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

Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824873790
Published: July 2017
Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824820374
Published: January 1999

Additional Information

224 pages
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  • About the Book
  • 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.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Gregory Smits, Author

      Gregory Smits is professor of history and Asian studies at Pennsylvania State University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • . . . this book casts considerable new light on the intellectual and political life of the Ryukyu archipelago. . . . Visions of Ryukyu marks an important milestone in the development of the Japan field. Judging from the high standards of scholarship evidenced in this fine book, we may look forward to learning much more from Gregory Smits in the years to come.
      —Journal of Japanese Studies
    • Visions of Ryukyu is a stimulating first look in English at the politics and ideology of the early modern Ryukyu kingdom. The scholarship is very strong—Smits is obviously familiar with the primary and secondary literatures in Chinese, Japanese, and Okinawan. Smits has outlined an important field for future inquiry—not just for Okinawa specialists, but for all students of early modern East Asia.
      —Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
    • Gregory Smits’ Visions of Ryuku examines the fallout from conflicting visions of Okinawa from its time as a kingdom, through its seizure by Japan in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), and up to the ambiguous position it occupies today. Smits shows the dangers of eradicating collective memory and how the forced, transformation of an independent kingdom into a Japanese prefecture can, with a little finessing, appear to be a perfectly natural step in political evolution.
      —Japan Times
    • The book should certainly be read by anyone interested in recent theories of nationalism, as well as by those interested in the Ryukyus.
      —Monumenta Nipponica
    • . . . provides a welcome historical perspective on contemporary Okinawan politics.
      —American Historical Review