120 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2009
Date Written: July 1, 2007
Through an examination and analysis of references to the Ryukyuan polities as contained in the Ming shi-lu (Ming reign annals), this study explores the emergence of a unified Ryukyu state by the 1430s, and its relationship with the Ming empire and Southeast Asian trade ports. It also assesses the importance of the formal Ming tribute system for Ryukyu’s political consolidation, and examines both the development of Ryukyu’s maritime trade and regional influence and the decline of this role as a result of the Ming formally licensing trading ships to trade directly between China and Southeast Asian ports in the 1570s, and the invasion of the Ryukyuan islands by troops of the daimyō Shimazu in 1609.
The study also examines the degree to which, over the period from the mid-14th century to the mid-16th century, Ryukyu can be seen to have been part of a Northeast Asian “Age of Commerce.” In Ryukyu, we do see that, during the late 14th century, Naha emerged as a commercial hub - as an entrepôt port - serving the booming commerce of the period, including the Southeast Asia-China trade in aromatics which marked Southeast Asian ports, but many of the other characteristics of the Age of Commerce in Southeast Asia were not seen during Ryukyu’s efflorescence.
The article concludes with an English translation of the Ryukyuan references contained in the Ming shi-lu from the 1370s to the 1430s.
Keywords: Ryukyu, Okinawa, Ming dynasty, tribute trade, Ming shi-lu, age of commerce, Southeast Asia
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