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.

The Envoys in ShuriEdit

Shuri was the royal capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It is today part of the city of Naha, Okinawa.

Upon the accession of a new king, the news was generally communicated to the Chinese capital, along with a petition for investiture, by a formal Ryukyuan tribute mission. Following the 1609 invasion of Ryukyu, beginning with the succession of Shō Hō, Satsuma Domain also had to be notified and asked for approval and confirmation of the new king.[1]

Chinese envoys would then be dispatched - sometimes quite quickly, sometimes not until over a decade later - arriving in ships called ukwanshin (御冠船, lit. "Crown Ships") in Okinawan. The mission would usually consist of two official envoy ships, separate crafts carrying the chief envoy and his deputy, as some uncertainty accompanied the journey;[2] these would be accompanied by a number of merchant ships. During Japan's Edo period, an agent from Satsuma known as a kansen bugyō (冠船奉行, "Investiture (Crown) Ships Magistrate") would be sent down to Ryukyu to supervise the exchanges and interactions between Chinese and Ryukyuan officials, albeit from somewhat of a distance, given the policy of hiding Satsuma's involvement in Ryukyu from the Chinese.[3]

Envoys generally stayed in Ryukyu for four to eight months,[4] and were extensively entertained by the Ryukyuan royal court. A number of structures built for this purpose, including the Ryūtan pond and the Hokuden (North Hall) of Shuri Castle, can still be seen today on the castle grounds. The total Chinese entourage generally numbered between 300 and 800 people, and hosting and entertaining the Chinese envoys was an extremely expensive endeavor for the Ryukyuan court.[2]

A "Dance Magistrate (踊奉行, odori bugyō, O: udui bugyō)" oversaw these entertainments; kumi odori, a traditional form of Ryukyuan dance-drama, was first created and performed for entertaining an investiture envoy and his fellows, in 1719.[5]

Timeline of MissionsEdit

King Satto became, in 1372, the first Ryukyuan king to submit to Chinese suzerainty.[6] Beginning with the investiture of Satto's successor, Bunei, in 1404,[7] twenty-two such missions traveled to Ryukyu in total,[4] the last in 1866, for the investiture of Shō Tai.[8]

Year Emperor of China Chinese envoys Ryūkyū king Comments
1373 Jianwen Yang Zai 楊載[9][10] Satto mission purpose is to bring islands into Sinitic system.[9]
1404 Yongle Shi Zhong 時中[9][10] Bunei investiture (cefeng) mission confirms Bunei as king in Ryukyu.[7]
1415 Yongle Chen Xiuro [9]陳秀若 Shō Shishō
1427 Xuande Chai Shan 柴山;
Ruan Jian [9][11]
Shō Hashi
1443 Zhengtong Yu Bian 余忭;
Liu Xun 劉遜[9][12]
Shō Chū
1448 Zhengtong Chen Chuan 陳傳;
Wan Xiang 萬祥[9][12]
Shō Shitatsu
1452 Jingtai Qiao Yi 喬毅;
Tong Shouhong 童守宏[9][12]
Shō Kinpuku
1456 Jingtai Yan Cheng 嚴誠;
Liu Jian 劉儉[9][12]
Shō Taikyū
1464 Chenghua Pang Rong 潘榮;
Cai Zhe 蔡哲[9][12]
Shō Toku
1472 Hongzhi Guang Rong 官榮;[9][13]
Han Wen 韓文 [13][14]
Shō En installation of the new king.[14]
1479 Hongzhi Dong Min 董旻;
Zhang Xiang 張祥[9][13]
Shō Shin
1534 Jiajing Chen Kan 陳侃 ;
Gao Cheng 高澄[9][15]
Shō Sei mission encompassed a retinue of over 200 persons travelling in two ships which were specially constructed for this diplomatic purpose. The ambassador recorded details of the voyage and the reception the Chinese encountered in Shuri, the capital of the kingdom. This book, Shi Liu-ch'iu lu (Chinese: 使琉球錄), still exists in transcription Chinese, Japanese and Korean versions.[16]
1561 Jiajing Guo Rulin 郭汝霖;
Li Jichun 李際春[9][15]
Shō Gen
1576 Wanli Shō Ei Hseieh Chieh was a member of the 1576 mission to the Ryukyu Islands. He published an account of his experiences.[17]
1579 Wanli Xiao Chongye 蕭崇業;
Hseieh Chieh 謝杰[9][15]
Shō Ei
1606 Wanli Xia Ziyang 夏子陽;
Wang Shizhen 王士楨[9][15]
Shō Nei
1633 Chongzhen Du Sance 杜三策;
Yang Lun 楊掄[9][18]
Shō Hō investitutre of king
1663 Kangxi Zhang Xueli 張學禮;
Wang Gai 王垓[18]
Shō Shitsu investitutre of king
1683 Kangxi Wang Ji 汪楫;
Lin Linchang 林麟焻[18]
Shō Tei investitutre of king.
1719 Kangxi Haibao 海寶;
Xu Baoguang 徐葆光[19]
Shō Kei Kumi odori, a new form of dance-drama, created by Tamagusuku Chōkun for the entertainment of the Chinese envoys, is first performed for the envoys for the investiture of King Shō Kei.[5]
1757 Qianlong Quan Kui 全魁;
Chou Huang 周煌, [20]
Shō Boku Chou Huang compiles the Ryūkyū-koku shiryaku (Chinese: 琉球國志略), an account of Ryukyuan history and customs based on the records and reports of earlier Chinese envoys, Ryukyuan records, and Chou's own observations[20]
1800 Jiaqing Zhao Wenkai 趙文楷;
Li Dingyuan 李鼎元[21]
Shō On investitutre of king.
1808 Jiaqing Qikun 齊鯤;
Fei Xizhang 費錫章[22]
Shō Kō investitutre of king.
1838 Daoguang Lin Hongnian 林鴻年;
Gao Renjian 高人鑑[23]
Shō Iku investitutre of king.
1866 Tongzhi Zhao Xin 趙新;
Yu Guangjia 于光甲[24]
Shō Tai final investiture mission confirms Shō Tai as King of Ryukyu.[8]

In the late 19th century, the Sinocentric tributary state system was superseded by the Westphalian multi-state system.[25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kerr, George. (2000). Okinawa: The History of an Island People, p. 185., p. 185, at Google Books
  2. ^ a b Kerr, p. 181., p. 181, at Google Books
  3. ^ Matsuda, Mitsugu. The Government of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1609-1872. Gushikawa: Yui Publishing, Co., 2001. pp46-47.
  4. ^ a b "Sappôshi." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). 1 March 2003. Accessed 7 November 2009.
  5. ^ a b Foley, Kathy. "Kumi Odori's Historical Context and Performance Practice." in Ryukyu Geino: The Legacy of Kin Ryosho. Jimpu Kai USA Kin Ryosho Ryukyu Geino Kenkyusho Hawaii Shibu, 2008. pp45-56.
  6. ^ Kerr, p. 65., p. 65, at Google Books
  7. ^ a b Shinzato, Keiji et al. Okinawa ken no rekishi (沖縄県の歴史, "History of Okinawa Prefecture"). Tokyo: Yamakawa Publishers, 1996. Appendix: Chronology.
  8. ^ a b Kerr, p. 352., p. 352, at Google Books
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Suganuma, Unryu. (2000). Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations, p. 46. at Google Books
  10. ^ a b Chūzan Seifu, vol 3.
  11. ^ Chūzan Seifu, vol 4.
  12. ^ a b c d e Chūzan Seifu, vol 5.
  13. ^ a b c Chūzan Seifu, vol 6.
  14. ^ a b Goodrich, L. Carrington et al. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644, Vol. I, p. 498., p. 498, at Google Books
  15. ^ a b c d Chūzan Seifu, vol 7.
  16. ^ Goodrich, p. 85., p. 85, at Google Books
  17. ^ Goodrich, p. 546., p. 546, at Google Books
  18. ^ a b c Chūzan Seifu, vol 8.
  19. ^ Chūzan Seifu, vol 9.
  20. ^ a b Hirata, Tsugumasa (trans.). Chou, Huang. Ryûkyû-koku shiryaku. Tokyo: San-ichi Shobô, 1977. pp. 1-2.
  21. ^ Chūzan Seifu, vol 10.
  22. ^ Chūzan Seifu, vol 11.
  23. ^ Chūzan Seifu, vol 12.
  24. ^ Chūzan Seifu, vol 13.
  25. ^ Kang, David C. (2010). East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute, p. 160., p. 160, at Google Books


  • Goodrich, Luther Carrington and Zhaoying Fang. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644 (明代名人傳), Vol. I; Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644 (明代名人傳), Vol. II. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231038010; ISBN 9780231038331; OCLC 1622199
  • Kang, David C. (2010). East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. New York : Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231153188 / ISBN 9780231526746; OCLC 562768984
  • Kerr, George H. (1965). Okinawa, the History of an Island People. Rutland, Vermont: C.E. Tuttle Co. OCLC 39242121
  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2002). Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01753-5; OCLC 48943301
  • Suganuma, Unryu. (2000). Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations: Irredentism and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824821593 ISBN 9780824824938; OCLC 170955369
  • Chūzan Seifu (ja:中山世譜)

Further readingEdit