Visions of Ryukyu

Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics

GREGORY SMITS
Copyright Date: 1999
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr1xf
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Visions of Ryukyu
    Book Description:

    Between 1609 and 1879, the geographical, political, and ideological status of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (modern Okinawa) was characterized by its ambiguity. It was subordinate to its larger neighbors, China and Japan, yet an integral part of neither. A Japanese invasion force from Satsuma had conquered the kingdom in 1609, resulting in its partial incorporation into Tokugawa Japan's bakuhan state. Given Ryukyu's long-standing ties with China and East Asian foreign relations following the rise of the Qing dynasty, however, the bakufu maintained only an indirect link with Ryukyu from the mid-seventeenth century onward. Thus Ryukyu was able to exist as a quasi-independent kingdom for more than two centuries-albeit amidst a complex web of trade and diplomatic agreements involving the bakufu, Satsuma, Fujian, and Beijing. During this time, Ryukyu's ambiguous position relative to China and Japan prompted its elites to fashion their own visions of Ryukyuan identity. Created in a dialogic relationship to both a Chinese and Japanese Other, these visions informed political programs intended to remake Ryukyu. In this innovative and provocative study, Gregory Smits explores early-modern perceptions of Ryukyu and their effect on its political culture and institutions. He describes the major historical circumstances that informed early-modern discourses of Ryukyuan identity and examines the strategies used by leading intellectual and political figures to fashion, promote, and implement their visions of Ryukyu. Early-modern visions of Ryukyu were based on Confucianism, Buddhism, and other ideologies of the time. Eventually one vision prevailed, becoming the theoretical basis of the early-modern state by the middle of the eighteenth century. Employing elements of Confucianism, the scholar and government official Sai On (1682-1761) argued that the kingdom's destiny lay primarily with Ryukyuans themselves and that moral parity with Japan and China was within its grasp. Despite Satsuma's control over its diplomatic and economic affairs, Sai envisioned Ryukyu as an ideal Confucian state with government and state rituals based on the Chinese model. In examining Sai's thought and political program, this volume sheds new light on Confucian praxis and, conversely, uncovers one variety of an East Asian "prenational" imagined political/cultural community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6549-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    A few years ago, when a box arrived in the mail from a used book store in Okinawa, I noticed that the store’s label, affixed to the inside cover of some of the books, had been redesigned. In the old version, the store was located in Okinawa-ken, Ginowan. In the new version, although the store was in the same physical location, its label now proclaimed Ryūkyū-koku, Ginowan. No change in Japan’s political boundaries had taken place, but the store’s psychological address, if I may use such a phrase, had changed from “Ginowan City, Okinawa Prefecture” to “Ginowan City, Country of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Status of Ryukyu and Its Relations with Japan and China
    (pp. 15-49)

    This chapter examines dimensions of the complex web of relationships between Ryukyu, China, and Japan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was within this environment that men such as Shō Shōken, Tei Junsoku, Sai On, and Heshikiya Chōbin created their visions of Ryukyu. The precise status of early-modern Ryukyu has been a much discussed and often emotional question ever since the kingdom’s demise. Even today, Ryukyuan nationalists often rummage through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in their search for “facts” that might justify separating “Ryukyu” (whatever it might be) from “Japan” (whatever that it be). The question of early-modern...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Looking North and Looking West: Shō Shōken and Tei Junsoku
    (pp. 50-70)

    Ryukyuan officials had difficulty adjusting to the severe social dislocation of the immediate post-invasion years, a time when Satsuma governed the kingdom with a particularly heavy hand. As Takara points out, there was a substantial gap between the perceptions of Ryukyu’s officials and Satsuma’s expectations. This gap occasionally resulted in major errors on the part of the royal government, a good example being the case of Christians discovered in Yaeyama in 1623–1624. The royal government dealt with the matter by exiling those involved, but Satsuma regarded the punishment as excessively mild. Its officials ordered the Christians to be rounded...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Empowering Ryukyuans: The Theoretical Foundations of Sai On’s Ryukyu
    (pp. 71-99)

    Sai On’s vision of Ryukyu was more complex and nuanced than that of either Shō Shōken or Tei Junsoku. Although it faced opposition, Sai On’s vision proved more successful by far than any other in reshaping the kingdom’s institutions, political culture, intellectual landscape, and even physical appearance. Confucianism served as the theoretical underpinning of Sai On’s vision of Ryukyu and the changes it produced in the realm of politics. Sai On faced a problem similar to that of Shō Shōken and Tei Junsoku: justifying the existence of the Ryukyuan state as a subordinate entity to China and Japan (Satsuma and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Re-Creating Ryukyu: Sai On and His Critics
    (pp. 100-132)

    Sai On used Confucian ideology to forge a theoretical basis for Ryukyuan agency. Like many Japanese Confucians of the Tokugawa period, he worked to naturalize Confucian thought, adapting it to Ryukyu’s particular circumstances. Unlike his Japanese counterparts, however, whose Confucianism played itself out mainly in the realm of discourse, Sai On’s Confucianism was directly tied to the practice of politics and government administration. His vision of Ryukyu demanded that he try to re-create the island kingdom as an ideal Confucian society. This chapter examines the major elements of this recreation and the opposition it engendered.

    The major policies and programs...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Contested Visions of Sai On’s Ryukyu
    (pp. 133-142)

    Sai On spent the last decade of his life putting his view of Ryukyu into writing, and his legacy lasted long after his death in 1761. King Shō Kei died in 1751, and the next two kings took an active approach to ruling. The policies of Shō Boku (r. 1752–1795) further moved Ryukyu in the direction Sai On had advocated. The next king, Shō On (r. 1796–1802), whose name was no coincidence, continued the process of Confucianizing the kingdom by broadening Ryukyu’s institutional base of formal Confucian learning. This move created a storm of controversy and fierce opposition...

  10. Epilogue and Conclusions
    (pp. 143-162)

    The Ryukyu kingdom’s protracted demise at the hands of Japan’s Meiji state took place from 1872 until the mid-1880s. Its assimilation into the Japanese nation-state took much longer—the early 1920s in terms of institutions and administrative practices. Cultural assimilation is more difficult to assess, owing in part to the problems inherent in the idea of culture itself.¹ Still, a case can be made that the cultural assimilation of Ryukyu/Okinawa into Japan is not yet complete. As in the days of the kingdom, modern Okinawa saw a continuation of the process of constructing Okinawan identities in relation to both intra-Okinawa...

  11. APPENDIX 1: Ryukyuan Kings
    (pp. 163-164)
  12. APPENDIX 2: Glossary of Selected Ryukyuan Terms
    (pp. 165-167)
  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 168-168)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 169-200)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 201-208)
  16. Index
    (pp. 209-213)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)