Japan-The Tiny Dwarf? Sino-Japanese Relations from the Kangxi to the Early Qianlong Reigns
55 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2008
Date Written: August 1, 2008
Sino-Japanese relations experienced great qualitative changes during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. By the reign period of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-1735) one can even speak of a partial reversal of the former master-vassal relationship, which existed during the Ming period: whereas during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Japan was the vassal which had to obey strict regulations in China and which accepted the formal subordination under the Chinese tribute system, the new Tokugawa rulers, starting from the time of Ieyasu (1542-1616; r. 1603-1616), were no longer willing to restore the former vassal-tribute relations with China. Instead they issued their own trade licenses (shinpai, in Chinese sources also referred to as Wozhao) for foreign ships and initiated a series of new regulations in order to monopolize the China trade more strictly. By the early seventeenth century the Chinese in Japan were increasingly subject to political control and found themselves very much restricted in their mobility, as the Japanese had formerly been in China.
At the same time, however, it is evident that both China and Japan still wanted to maintain mutual trade relations, although for different reasons. Whereas the Chinese were primarily interested in Japanese silver and, starting from the late seventeenth century onwards, in Japanese copper, the Japanese mainly sought Chinese silk, medicinal products, medical knowledge, physicians and various other kinds of "practical knowledge" to be imported from China.
Because of decreasing copper imports in the course of the first third of the eighteenth century, the Chinese were increasingly dissatisfied with the Japan trade. Developments even prompted high Qing officials to send "secret agents" to Japan to inquire about the causes for reduced export quotas. But in the end none of these "secret missions" had any far-reaching consequences for China's Japan policy. The paper intends to look behind the scenes and to give an overview of the causes and changes in Sino-Japanese relations. In addition, it seeks to provide an answer for why, from the Chinese perspective, these missions remained without consequences and why Japan, despite her rising self-confidence and the subsequent reformation of the China trade at Nagasaki, continued to be considered the 'tiny dwarf country' (cui'erguo) by the Chinese.
Keywords: Sino-Japanese relations, diplomacy, secret agents, copper trade, money metals, Nagasaki, medicine, physicians, horsemanship, science, practical learning, Chinese books
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation