Ryukyu Kingdom
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Ryukyu Kingdom
Ryukyu Kingdom

Anthem: Ishinagu
Ryukyu orthographic.svg
Common languagesRyukyuan (native languages), Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese
Ethnic groups
Ryukyuan religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism
King () 
o 1429-1439
Sh? Hashi
o 1477-1526
Sh? Shin
o 1587-1620
Sh? Nei
o 1848-1879
Sh? Tai
Sessei () 
o 1666-1673
Sh? Sh?ken
Regent (, Kokushi) 
o 1751-1752
Sai On
LegislatureShuri cabinet (?), Sanshikan ()
o Unification
April 5, 1609
o Reorganized into Ryukyu Domain
o Annexed by Japan
March 27 1879
2,271 km2 (877 sq mi)
CurrencyRyukyuan, Chinese, and Japanese mon coins[1]
Today part ofJapan

The Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawan: Ruuchuu-kuku; Japanese: ? Ry?ky? ?koku; 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.


Origins of the Kingdom

Royal seal of the Ryukyu Kingdom (?)

In the 14th century, small domains scattered on Okinawa Island were unified into three principalities: Hokuzan (, Northern Mountain), Ch?zan (, Central Mountain), and Nanzan (, Southern Mountain). This was known as the Three Kingdoms, or Sanzan (, 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. Ch?zan 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 Ch?zan 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.[2] They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations.[3][4][5] 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.[6]

These three principalities (tribal federations led by major chieftains) battled, and Ch?zan emerged victorious. The Ch?zan 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 Ch?zan 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 Sh? Dynasty. Hashi received the surname "Sh?" (Chinese: "Shang") ? from the Ming emperor in 1421, becoming known as Sh? Hashi (Chinese: Shang Bazhi) .[]

Sh? Hashi adopted the Chinese hierarchical court system, built Shuri Castle and the town as his capital, and constructed Naha harbor. When in 1469 King Sh? Toku, who was a grandson of Sh? Hashi, died without a male heir, a palatine servant declared he was Toku's adopted son and gained Chinese investiture. This pretender, Sh? En, began the Second Sh? Dynasty. Ryukyu's golden age occurred during the reign of Sh? 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 ?shima Islands, to the north near Ky?sh?, were incorporated into the kingdom as well.[7] While the kingdom's political system was adopted and the authority of Shuri recognized, in the Amami ?shima Islands, the kingdom's authority over the Sakishima Islands to the south remained for centuries at the level of a tributary-suzerain relationship.[8]

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.[9][10] Central to the kingdom's maritime activities was the continuation of the tributary relationship with Ming dynasty China, begun by Ch?zan in 1372,[7][note 2] and enjoyed by the three Okinawan kingdoms which followed it. China provided ships for Ryukyu's maritime trade activities,[11] allowed a limited number of Ryukyuans to study at the Imperial Academy in Beijing, and formally recognized the authority of the King of Ch?zan, 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, i Vi?t (Vietnam), Japan, Java, Korea, Luzon, Malacca, Pattani, Palembang, Siam, and Sumatra.[12]

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 H?an, 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.[12]

The Chinese policy of haijin (, "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.[13] In the late 16th century, however, the kingdom's commercial prosperity fell into decline. The rise of the wokou ("Japanese pirate" although mostly ethnic Chinese at this time) threat among other factors led to the gradual loss of Chinese preferential treatment;[14] the kingdom also suffered from increased maritime competition from Portuguese traders.[7]

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 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.[7]

Occupation occurred fairly quickly, with some fierce fighting, and King Sh? 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;[15] however, the Satsuma domain seized control over some territory of the Ryukyu Kingdom, notably the Amami-?shima 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 Ts?ran Zusetsu, which was published in 1785.[16]

Tributary relations

A early period Ryukyuan embassy in Edo, Japan. Ryukyuans wear the clothes which were near to the Chinese Hanfu.
Traditional Ryukyuan clothes in late period, which were much more close 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.[15]

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 daimy?, 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 daimy? 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 daimy?, 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, daimy?s 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.[17]

Annexation by the Japanese Empire

In 1872, Emperor Meiji unilaterally declared that the kingdom was then Ryukyu Domain.[18][19][20] At the same time, the fiction of independence was maintained for diplomatic reasons with Qing China[21] until the Meiji government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom when the islands were incorporated as Okinawa Prefecture on 27 March 1879.[22] The Amami-?shima 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 Sh? Tai.[23][24][page needed] Many royalist supporters fled to China.[25] The king's death in 1901 diminished the historic connections with the former kingdom.[26] With the abolition of the aristocracy after World War II, the Sho family continues to live in Tokyo.[27]

Major events

List of Ryukyuan kings

Kings of Ryukyu Islands
Name Chinese characters Reign Line or Dynasty Notes
Shunten 1187-37 Tenson Lineage
Shunbajunki ? 1238-48 Tenson Lineage
Gihon 1249-59 Tenson Lineage
Eiso 1260-99 Eiso Lineage
Taisei 1300-08 Eiso Lineage
Eiji 1309-13 Eiso Lineage
Kings of Ch?zan
Tamagusuku 1314-36 Eiso Lineage
Seii 1337-54 Eiso Lineage
Satto 1355-97 Satto Lineage
Bunei 1398-1406 Satto Lineage
Sh? Shish? 1407-21 First Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Hashi 1422-29 First Sh? Dynasty as King of Ch?zan
Kings of Ryukyu
Name Chinese characters Reign Line or Dynasty Notes
Sh? Hashi 1429-39 First Sh? Dynasty as King of Ryukyu
Sh? Ch? 1440-42 First Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Shitatsu 1443-49 First Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Kinpuku 1450-53 First Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Taiky? 1454-60 First Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Toku 1461-69 First Sh? Dynasty
Sh? En 1470-76 Second Sh? Dynasty AKA Kanemaru Uchima
Sh? Sen'i 1477 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Shin 1477-1526 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Sei 1527-55 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Gen 1556-72 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Ei 1573-86 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Nei 1587-1620 Second Sh? Dynasty ruled during Satsuma invasion; first king to be Satsuma vassal
Sh? H? 1621-40 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Ken 1641-47 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Shitsu 1648-68 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Tei 1669-1709 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Eki 1710-12 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Kei 1713-51 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Boku 1752-95 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? On 1796-1802 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Sei (r. 1803) 1803 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? K? 1804-28 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Iku 1829-47 Second Sh? Dynasty
Sh? Tai 1848 - March 11, 1879 Second Sh? 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.[29] It is considered to be one of the hardest in-game achievements[by whom?], thought to be an impossible one for a long time, due to Ryukyu's limited resources and isolation.

See also

Location of the Ryukyu Islands
Hokuzan, Ch?zan, Nanzan


  1. ^ Although the Ryukyuan king was a vassal of the Satsuma Domain, the Ryukyu Kingdom was not considered part of any Han due to trade relations with China.
  2. ^ Nanzan and Hokuzan also entered into tributary relationships with Ming China, in 1380 and 1383 respectively.[11]



  1. ^ "Ryuukyuuan coins". Luke Roberts at the Department of History - University of California at Santa Barbara. 24 October 2003. Archived from the original on 4 August 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  2. ^ Tsai, Shih-shan Henry (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty (illustrated ed.). SUNY Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved .
  3. ^ Schottenhammer, Angela (2007). Schottenhammer, Angela (ed.). The East Asian maritime world 1400-1800: its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges. Volume 4 of East Asian economic and socio-cultural studies: East Asian maritime history (illustrated ed.). Otto Harrassowitz. p. xiii. ISBN 3-447-05474-3. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Deng, Gang (1999). Maritime sector, institutions, and sea power of premodern China. Contributions in economics and economic history. 212 (illustrated ed.). Greenwood. p. 125. ISBN 0-313-30712-1. Retrieved .
  5. ^ Hendrickx, Katrien (2007). The Origins of Banana-fibre Cloth in the Ryukyus, Japan (illustrated ed.). Leuven University Press. p. 39. ISBN 90-5867-614-5. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Grant, Ulysses Simpson (2008). Simon, John Y (ed.). The Papers. 29: October 1, 1878 - September 30, 1880 (illustrated ed.). SIU Press, Ulysses S. Grant Association. p. 165. ISBN 0-8093-2775-9. Retrieved .
  7. ^ a b c d e Matsuda 2001, p. 16.
  8. ^ Murai 2008, pp. iv-v.
  9. ^ Okamoto 2008, p. 35.
  10. ^ Okinawa Prefectural reserve cultural assets center (2012). "". Comprehensive Database of Archaeological Site Reports in Japan. Retrieved .
  11. ^ a b Okamoto 2008, p. 36.
  12. ^ a b Sakamaki, Shunz? (1964). "Ryukyu and Southeast Asia". Journal of Asian Studies. 23 (3): 382-384. doi:10.2307/2050757.
  13. ^ Murai 2008, p. iv.
  14. ^ Okamoto 2008, p. 53.
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ Klaproth, Julius (1832), San kokf tsou ran to sets, ou Aperçu général des trois royaumes [San kokf tsou ran to sets, or General overview of the three kingdoms] (in French), pp. 169-180.
  17. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 366-367.
  18. ^ Matsuo, Kanenori Sakon (2005). The Secret Royal Martial Arts of Ryukyu, p. 40, at Google Books.
  19. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 175.
  20. ^ Lin, Man-houng. "The Ryukyus and Taiwan in the East Asian Seas: A Longue Durée Perspective", Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. October 27, 2006, translated and abridged from Academia Sinica Weekly, No. 1084. August 24, 2006.
  21. ^ Goodenough, Ward H. Book Review: "George H. Kerr. Okinawa: the History of an Island People...", The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, May 1959, Vol. 323, No. 1, p. 165.
  22. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 381.
  23. ^ a b Papinot, Jacques Edmond Joseph (2003), "Sho", Nobiliare du Japon [Nobility of Japan] (PDF@60) (in French), p. 56.
  24. ^ Papinot, Jacques Edmond Joseph (1906), Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie du Japon [Dictionary of History & Geography of Japan] (in French).
  25. ^ ?- ?
  26. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 236.
  27. ^ "Forgotten Dynasty".
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h Hamashita, Takeshi. Okinawa Ny?mon (?, "Introduction to Okinawa"). Tokyo: Chikuma Shob?, 2000, pp. 207-13.
  29. ^ "Ryukyu - Europa Universalis 4 Wiki". Retrieved .

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External links

Coordinates: 26°12?N 127°41?E / 26.200°N 127.683°E / 26.200; 127.683

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