingdom regained a degree of autonomy; 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Japan ordered tributary relations to end in 1875 after the tribute mission of 1874 was perceived as a show of submission to China.
In 1872, Emperor Meiji unilaterally declared that the kingdom was then Ryukyu Domain. At the same time, the fiction of independence was maintained for diplomatic reasons until the Meiji Japanese government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom when the islands were incorporated as Okinawa Prefecture on 27 March 1879. 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. His death in 1901 diminished the historic connections with the former kingdom. The Sho family now lives normally in Japan. Many royalists fled to China.
|Name||Chinese characters||Reign||Line or Dynasty||Notes|
|Shō Shishō||尚思紹||1407–21||First Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Hashi||尚巴志||1422–29||First Shō Dynasty||as King of Chūzan|
|Name||Chinese characters||Reign||Line or Dynasty||Notes|
|Shō Hashi||尚巴志||1429–39||First Shō Dynasty||as King of Ryukyu|
|Shō Chū||尚忠||1440–42||First Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Shitatsu||尚思達||1443–49||First Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Kinpuku||尚金福||1450–53||First Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Taikyū||尚泰久||1454–60||First Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Toku||尚徳||1461–69||First Shō Dynasty|
|Shō En||尚円||1470–76||Second Shō Dynasty||AKA 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||1527–55||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Gen||尚元||1556–72||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Ei||尚永||1573–86||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||1621–40||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Ken||尚賢||1641–47||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Shitsu||尚質||1648–68||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Tei||尚貞||1669–1709||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Eki||尚益||1710–12||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Kei||尚敬||1713–51||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Boku||尚穆||1752–95||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||1804–28||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Iku||尚育||1829–47||Second Shō Dynasty|
|Shō Tai||尚泰||1848 – March 11, 1879||Second Shō Dynasty||last King of Ryukyu (then Japanese Marquis 1884–1901)|
In the videogame Europa Universalis IV there is an achievement called The Three Mountains, which is achieved by conquering the world as the Ryukyu Kingdom. It is considered to be one of the hardest in-game achievements, thought to be an impossible one for a long time, due to Ryukyu's limited resources and isolation.
The administrative divisions of the Ryukyu Kingdom were a hierarchy composed of districts, magiri, cities, villages, and islands established by the Ryukyu Kingdom throughout the Ryukyu Islands.Bingata
Bingata (Okinawan: 紅型, literally "red style") is an Okinawan traditional resist dyed cloth, made using stencils and other methods. It is generally brightly colored and features various patterns, usually depicting natural subjects such as fish, water, and flowers. Bingata is worn during traditional Ryūkyū arts performances and historical reenactments.
Bingata dates from the Ryūkyū Kingdom period (c. 14th century), when the island of Okinawa experienced an influx of foreign goods and manufacturing techniques. It is believed to have developed as a synthesis of Indian, Chinese, and Javanese dying processes.Chūzan
Chūzan (中山) was one of three kingdoms which controlled Okinawa in the 14th century. Okinawa, previously controlled by a number of local chieftains or lords, loosely bound by a paramount chieftain or king of the entire island, split into these three more solidly defined kingdoms within a few years after 1314; the Sanzan period thus began, and would end roughly one hundred years later, when Chūzan's King Shō Hashi conquered Hokuzan in 1419 and Nanzan in 1429.
The united Okinawan state was called the Ryūkyū Kingdom, but would continue to be referred to as "Chūzan" in various official documents of the Ryukyuan royal government, and those of many other states in the region.Chūzan Seifu
Chūzan Seifu (中山世譜, lit. Genealogy book of Chūzan) was an official history of the Ryūkyū Kingdom compiled between 1697 and 1701 by a group of scholar-officials led by Sai Taku. It was a Kanbun translated version of Chūzan Seikan.
Later, it was rewritten into Classical Chinese by Sai Taku's famous son Sai On in 1725, and expanded each year until 1876.Genealogy of the Shō Dynasties
The First Shō Dynasty and Second Shō Dynasty ruled the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1406–1469 and 1470–1879, respectively. In spite of the names, they were unrelated. Abbreviated genealogies of the two dynasties follow here.Hokuzan
Hokuzan (北山) was one of three kingdoms which controlled Okinawa in the 14th century. Okinawa, previously controlled by a number of local chieftains or lords, loosely bound by a paramount chieftain or king of the entire island, split into these three more solidly defined kingdoms within a few years after 1314; the Sanzan period thus began, and would end roughly one hundred years later, when Chūzan's King Shō Hashi conquered Hokuzan in 1416 and Nanzan in 1429.Imperial Chinese missions to the Ryukyu Kingdom
Imperial Chinese missions to the Ryukyu Kingdom were diplomatic missions which were intermittently sent by the Yuan, Ming and Qing emperors to Shuri, Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands. These diplomatic contacts were within the Sinocentric system of bilateral and multinational relationships in East Asia.
Some missions were sent to perform investiture ceremonies for the King of Ryukyu, formally acknowledging him as King on behalf of the Chinese Imperial Court, and as a tributary subordinate.List of monarchs of Ryukyu Islands
The list of monarchs of the Ryukyu Islands extends from chief Shunten in the 12th century to the last king in the 19th century.Nanzan
Nanzan (南山), sometimes called Sannan (山南), was one of three kingdoms which controlled Okinawa in the 14th century. Okinawa, previously controlled by a number of local chieftains or lords, loosely bound by a paramount chieftain or king of the entire island, split into these three more solidly defined kingdoms within a few years after 1314; the Sanzan period thus began, and would end roughly one hundred years later, when Chūzan's King Shō Hashi conquered Hokuzan in 1419 and Nanzan in 1429.Okinawan martial arts
Okinawan martial arts refers to the martial arts, such as karate, tegumi and Okinawan kobudō, which originated among the indigenous people of Okinawa Island. Due to its central location, Okinawa was influenced by various cultures with a long history of trade and cultural exchange, including Japan, China and Southeast Asia, that greatly influenced the development of martial arts on Okinawa.Pechin
Pechin (親雲上, Peechin), or Pekumi (親雲上, Peekumi), was a rank among the Yukatchu class of the former Ryukyu Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa, Japan), above the rank of Satunushi and below the rank of Ueekata. As scholar-officials, they often served in administrative positions in the Ryukyuan government. Placed in the upper class, the Pechin would often travel with a servant at their side.
There were three ranks of Pechin: Chikudun Pechin, Satunushi Pechin, and Pekumi or Pechin.Ryukyu Domain
The Ryukyu Domain (琉球藩, Ryūkyū han) was a short-lived domain of Japan, lasting from 1872 to 1879, before becoming the current Okinawa Prefecture and other islands at the Pacific edge of the East China Sea.
When the domain was created in 1872, Japan's feudal han system had developed in unique ways. The domain was a political and economic abstraction based on periodic cadastral surveys and projected agricultural yields. In other words, the domain was defined in terms of kokudaka, not land area. This was different from the feudalism of the West.Ryukyuan missions to Edo
Over the course of Japan's Edo period, the Ryūkyū Kingdom sent eighteen missions to Edo (琉球江戸上り, ryūkyū edo nobori, "lit. 'the going up of Ryūkyū to Edo'), the capital of Tokugawa Japan. The unique pattern of these diplomatic exchanges evolved from models established by the Chinese, but without denoting any predetermined relationship to China or to the Chinese world order. The Kingdom became a vassal to the Japanese feudal domain (han) of Satsuma following Satsuma's 1609 invasion of Ryūkyū, and as such were expected to pay tribute to the shogunate; the missions also served as a great source of prestige for Satsuma, the only han to claim any foreign polity, let alone a kingdom, as its vassal.Ryukyuan mon
The Ryukyuan mon (琉球文, Ryūkyū mon, Okinawan: Ruuchuu mun) was the currency of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1454 to 1879, when the kingdom was annexed by the Empire of Japan and the currency was replaced by the Japanese yen. The Chinese character for mon is 文, which was widely used in the Chinese-character cultural sphere, e.g. Chinese wén, Vietnamese văn, and Korean mun. The Ryukyuans produced their own coins until the 15th century, but became dependent on Chinese coins until the 19th century when they briefly minted their own coins again. From 1862 the minting was outsourced to Kagoshima City, Satsuma Domain and were based on the Japanese mon (specifically on the "Kan'ei Tsūhō" copper coins). All of the Kagoshima-minted coins bear the phrase "Ryūkyū Tsūhō" (琉球通寳) (circulating treasure of Ryukyu); this phrase was written in Seal script on the half shu (248 mon) coin. Despite the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, these coins continued to circulate within Okinawa Prefecture well into the 1880's as the Ryukyuans were initially unwilling to use Japanese yen coins.Shō Shōken
Shō Shōken (向 象賢, 1617 -1675), also known as Haneji Wōji Chōshū (羽地 王子 朝秀), was a Ryukyuan scholar and served as sessei, a post often translated as "prime minister," from 1666 to 1673. Shō wrote the first history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Chūzan Seikan (中山世鑑, "Mirror of Chūzan"), and enacted a number of practical political reforms aimed at improving Ryukyu's prosperity and dignity in the eyes of China and Japan.Tsuboya ware
Tsuboya ware (壺屋焼, Tsuboya-yaki) is a type of Ryukyuan pottery traditionally from Tsuboya, presently a part of Naha, in the former Ryukyu Kingdom.Ueekata
Ueekata (親方) , in the Okinawan language, was the highest rank in the yukatchu aristocracy of the former Ryukyu Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa, Japan), though it was still below the aji nobility. Members of the Council of Three (三司官, Sanshikan), a very high-ranking governmental body, were chosen from among the ueekata.
Ueekata rank was generally obtained as the last step in a progression from shii (子) rank to satonushi (里之子), then to peekumi (親雲上), and finally to ueekata. As with other Ryukyuan aristocratic titles, a member would often be referred to by their title, along with an associated placename. For example, royal government official Tei Dō (1549-1611) is equally well known by the title Jana Ueekata, or "ueekata of Jana," Jana (謝名) being an area (specifically, an azana) within what is today the city of Ginowan, Okinawa.
Holders of ueekata rank wore purple hachimachi headbands, the color being a symbol of rank.Wangjin
Wangjin is a kind of traditional headband worn by adult men in Chinese Ming Dynasty, Korean Joseon period, Vietnam Later Lê dynasty to Nguyễn dynasty and Ryukyu Kingdom to hold their hair in place after the topknot is done. It is usually made by weaving dyed horsehair.Yukatchu
Yukatchu (良人) were the aristocracy of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The scholar-bureaucrats of classical Chinese studies living in Kumemura held the majority of government positions.
|First Shō Dynasty|
|Second Shō Dynasty|