Perilous Opportunity: Reconsidering Wokou and Coastal Chinese during the Jiajing Era, 1521-1567
Department of History Binghaton University,
Binghamton, NY 13905
Table of Contents
List of Illustration
- Racialist discourse in formation and its Context
In June of 1523, the second year of Jiajing (Reign. 1521-1567), the 16 year old emperor learned about a major incident in Ningbo prefecture of Zhejiang province involving two groups of Japanese tribute bearers. The orthodox Ming record Ming shi zong Shi lu gave the following account: “The Board of Rites reported that Japanese barbarian Song Suqing (宋素卿) came to the court to pay tribute but his tally (勘合) was bestowed during the years of Xiao emperor (Reign. 1487-1505). [They said that] their tally bestowed by Wu emperor (Reign. 1505-1521) was stolen by the ruling house (J. Sōsetsu 宗设). In fear that their words could not be trusted, it was not appropriate to allow them to come to the court. But the two barbarians started killing each other. The ruling house was the provocateur and Song Suqin’s cohorts were killed.” The Ningbo incident in 1523 and a later Shuangyu incident in 1549 are both important incidents in the history of Wokou during the Jiajing era. But first it is beneficial for us to briefly lay out the context of Sino-Japanese official trade through the tally system.
A tally, or kango in Japanese, was a certification paper issued by the Ming. It was split into half, one being kept by the Chinese authorities and the other by the Japanese. When the Japanese tribute bearers came to China to submit tributes and sell their goods, the tally was presented to the Chinese authorities as a proof of their legitimacy as tribute bearers and not pirates. The tally trade between China and Japan started around 1404 when the Yongle emperor (Reign. 1402-1424) reopened the tribute relation with Japan after years of hostility between Ming founder Hongwu (洪武Reign.1368-1398) and Prince Kaneyoshi (良懷) of Japan, called “King of Japan” (日本國王) by the Ming. The action was against the wish of Ming founder who indicated in his ancestral teaching, on the section of “Kingdom of Japan” (日本國): “Even though [they come to] pay tribute, in reality, [they were] cunning, secretly collaborating with treacherous official Hu Weiyong (胡惟庸) to plot evil design. Thus, [we must] end the relations [with Japan].” Japan, however, was also among the 15 neighboring countries in which Hongwu specified as not to be conquered. He wrote that:
The barbarians of four sides were all in remotes places separated by mountains and seas. If [we] get their lands, [we] won’t be able to send supply. If we get their people, we won’t be able to give them order. If they do not know how much strength they have got (若其自不揣量), and come to disturb my borders then they bode disaster to themselves (彼為不祥). [If] they are not China’s scourge but we use our military against them, even a slightest punishment [against them] could also bode disaster to us. I fear that my descendants will take advantage of China’s prosperity and strength and for the sake of temporary sense of pride, out of no reason to use our military, which will cost people’s lives. [You] must remember, this is not right.
Hongwu continued to say that the only exception were the Mongols (胡戎) in the North and West.
Zhang Xie (張燮), a scholar in late Ming, in his Dong xi yang kao (東西洋考), or “the study of Eastern and Western Seas,” gave this history of Sino-Japanese relations in the early Ming dynasty. Hongwu considered Japan to be the country with which China should not continue tributary relations, but nevertheless one of the countries in which his descendants must not consider conquering. At the time of Yongle, the imperial policy evolved. According to Zhang, the King of Japan, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (源道義) “in the first year of Yongle (1403), sent an emissary to pay tribute” and “a hundred tallies [were given by the Ming] and as of the frequency, [it was decided to be] one visit every ten years.” In 1410, after the death of Yoshimitsu, his son Ashikaga Yoshimochi (源義持立) sent tribute to the Chinese court to receive investiture (冊封) only that his coming occurred at the time when Chinese soldiers caught pirates led by multiple Japanese (其首皆倭人). In response, Chinese officials demanded that the caught pirates be executed. The Yongle emperor then sent a sealed edict (璽書) to direct to Yoshimochi: “Your father was afraid of the might of heaven, [thus he] continued to bear tribute to us without transgression. [Your] ancestors had the ill intent to offend the upper kingdom (China). The crime was such that justice must be sought. I am just forbearing and have not forgotten your father’s respectful listening, you [must] carefully think of that.” Yoshimochi then submitted an apology. The history of tally trade did not have a good start. The Yongle emperor must have reminded himself of the aberration of taking in Japanese tribute both because it was against the wish of the founder and that the recurring Wokou incidents only refresh the recent memory of Japanese involvement. The term Wokou (倭寇), or Wo bandits, literally means Japanese bandits. However, I will demonstrate throughout this paper that the “Japaneseness” of Wokou lost most of its meaning as most of the Wokou bandits were in fact Chinese. When there were Japanese who participated in banditry, it was always the agency of common Japanese folks and not the Japanese authority.
The Japanese daimyo Tokugawa Mitsukuni (徳川光圀 1628-1701), in his Dai Nihonshi (大日本史), briefly accounted the early history of Wokou. He believed that the story began with the cut off of Sino-Japanese interaction during the period of Mongol Yuan (1271-1368). The Japanese court tried to end all communication with China after the “bandit invasion of Mongol Yuan. But the coastal people [of Japan] privately come and go to trade with each other. After emperor Go-Daigo, military affairs were frequent. Rebellions were on all sides, the court could not effectively control the farther region. Therefore, common folks in the islands used the chaos to loot Ming’s coastal provinces.” Despite the Ming founder’s repeated instruction to Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu to control Wokou, “treacherous people swarmed out (闌出 literally meant broke the gate), invading and looting [China] endlessly.” The agency of early Wokou, like that of the later Wokou, was always the private agency and motives of common folks (in other words, not government sponsored invasion.) But it does not mean that Ming officials and Chinese emperors did not conflate the private agency and government agency and use it to create a narrative of Japanese.
Although there existed tally trade, the officially recognized trade relations between China and Japan, the Mingshi recorded several continued battles between the Ming and Wokou. In 1419, there was a battle when the “Wo boats came to Wangjiashan island.” In 1443, “[Wokou] committed banditry in Haining… Wo’s nature is treacherous, and they often carry foreign goods (方物) and weapons (戎器) to appear in coastal regions. When they are idle, they start to brandish their weapons to loot. If [they cannot succeed] then they present their foreign goods and claim to come to pay tribute. [They are] the scourge of southeastern coast.” In 1453, “[The Japanese] came to pay tribute, and when they got to Linqing (臨清), [they] started to loot commoners’ merchandise.” The tally trade continued to function until the Ningbo incident in 1523, but periodic Wokou disturbances by the alleged Japanese coastal people never ceased.
Out of the history of Wokou disturbances before the Jiajing era, one incident deserves special attention. In May of 1439, the fourth year of Zhengtong (正統Reign. 1436-1449), “forty Wo boats took over [the populations of] Taizhou (臺州), Taozhu (桃渚), Ningbo (寧波), and Dasong (大嵩) of two thousand households, and then took over Changguo Wei (昌國衛a defense post). [There were] massive killing and looting.” This incident was later popularized because of the writing of official Yang Shouchen (楊守陳 jinshi 1451), who was only a fourteen year old at the time but studied the incident carefully. For Yang, as well as for some officials in the Jiajing era, repeated Wokou incidents showed the capability of Japanese race for deceit and repeated treachery, and that they were by nature brutal and inhumane. In addition to brutality, there was also greed. Greed and brutality were considered as two interconnected characteristics associated with the Japanese and used as a primary argument by some officials who believed in following Ming founder’s teaching and to end tribute relations with Japan.
The term “tribute” should not mislead people into thinking that the Chinese court was always in a position to gain from receiving the missions. It was a continuing tradition from the Han to the Qing dynasties that the emperor was often in a net loss in the tribute ritual, often forcing to give the tribute bearers more in compensation than what was received by the Chinese court. For example, in January of 1456, Japanese tribute mission came with more men and goods than allowed, forcing the Ming court to be more “generous” in the compensation.“Wo people were thirsty for profit (倭人貪利).” The Ming court noted that the tribute ambassador was not content with what he received. “The ambassador was not happy and demanded that old customs be followed. [Thus], the imperial edict ordered that they be given [them] ten of thousands more [strings of copper] coins (詔增錢萬), but [they] still considered it too little, begging [us] to add some goods. The imperial edict then ordered one thousand and five hundred more brocades, and then finally they left discontented (終怏怏去).” The court believed that greed and the tendency to commit violence were interconnected traits of the Japanese because piracy and killing were for the purpose of looting and making profit. This was best demonstrated in the earlier record of an incident in 1413 which said that whenever the Japanese felt greed was not satisfied, they turned to violence, and whenever violence was not possible, they caved in and took small gains from imperial generosity.
I define the supporters of this narrative as “racialist.” They were scholar-officials who saw the trend of Wokou incidents and Japanese tribute ambassadors’ greed as characteristics of Japanese race. The racialists were reluctant to differentiate the heterogeneity of barbarians and contingency of barbarian-related incidents, and preferred a narrative of a homogeneous barbarian race and timeless barbarian nature. The barbarians’ behavior only vindicated a previous conclusion drawn about their human nature. Whenever a Wokou incident involved the participation of Japanese it was seen by the racialist as additional evidence that barbarians are treacherous by nature. The racialist typically preferred to emphasize the history of Japanese brutality and treachery and to suggest not to maintain tributary relations with Japan and to continue the sea ban against the private trade between coastal Chinese and overseas barbarians. He cited ancestral teaching and the theoretical supremacy of Chinese states vis-a-vis her barbarian neighbors.
The racialist was also typically from a non-coastal province and had closely served the emperor. He tended not to have military experience nor served as a civil official in the coastal region. He often emphasized the suffering of coastal people. He might take notice of the participation of coastal Chinese in collaboration with the barbarians, but he nevertheless preferred a dichotomy of “our people” (吾民) as victims and Japanese Wokou as aggressors. When “our people” participated in Wokou banditry and killing, they were only a minority of treacherous individuals which could not override the fact that “our people” as a whole were the victims. He overlooked the conflict of interest between coastal and inner province Chinese, because all were assumed to be a homogeneous people of China (中華). He primarily emphasized the Wokou story as a conflict between China and Japan. The only enemy was the national enemy that is Japan.
On the other hand, a pragmatists tended to have experience in direct fighting against Wokou, often was a native of a coastal province such as Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, South Zhili, and on occasion also the southeastern province Jiangxi. If he was not native to any of these regions, he at least served in one of these regions as an official or commander and had extensive interaction with the locals. A pragmatist generally disagreed with overly emphasizing Japanese implication in Wokou. For him, the biggest enemies were the coastal/overseas Chinese with whom he fought against but also at times, understood and sympathized. He shared with racialists a desire for military reform and the use of force against Wokou, but believed that killing alone was not the solution. He argued that only through an understanding of the coastal people and the structural problem, i.e. the threatening of coastal people’s way of life in the context of Ming sea ban and suppression of private trade, could the problem be resolved. He disagreed with the narrative of Japanese-centered Wokou and one-sided Chinese victim-hood, and challenged this narrative by demonstrating the subtle relationship of the internal hierarchy among the Wokou. He could be a general well experienced in battles against Wokou, a scholar-official familiar with coastal way of life and people, and a low rank magistrate of a coastal town.
My survey of memorials in Ming statecraft Collection (皇明經世文編) argues that one way one can differentiate a racialist/nationalist and a pragmatist is by the choice of vocabulary.“Greedy wolf” (Tanlang 貪狼) is a term used exclusively by the racialists for the purpose of belittling and dehumanizing the barbarians. The context of their writings also often emphasized the theoretical superiority of Chinese state and culture. Wolf is associated in Chinese culture with ferociousness. One Ming scholar used the phrase lang zi ye xin (狼子野心), or the heart of a wolf, to describe Japanese as historically greedy and ferocious since Wei dynasty (386-534). The term Tanlang may also be an abbreviation for an ancient star called Tanglang xing (貪狼星), one of the seven known killer stars in Daoist astrology. The term suggests that the coming of Japanese to China as if a sign of omen. At least three prominent racialist officials used this term to describe Wonu.
They was Yang Shouchen (楊守陳 jinshi 1451), the minister of Board of Personnel (吏部尚書), who wrote in one of his essays, “Wonu is secluded in an island. Their custom is opportunistic and treacherous (狙詐), and also greedy as wolf (狼貪).” Zhang Chong, (張翀 jinshi 1511), an advisory official (給事中), wrote in a memorial to the Jiajing emperor that the “the Kingdom of Japan is secluded in the Eastern sea, and at old time it was called Wonu. Since Han (202 B.C-220 A.D) and Wei dynasty (220-226), they were communicating with China. Its custom follows the “greedy wolf” (俗尚貪狼) and [they are] especially familiar with military affairs (頗知用兵).” There was also Gui Youguang (歸有光 jinshi 1565), one of the famous scholars of the Jiajing era who wrote extensively on Wokou. He used the term in one of his essay:
[We] must display China’s law and discipline, [we] cannot let the barbarians laugh at us. If such is the case, would there still be battles that cannot be won and bandits not totally decimated? Of course such a thing is never heard of. But even though today [we are] expected to decimate them, the strategy and planning will still take dozens of years to achieve the tranquility. Barbarian’s nature is of the greedy wolf (夷性貪狼), [they had the] greed for profit made from looting.
Gui continued to write that “since the years of Zhengtong (正統 Reign. 1436-1449), the danger [of Japanese] has continued for over a hundred years. Its reoccurring now is like a sickness in a person. Once it started, how can it be immediately stopped (遽止)?” Gui Youguan, Zhang Chong, and Yang Shouchen all shared in their respective writing one common reference. Gui Youguan only hinted it by referring to it as the incident during the Zhengtong year. This common memory was the Wokou disturbance of Dasong and Taozhu in Shandong province.
Zhang Chong and other racialists under the Jiajing emperor also used the essay by Yang Shouchen to narrate a history of Japanese brutality. Gui’s metaphor that the Wonu problem was like a chronic disease bound to come back and plague a person is part of the narrative of Japanese inherent human nature. In other words, they are who they are and they will never change. In a later chapter we shall discuss in detail how the Zhengtong era Wokou incident was used in the Jiajing era. The racialist narrative grew strong in the Jiajing era starting with two major incidents: The Ningbo incident in 1523 and Shuangyu incident in 1548. A general examination of the two will allow us to understand how the racialist discourse became popular and how there also existed a pragmatist view of the two incidents. However, my interest is less about elaborating on the detail of the incidents, but how they helped to prompt two contrasting point of view on Japan and Wokou issue in general.
- The Ningbo incident of 1523 in Racialist Perspective
The Ningbo incident was the first rupture in the Sino-Japanese relations in the Jiajing era. Historians Fan Zhongyi and Tong Xigang wrote that it “caused Japan and the Ming court’s regular channel of mutual trade to get stuck for a long period of time” and at the same time “some pirate and merchants operated in lawlessness and started the ‘prosperity’ of smuggling activity. Shuangyu port of Zhejiang was one of their footholds.” This foothold eventually evolved into another major incident of Wokou killing and looting and led to an imperial official’s rigorous military response. The two incidents, though some twenty years apart, are not isolated from each other. I will demonstrate later on how both Zheng Xiao and Wang Shiqi, two pragmatist scholar-officials tried to recount the history of Wokou during the Jiajing era by linking the two incidents together because they believe that they reveal a common theme of the nature of the problem, which is that the coastal Chinese are the dominant force of Wokou.
Li Chengxun (李承勛 jinshi 1493), Minister of the Board of War (兵部尚書), in one of his memorials to the Jiajing emperor documented the responses of the emperor to the previous officials who wrote on the Ningbo incident. According to Li, the court learned about the incident first from the Zhejiang Chief Investigating Censor (監察御史) Ou Zhu (歐珠) and Zhejiang eunuch Liang Yao (梁瑤) who together wrote the memorial titled “Urgent barbarian incident of barbarians killing each other, simultaneously looting and attacking, daring to rebel” (緊急夷情及夷人雙殺乘機攻劫敢行叛逆等事). Subsequently, members from the Board of Rites and the Board of War such as Zhang Chong (張翀) and Xiong Lan (熊蘭) among others, all submitted their memorials. Li Chengxu recorded the emperor’s responses to them by generally used the phrase Sheng zhi shi (聖旨是), or “imperial edict states.” The emperor wrote that “these tribute-bearing barbarians relentlessly barricaded the city, looted the store houses, burning and killing people.” After demanding the Zhejiang province officials to be on high alert, the Jiajing emperor added “Song Suqing and the lineage barbarian cohorts (宗族夷黨) need to be well-guarded in prison until the Prefecture Inspectors can figure out the matter clearly.” The Jiajing emperor was enraged by the fact that his officials were not able to keep the peace during the chaos. He said “this place’s maritime and patrol (巡捕) officials were set up specifically guard against the Wokou (備倭). [The place] has been neglected of attention for a long time (因循日久), most service men were either idle or negligent [of their duties]. The Wo barbarian [saw it which] caused them to not fear China’s law. [They] moved here and there killing and burning, even harming the officials.” The Jiajing emperor continued to write that “this is an important matter. The Investigating Censor (巡按御史) must investigate the matter clearly and then write a report.”
Li’s collection was a general account of the dominant narrative of officials and the response of the emperor who concurred with that narrative. They all share one common theme which was the sense of national humiliation caused by the incident. Li collected the words of one unnamed official who wrote that Confucian scholars at the court saw the Korean king sent ambassadors to deliver some 30 heads of Wo. This unnamed official’s reaction was “we, the officials, looked to each other and suddenly felt that throughout China and the outer-world, rumors arose of how such a heavenly court (堂堂天朝) in command of ten thousand countries (統御萬國) could leave its southeastern battlefield in oblivion.” The same official continued to write that “island barbarian despised China (華夏), ravaged the cities, destroyed the neighborhood, and killed military officials in charge of commanding barbarians (都司方面官員執虜指揮), leaving such a national humiliation (貽國大恥).” The Jiajing emperor also wrote in an angry response that “barbarian bandits dared to rebel recklessly in China (敢於中華肆行叛逆).” This unnamed official was Xia Yan (夏言), a native of Jiangxi and an advisory official (給事中) in 1523. He later served in the highest court position as the Grand Secretariat in 1538 and 1539.
Li Chengxun’s collection offers a rare opportunity to learn about the thoughts of the Jiajing emperor, residing in Beijing; the young emperor felt a strong sense of isolation and dependence on his officials for reports around the country. Several of his imperial edicts in the early years of the Jiajing era showed such a dependency. He wrote on March 30th of 1523 in reference to a list of natural disasters and the death of people that, “I live inside the palace (朕深居九重), how can I know about all the condition of the people and political institutions (民情政體)? I could only rely on you people to demonstrate your loyalty and [show] wholeheartedness in helping me to rule.” On February 13th of 1527, in reference to cases of local officials abusing their power and deceiving the emperor, he wrote again that “I live inside the palace, there was no way for me to learn about the hidden difficulties of the people in four directions.” The isolated young emperor, whose words we learn from Li Chengxun, was in fact parroting the words and tones of officials like Xia Yan who wrote the memorial “An examination of the Wokou incident.” For example, the lines about lack of military preparation of the coastal officials and the Wokou burning and looting the storehouses were identical in Xia Yan’s memorial and the Jiajing emperor’s response.
Figure 1: Map of Ningbo Prefecture of Zhejiang.
Figure 2: Map of Shaoxing Prefecture of Zhejiang.
Xia Yan’s influence came from the fact that his role as “advisory official” institutionally gave him more influence over the emperor. The Ming bureaucracy had in total six small groups of advisory officials each represented one of the six Boards: Personnel, Revenue, Rites, War, Punishment, and Work. Researcher Wang Tao believes that “in China’s long history of the position of Geishizhong (since sixth century), Ming dynasty’s Geishizhong had really the most power.” It is difficult to know exactly how many advisory officials there were at the time of this Ningbo incident. Historian Wang Tianyou writes that although the number was constantly evolving in the Hongwu era as the bureaucracy expands and contacts, ever since the early years of Yongle emperor, the number of advisory officials for the Six Boards stabilized to about fifty eight people. Wang elaborates on several reasons why advisory officials during the Ming were influential. Some of the reasons are, for example, that they were the ones responsible for receiving and giving out all the memorials. They were also the ones who had the systematic right to review and rebut the emperor’s decisions if they find them inappropriate either in an imperial edict or a response to a memorial, a right called fengbo (封駁), literally means “sealing and refuting.” They were also responsible for participating in “discussions of high level military affairs, the recruitment of high level officials, making decision for major trials and punishments, etc.” While the Jiajing emperor said he lived in the palace and could not know about the affairs in the country, he nevertheless had his advisory officials who lived closely to him in the palace, and even accompanied him whenever the emperor participated in court ritual and outside visits. In my view, it is because of this close personal connection that they strongly influenced how the emperor viewed the Ningbo incident, which was through a racialist view. I consider two advisory officials, Xia Yan of the Board of Personnel and Zhang Chong of the Board of Punishment, to be the main influence of the Jiajing emperor’s view on Japanese.
Ming Shi, the official Ming history compiled during the Qing dynasty, described Xia Yan as the architect of the proposal to ban overseas trade in general. “Xia Yan believed that Wokou problem started because of overseas trade. It was then banned. Though oversea trade was banned, Japanese sea merchants were collaborating with wicked [Chinese] strongmen at sea. The law on sea ban could no way be carried out as they all turned into banditry.” Xia Yan described his reasoning in a memorial to the Jiajing emperor by outlining the cruelty of Japanese.
Defense officials gave up the city and left the bandits to burn and loot. Throughout the seacoast, [the Japanese were] screaming and killing people… the Wokou led by the ruling house (宗設) were not even a hundred or so men but our two prefectures, Ningbo and Shaoxing, had over a million civilians and soldiers combined. But they killed and looted easily… I beg the emperor to cherish the living beings of the coast who experienced this disastrous change.”
After describing what he believed to have happened, he argued that in the previous dynasty (勝國 an archaic term for “past dynasty”), whenever the Japanese came to trade with the Chinese and their desires were not entirely satisfied, they started to loot. He also wrote that “our ancestors had a keen vision of this matter and hated it. Thus since the founding of the country, eight barren directions were all with the wind (八荒向風), all four barbarians were obedient (四夷賓服), only Wokou periodically disrupted our coasts.” Xia Yan’s emphasis on ancestral teaching is a common theme of all nationalists who treasured Hongwu’s teaching that it was the nature of the Japanese to be brutal and treacherous. While Xia Yan was from Jiangxi, which was not a coastal province, he believed that he could speak for the desire of coastal people by proposing an end of overseas trade.
Zhang Chong, a native of western province of Sichuan, is also important for pioneering in the racialist account of Japanese. The Ningbo incident was the point at which officials started to propagate the line of regret about not following the ancestors’ teaching. Rather than seeing Ningbo incident as a segregated incident or contingency, they connected the violence and looting with events in the previous eras to argue that there was an inherent nature of Japanese. He wrote about the Ningbo incident as “when a group of dogs (群狗) numbering a hundred gathered together, their master was supposed to be responsible for putting them behind the cages and fences, using tied ropes to keep them obedient and assuring that they wouldn’t eat each other. If [the master] made one mistake, how could there not be in-fighting or hurting of humankind?” Zhang Chong’s metaphor of wild dogs referred to the two factions of Japanese tribute bearers competing for legitimacy to pay tribute, whereas the implied master refers to various coastal officials (海上諸司). Zhang shared with Xia that ending tribute relations with Japan was the ideal. “In the past, brilliant Han dynasty emperors marginalized or gave up Zhuya (珠崖) and Xiyu (西域). Their names lasted in the history book and every generation praised them. Moreover, Wonu are treacherous… If we allow them to come pay tribute, their gains are only tiny but our loss will be heavier than mountains.”
Zhang’s comparison is unique in that he talked of losing Japan as a tributary state as an accomplishment just like the Han emperors giving up the frontier regions of Zhuya, a little known island prefecture of the Han dynasty in today’s Hainan, or retreating back from Xiyu- today’s western Tianshan region. This is contrary to popular conception in which gaining land is perceived as glory, but because they were remote places, so giving them up was for a Confucian scholar like throwing away a burden on the back. In addition to ending tribute relations with Japan, he added that China should not invade Japan because of this incident because “ancestral teaching said it clearly that it was neither auspicious nor a fair fight (shengzhi buwu 勝之不武).” As I wrote earlier, Ming ancestral teaching primarily emphasized the reason for not invading barbarians as due to the fact that it may possibly bode disaster to China. Zhang Chong interpreted the teaching not so much as a concern for China’s possible defeat and humiliation. He pointed out that the reason was it was sheng zhi buwu. The phrase is a common phrase used in the context such as an adult fighting a child. It means that the battle will be won easily but the winner will be ashamed for using disproportionate strength against a helpless enemy. Zhang Chong was not necessarily wrong in interpreting Hongwu because Ming ancestral teaching does have the line of self-elevation as Hongwu wrote “if they do not know how much strength they have got” (若其自不揣量). He opted a vernacular way of putting it that literally meant that barbarians should not forget to weigh themselves to see if they are ready to make a challenge to the Chinese state. While the barbarians were capable of such a degree of killing in Ningbo, Zhang Chong saw only their level of barbarity as wild dogs and maintained the belief of the theoretical hierarchy of China over the barbarians. As I mentioned, the racialist narrative started long before the Jiajing era and was continuously talked about by successive Ming officials. Likewise, nationalist narrative symbolized by a rhetoric of strength and superiority could be traced back to earlier officials.
Luo Qi (羅 玘 jinshi 1487), an official under Chenghua emperor (成化Reign. 1465-1487), wrote in a letter encouraging his friend who was being sent to Fujian to fight Wokou. “Wonu barbarian is also called Japan (日本) – a barbarian beyond the Eastern Sea. It is called Nu (奴literally “slave”). As a Nu, it must have a master. Our China is the one! (吾中國是已) All under heaven, the mean and low was supposed to be the physical labor, and this Nu is most especially the case. But its heart was unstable.” Luo continued to say several times of this hierarchical relations between China and Japan.“Simply just our slave!” (吾奴之而已). He added that unlike the tributary state of Annan and Korea, Japan “also had the written language to rule its country (以文字為國), but was the only one to abandon it (獨蒙棄斥). There is no doubt that these men are of the barbarians who were like snails crawling to their shells or ants burying themselves [in the sand].” He was likely referring to the Japanese partial use of Hiragana characters rather than Chinese characters- then the Lingua Franca of East Asia. At the end of his letter, he hoped that his friend could “lead thousands of warships, one hundred thousand water force soldiers, with several hundred vice generals,” so that when they go to the frontier in Fujian they could “look straight into them like they are our slaves. Wo will feel like a piece of meat about to be served in tiger’s mouth.”
Whether it was Xia Yan who suggested that the heavenly court was in command of ten thousand countries, or Zhang Chong who called Japanese unrestrained dogs whose small country the Chinese state felt ashamed to invade, or Luo Qi who called Japanese as China’s slaves, racialist officials all believed in the theoretical superiority of the Chinese state vis-a-vis its barbarian neighbors. I suggest that the rhetoric of strength was not based on actual strength. Zhang Chong interpreted the Ming ancestral teaching as an unwillingness to invade the neighboring countries and not inability. But Hongwu himself understood the weakness of China’s coastal provinces. He said in one imperial edict that “traitors in the mainland (內地奸民) went to their place in Japan (倭國) to give them all the ideas about how our coastal defense are weak, how many soldiers are in the cities, thus leaking all the secrets. If the bandits ride some three or five hundred ships and with ten or twenty thousand soldiers, at the dawn swarm to the gates, these are all critical matters.” Racialist officials were mobilized by two incentives. First, it is the belief in the theoretical hierarchy of Sino-barbarian relations in a Sinocentric world. Second, they were all influenced by a collective hatred toward the Japanese. This hatred was formed by the writings of scholar-officials who recounted the brutality of the Japanese Wokou.
- Yang Shouchen’s Writing on Wonu and its Dual interpretation
Racialist discourse argues for a timeless human nature (人性) of Japanese whose killings of thousands of people in Ningbo was a result of their innate brutality that only vindicated Ming founder’s keen insight that Japanese were treacherous. Advisory official Zhang Chong buttressed his argument on ending trade with Japan by telling the Jiajing emperor a story:
During the years of Zhengtong (1436-1449), they came to our Dasong (大嵩), invaded our Taozhu (桃渚), killing and steaming [people], blood was as much as the waterfall. When they get the pregnant women, they started dissecting them, betting on whether it is a boy or girl, and the loser must drink wine. They tied the baby onto the pillar, then forced [the baby] into boiling soup, looking at [the baby] crying while they stood by laughing… These words of Yang Shouchen, the former minister of Ministry of Personnel (戶部尚書), are the most sincere. Whoever read it started to cry.
These accounts were paraphrases of Minister Yang’s original words and retained its originality. Yang Shouchen’s influence on the narrative of Wokou is such that I believe the Mingshi most likely borrowed a line from Yang as well when it mentioned that if the Japanese could not use violence to get their greed satisfied, they would then claim to come pay tribute. Yang also discussed the consequence of this brutal killing scene:
Our soldiers still had the fury from previous nights (宿昔之憤meaning “anger of earlier events”), then they saw them (Wokou) come to look for death (自來送死). [The soldiers] were all in glare and sharpening their swords (瞋目礪刃). They desired to eat their (Wokou) flesh and used their [peeled] skins as blankets for sleep. [The Japanese thought they] could not get what they want, so come to pay tribute again. Our general agreed with that request and sent it to the court. [We are] bound to fall into their trap again… [Our goal] was both to make them capable of being transformed (嚮化之心) and to dissuade them from disturbing our coast. As we look at today, their treachery was just as before. They are definitely not the ones [who come] to be transformed (非嚮化者矣). When we take their tribute, they come to invade. When we don’t take tribute, they still come to invade. No one has any doubt about this.
Zhang Chong picked up the writing by Yang Shouchen and was deeply touched by it as he said that it induced people to cry about the suffering of Chinese in the hands of Japanese. Yang Shouchen hinted also the ability of the Japanese Wokou to be treacherous and opportunistic because they vacillated between tribute mission and pirate activity according to whether the Ming was strong enough to defend the coast. One scholar in his study of Zhejiang maritime defense also writes:
The southeastern Putuo Mountain (普陀山, the Buddhist Mountain that venerated Bodhisattva Guanyin) happens to be near us in Zhoushan archipelago [of Zhejiang province]. Often time, Wonu came here and used the pretension of burning incense (for worshiping) but in name only. In reality, they were spying on our actual strength. They were cruising and abandoning bays. [Our] soldiers and boats in Diaoyu reef (釣魚礁) and Baisha port (白沙港) ought to be heaviest.
This scholar’s perspective on military happens to be very similar to Yang’s distrust of Japanese who he believed were cunning by nature and were waiting for an opportunity to invade. Yang was mostly remembered for his description of the brutal Japanese killing scene, which was picked up by other officials of different levels and branches of government. In addition to Zhang Chong, Ming statecraft collection also has the following officials also cited Yang’s work on Wonu in their memorials: Li Chengxun, the advisory official, and Qian Wei (錢薇 jinshi 1532), who served as Xingren (行人), a position in charge of diplomatic etiquette.
Li wrote in another memorial to the Jiajing emperor that “[I] tried to read the family collection of essays by Yang Shouchen, our dynasty’s Minister of the Board of Personnel; page after page, [he] mentioned how the Japanese were changeable, treacherous, and vicious.” Qian Wei’s memorial mentioned the baby killing story using the same paraphrase as Zhang Chong. However, one can just easily find the participation of Chinese in these specific killing incidents such as Zhong Pufu, a veteran level Wokou from Longxi, in Zhangzhou, Fujian, who was eventually caught and decapitated.
Among the historians who took interest in this story, their source is either Ming Jingshi Wen Bian (Ming dynasty’s Statecraft Collection) or Chouhai Tubian by Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. These two rich sources are certainly the delight of all scholars working on the field of Wokou. However, I find that it is difficult, if not impossible, for scholars to trace how a narrative was transferred than what the content is about. For example, Fudan University’s researcher Zhu Lili studied the baby killing story only from Qian Wei’s memorial and wrote “despite the prior friendly relationship between the people of the two countries, China and Japan, by the time of the Ming dynasty, Chinese commoners’ impression of Japanese reached a nadir.” I am not suggesting that historian like Zhu Lili is mistaken in understanding Yang Shouchen’s original intention. My challenge is to the fact that, as far as I know, historians ignored how there was inconsistency between different versions of Yang’s work and that inconsistency shows that Yang’s work may be manipulated by different officials and generals. I believe that an original work is always necessary to verify whether certain second-handed interpretation altered the original meaning. However, the debates I have seen so far are between scholars over whether Yang’s story was genuine. Thus, the question of how the story was used escapes our attention unchecked.
Nationalist historians Fan and Tong debated with Japanese historian Tanaka Takeo on the issue of Japanese brutality. Tanaka believed that the brutality in the war reports were often exaggeration and the wild and bloodthirsty description of Wokou was historically inaccurate. Fan and Tong responded by citing Japanese historian Inoue Kiyoshi, that “killing, looting, robbing are the custom of warriors.” Fan and Tong wrote that “these are all words of the people of the time. They gave a relatively accurate account of Japanese ‘custom’ and ‘nature’.” In my view, Fan and Tong are mistaken in presenting the “people of the past” as one homogeneous group. They identified with the racialist narrative and used evidence useful to the racialist narrative, thus gave an overly attention to the Japanese perpetrators and not the coastal Chinese. But I am also not entirely satisfied with Tanaka’s evasiveness because I find it possibly driven by a dislike for the description of Japanese and a selective distrust of sources. I am less interested in the question of who killed whom as it often pulls historians into the debate of responsibility, guilt, and sentimentalism. I am interested in the competing narrative. The fact that there existed more than one narrative, competing and contradicting, reveal the impossibility for historians today to write a smooth narrative for doing so often involved prioritizing one source and downplaying others. I argue that these competing narratives did not treat Yang Shouchen’s letter the same.
I found that there were three books that took in Yang’s entire essay. The essay is called “Yang wenyi gong yu Zhang Zhuke lun wonu gong xian shu” (楊文懿公與張主客論倭奴進貢疏Master Yang Wenyi and Zhang Zhuke discussing Wonu’s tribute matter). One is Zhejiangness Xue Jun’s Riben guo kao lue (日本國考略), an investigative research about Japan. The exact information of the author is little known. One scholar Ma Xianhong believed that Xue Jun’s study has to be after the Ningbo incident since it was recorded in his work. I suspect that it was written as early as in 1530 (嘉靖庚寅年) as indicated by preface author Wang Wenguang. Much of Xue Jun’s work is still awaiting more research. Thus, I should set him aside from our discussion. The other one is Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian’s Chouhai Tubian (籌海圖編), a book on maritime defense against Wokou that collected maps and strategies by numerous scholars and generals, published in 1562. The two sources, for the most part, retain the original work by Yang Shouchen whose essay is also available in his family collection, Yang wenyi gong wenji (楊文懿公文集), compiled and organized by his grandson Yang Dezheng in 1588. Despite the fact that Zheng, Hu, and Xue all seem to have collected and copied the original essay by Yang, problems arise because of inconsistencies among the versions.
Immediately after discussing that horrific killing scene, all three versions continue to say that “their viciousness was beyond measure, it is beyond what words can described” (荒淫極惡致有不可言者). However, the three sources have a minor discrepancy in the next line that creates ambiguity. In Yang’s family collection, he writes “pick up the young and strong and their millet and clothes. [They] swept away all of them and return to their base.” (Ju min zhi shao zhuang yu qi su bo, xi juan er gui chao xue 舉民之少壯與其粟帛席捲而歸巢穴). In the other two sources, which were identical, all were the same except ju was removed and replaced by wu. The two words are not synonymous. Ju (舉) is a verb that means “to lift, to pick up, to raise,” whereas wu (吾) means “I, we, our.” The altered version therefore sound like this “Our young and strong and their millet and clothes.” The word yu can be used not just as “and” but also as “to give, to grant.” And the word qi can mean “their, them.” The new version therefore reads like “our young and strong grant them millet and clothes. [They] swept away all of them and return to their base.”
The problem here is by allowing ju to stay in the sentence, it is clear who is doing what. The agency was in the earlier discussion of brutal Japanese who then picked up both people and items. But by removing that verb ju and replacing it with wu, the agency was blurred and we are forced to focus on the agency of “our young and strong,” which if combined with raising voice on the dual meaning term yu, altered the whole sentence. Then, the two possible ways of reading the quote raises the question. Were the Japanese stealing items and looting the young and strong to be their accomplice? Or did the latter group actively provided the former group with items? A common phrase that pragmatists used to describe this second activity is jie ji (接濟) which is about supporting the Wokou with ships and rations in order to solicit their labor. While it is beyond doubt that Yang’s original intention was to say it was the Japanese who were harming the innocent Chinese people, could it also be a convenient blurring of agency by general Hu Zongxian and Zheng Ruozeng, both of whom were pragmatists who focused on domestic treacherous people (內地奸民) more than the Japanese?
To be sure, I acknowledge that even though such a change took place, a reader is still able to grasp Yang’s original line. My challenge is that the change turned a clarity into ambiguity in which different people can grasp different meanings from it. I have personally not found anyone who seems to read it the second way; Yang’s quote on killing itself often was enough to shape the tone of their memorials. But it is possible that Zheng Xiao, a pragmatist scholar, general, and official was also confused by the awkward wording, he rephrased it as “looting our young and strong” (驅掠少壯) while keeping all other lines intact. All of the earlier officials citing Yang’s work were nationalist/racialists whose memorials were similar in tone and concentrated on Japanese brutal nature. But I believe that this would have been different for an audience in the pragmatist camp whose words on “the youth and strong” were seldom as victimized people. Pragmatists more often described how them as the ones soliciting the Wo, providing the supplies, organizing looting and killing, and reigning as powerful sea lords..
The coastal officials’ designation of “youth and strong” was typically synonymous with rogues (無賴), local bullies (當地惡霸), men who felt life is boring and thirsty for fight (好鬥無聊之徒), and seamen who chased after stink (海上逐臭之夫, meaning those who are absolutely stink, their only way of living is to hide on the sea), just to name a few of their common nicknames in Ming Statecraft Collection. Why was there such a divergence in opinion about the coastal men? Were they not worthy of sympathy? Was it not that the Japanese were the killers in Ningbo whereas the coastal Chinese were their victims? It is useful now to look at the other side of the story behind the Ningbo incident and then turn to the various accounts by generals and officials in the pragmatist camp. It is important to keep in mind that the scope of this crisis was not limited to the first few years of Jiajing era around the Ningbo incident. Another major incident that I believe to be revealing of Wokou story is Shuangyu incident in 1549 which we will discuss later. The debates about Wokou reverberated in the literary circles for decades, for it was a continuing crisis that lasted even after the Jiajing emperor’s forty-six years of rule. The resistance to Wokou (however way one defines them) was a zeitgeist that captivated the attention of elite society and was expressed in official memorials, private writings, poetry, opera, and painting among others. My goal is not so much to reiterate that history of resistance against Wokou and give extensive biographies of the most important national heroes. Though they are certainly important and customary to any writing on Wokou, I build upon that work by focusing on those occasions in which orthodox beliefs are disorganized by an influx of contradicting opinions and experience. I challenge the fundamental beliefs that one can draw a line of good and evil along national lines.
- Beyond Orthodox Writings, the Participation of Chinese in Wokou
Li Chengxun wrote in his memorial of what he saw as suspicious in the local account from Zhejiang. Certainly, his attitude toward Japan was not any better than that of Xia or Zhang because of this suspicion. He wrote at the end of his memorial that “the ruling house (宗設) has the crime of offending China, [we] cannot let them escape heaven’s decimation.” Heaven’s decimation is a common phrase used by racialists on writings of four barbarians (四夷) in general. It is more often pair with the phrase “refuse to” (不服) such as to say “Wonu refused to be decimated by heaven,” a phrase that denote an implication that the group is undeserved of living. Nevertheless, Li pointed out what he saw as problematic concerning the narrative of Japanese killing. “This incident is so sudden, with the hidden truth mostly depending on hearsay on the street, it is most difficult to discern [what actually happened]. And I found that commander Feng En also wrote how there were so much hidden information that [the local officials] dared not report.” What was the hidden truth? Xia Yan wrote earlier that he could not believe that several hundreds of Japanese tribute bearers were able to cause so much killing and destruction in Ningbo and Shaoxin which had over a million civilians and soldiers. Xia Yan, Li Chengxun, and Zhang Chong all called it a national humiliation. We turn now to Wang Shizhen (王世貞 jinshi 1547), Chancellor of the Board of Punishment (刑部主事) and a renowned scholar in late Jiajing era.
Though Wang Shizhen was not even born yet at the time of incident (he was born in 1526, the Ningbo incident was in 1523), he studied a side of the Ningbo incident that few people paid attention to. After following the conventional narrative of the two factions of Japanese killing each other, one led by Song Suqing and the other led by the ruling house, he added:
They killed over thousands. Commander Liu Jin and other centurions and captains were all killed after they encountered them. Later, the imperial edict orders that Song Suqing be imprisoned. [We] started to listen to his explanation slowly. [He] admitted to have a heart of hatred for China and [said] that China’s desperadoes (亡命者) often went to the sea and congregated as ship masters. They (Chinese desperadoes) come and go to do business between Fujian and Zhejiang, and they used bribes to hire the strong and tough Wonu to defend themselves. The cunning merchants and guileful people of Fujian and Zhejiang saw the great potential for profit, so they privately traded contraband goods [with the barbarians]. They relied on officials and local elites as their umbrellas. There were officials who dared not ask anything about it. Those cunning ones (黠者 Chinese merchants) are the ones to be blamed the most. They ran away [with the goods] without making the payment. [The other] ship masters were furious, so they were always killing people. And those other ships that were not for business purpose also started to loot.
Wang Shizhen supplemented the narrative of Japanese killing in Ningbo by introducing the role of coastal Chinese such as those in Fujian and Zhejiang. In Wang’s writing, although there was no denial that the Japanese participated in killing of thousands of people in Ningbo and Shaoxing, the chaos was complicated by the fact that Chinese coastal strongmen used the crisis as an opportunity to hire the Japanese to defend personal interest and settle private feuds. Chinese bandits participated in the looting and killing while the blame was blend into the crime of Japanese. Wang wrote in the margin that “the proclaimed narrative of Wonu as extremely tough and ferocious does not mean every Japanese was like that. [Our] eunuch in Fujian saw this with his own eyes.” Wang’s description of the Ningbo incident unveil another side of the story. Racialist and nationalist scholar-officials concentrated on the formal tributary relations and trade between China and Japan, emphasizing the Wokou issue as a conflict between the two countries. But there was also a dynamic private trade between the Chinese and the barbarians.
The coastal Chinese had the agency and desire to trade privately with the barbarians both because of profit and a survival necessity determined by a geography of lack of farm land and close proximity to the sea. The source of the Ming Wokou problem was the context of the Ming sea ban. General Hu Zongxian wrote “our dynasty strictly forbids even a plywood to go to the sea (國朝明禁寸板不許下海). Though the law ought to be strict, but coastal people depended on the sea for livelihood.” Ming law code compiled by Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang specified:
Any official or civilian who build illegal ships of two brigs or more, or bring contraband goods to the sea in order to go to barbarian countries (番 and not 翻) to trade, or secretly collaborating with maritime bandits and be their guides to loot innocent commoners, all will be given extreme punishment. The whole family will also be sent to frontier areas to staff the troops. If one only lends giant ships to people who want to go to the sea, or only helps distribute the barbarian goods, or does not build giant ships but collaborates with sea goers to buy barbarian goods, all will be banished to the frontier to staff the troops. [Officials should] pay attention to those sea goers who come with foreign goods, privately doing the buying and selling. Of the things they sell, if is more than one thousand jin of sapan wood or pepper, then they ought to be banished to staff the troops as well and foreign goods will all be confiscated. If it is just commoner riding on a one brig size small boat in near the coastal area to catch fish and shrimps, or just people nearby chopping up woods, patrol soldiers must not bother them.
I will discuss more in later how trading barbarian goods were so common in coastal areas like Fujian. The Fujianese did build many two-brig ocean going boats to trade with Japan. As the law code shows the popular conception of not even a plywood should go to the sea actually was not accurate. If a small boat is in nearby areas fishing and catching shrimps, then they are legally speaking not violating the law. Zhejiangness official Qiu Junqing 仇俊卿 (juren 1537) who later became the imperial teacher (國子監博士) of emperor Wanli, observed that “sea ban is too strict that whenever they (soldiers) see [boats with] weapons and fire units, they do not bother [to find out] whether there are barbarian goods on the ship, and simply just arrest them.” Qiu continued to explain how innocent fishermen needed weapons to defend against pirates.
The difficulty of knowing who was a fisherman and who was a pirate was compounded when countless number of coastal people relied on the sea for survival. Zheng Ruozeng said “I used to have personally went to the sea and only then that I find out that in areas like Dinghai (in Zhejiang), poor people who relied on the sea for survival rode small boats from Chenqian to Bashan. There were no less than ten thousand people harvesting clams and seaweeds.” He added that they had the choice of being killed by pirates or collaborated with the pirates, “thus, [one sees] mountains stretch wide and far, depressed [cities] live no residents.” From these perspectives, the law on sea ban fail to even protect the people who were not going out for trade. Their simple association with ocean already implicated them with Wokou problem as they were harassed both by Wokou and Chinese soldiers. I will discuss more in-depth in chpater 9 about this theme of coastal people struggle against sea ban. But it is useful to keep in mind now that Ming officials in the Jiajing era were already noticing the inherent problem of the sea ban. One official wrote in reference to this law, “if Gao emperor (meaning Ming founder, Gao is the highest emperor from whom all emperors descended from) were ruling in this era, he might have had to adjust his own edict.”
Figure3: Shachuan, or large junk, is one type of ocean going, two-brig ship.
Figure 4: Yu chuan, or fishing boat, is a regular one brig ship.
I suggest that we transition from the Ningbo incident to an overview of the Shuangyu incident in 1549. It highlights not only the escalation of Wokou disturbances, but also reveals how the Chinese Wokou thrived in a world of multicultural trade and lawlessness. The incident eventually brought a final conflict between General Zhu Wan and the Fujianese and Zhejiangness. The struggle between the coastal merchants and this General is most revealing of the fact that coastal Chinese comprised the majority of the Wokou. Eventually, Zhu Wan was forced to suicide because his battle against the Wokou led to a conflict with the coastal people. The capable general’s last words were “if the son of heaven does not kill me, officials will kill me. If officials do not kill me, Fujianese and Zhejiangness will must certainly kill me.” I will argue later how an understanding of Wokou is not about the Japanese but the coastal Chinese whose way of life was under threat by the central government’s policy. I will also be challenging the racialist narrative of coastal Chinese as victims or aggressor dichotomy.
- Shuangyu Incident: the World of Private Trade and Lawlessness
In the twenty-six years from 1523 to 1549, the Japanese continued to pay tribute despite the chaos of Ningbo incident. In 1539, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu sent tribute but the Jiajing emperor asked that his officials to investigate. “If they are obedient as before, then send them to [Beijing] according to custom, but also restrict them in their residence so that local residents will not tried to privately intermingle and collaborate [with the barbarians] which will cause so much troubles.” In 1540, Ashikaga Yoshiharu’s ambassadors were allowed to pay tribute in Beijing but they asked if Japanese ambassador Song Suqing could be released from prison and returned to Japan and that tributes given in 1523 could be compensated? The emperor wrote to the Board of War and Board of Punishment that neither of these two requests could be satisfied.
The tribute mission was eventually unsuccessful. The Jiajing emperor used one phrase to justify his decisions. He wrote to his officials in 1539 that “the barbarians’ nature is deceitful, do not trust them easily” (夷性多谲不可輕信). In 1540, he wrote to the officials of the two Boards that “barbarian business is always deceitful and cunning, difficult to trust” (夷情谲詐難信). The last tribute mission between Ming China and Japan was in 1548, led by tribute ambassador Zhou Liang (周良). However, Zhou Liang came with more men than allowed. The regulation was that there should not be more than three boats and one hundred men. But Zhou Liang came with four boats and six hundred men, and came earlier than allowed. The custom of one visit every ten years was also not being followed because they were supposed to come in 1549, but Zhou Liang’s men came in November of 1547. The Jiajing emperor wrote:
The Wo barbarians refused to obey the designated tribute period and carried with them more men and boats than allowed. Three offices and maritime officials refused to accept them, but permitted them to be stationed temporarily in the outer port, which caused some disturbances. In the previous years, the ruling house rebellion has not received punishment. Thus, I order that the new Inspector General to give proper punishment and to find out also whether Song Suqing’s case has been settled.
The Jiajing emperor eventually refused Zhou Liang’s mission and demanded that his people return to Japan. The emperor’s responses to the two missions reveal that he could not forgive the Japanese for the Ningbo incident in 1523. The story about Wokou was not a story about official tribute missions like the one led by Zhou Liang. A full understanding of the issue requires us to know about the world of private trade and coastal strongmen.
The Inspector General that the Jiajing emperor mentioned was Zhu Wan (朱紈), serving as censor (都御史) and new Inspector General of Nangan in Jiangxi in 1546. He was then promoted to the Provincial Military Commander of Fujian and Zhejiang in 1547. Before Zhou Liang was sent back in 1549, Commander Zhu Wan was given full responsibility by the Jiajing emperor to take care of the mission. One study wrote that in March of 1548, “Japanese ambassador Zhou Liang arrived at the delegation residence in Ningbo. There was an anonymous letter thrown in the middle of the residence that said “the son of heaven has ordered censor [Zhu Wan] to lead his soldiers to kill all the ambassadors. [You] can take a preemptive strike by assassinating the censor at night.” Zhu Wan himself described that “Ningbo’s treacherous people threw a letter into the barbarian residence to instigate the barbarians, encouraging them to stir up trouble. All of them (the treacherous people) are now rest in peace.” Were the treacherous Ningbo people being altruistic to Ambassador Zhou Liang by asking him to lead the Japanese in a revolt so to avoid being killed? It turned out that there was no such a plan whatsoever by the Ming to kill the Japanese ambassadors. But at the time, Zhu Wan was actively destroying the Shuangyu port of Zhejiang, where coastal Chinese and barbarians such as the other Japanese and the Portuguese (called Folangji 佛郎機) actively traded with each other. The letter was most likely from those Chinese strongmen of coastal provinces who again desired lawlessness and the death of Zhu Wan. It also provides an interesting parallel to the Ningbo incident chaos because Chinese strongmen were again hoping to see the Japanese revolt, as they did in the Ningbo incident, such that they may again be able to loot and burn and pushed the blame to the Japanese.
Zhu Wan believed that the Wokou disturbances from the time of 1523 to 1549 all found their source in the Shuangyu port. He wrote a memorial during his first inspection of the port:
Whenever the southern wind pattern started, the treacherous bandits of China gathered barbarians from Japan, and islands like Portugal, Pahang (in today’s Malaysia), and Siam to congregate and station in Ningbo’s Shuangyu port. They communicated information and supported each other with rations, it became almost like a custom. They also spread to four directions to loot. Year after year, day after day, the coastal regions were ravaged to a level beyond words can described.
Figure 5: Portrait of Japanese 1.
Figure 6: Portrait of Japanese 2.
Figure 7: Portrait of Japanese 3.
Figure 8: Portrait of Portuguese.
Figure 9: Portrait of Pahangness.
Figure 10: Portrait of Siamese.
Zhu Wan added in another memorial that “now according to the earlier reasoning, in order to see how the maritime bandits were courting all the barbarians, [we must] take over Shuangyu [port]. I heard that for over twenty years, [they] were boldly looting people and property from some hundreds and thousands of families.” Zhu Wan was well aware that the agency of the so-called Wokou was in the hands of the coastal Chinese. The Shuangyu incident thus refers to his battles against the coastal Chinese who congregated as strongmen at sea. I suggest that we turn to two general accounts that described the cause of this conflict.
Huang Ming yu wo lu, or “the Account of Great Ming’s Reigning of Wo,” compiled by Wang Shiqi (jinshi 1589) under the order of the Wanli emperor described this incident. Wang was the son of Wang Shizhen, an official who had strong sympathies with the Japanese and one of the most outspoken critics against Chinese desperadoes (亡命者). As he revisits the Shuangyu incident, he writes:
The affairs of the sea today first started because treacherous Chinese merchant Wang Zhi, Xu Hai, and others often sold China’s precious goods to barbarian customers. Most of the business was conducted by Yuyao’s (sub-prefecture of Ningbo by the sea) Xie lineage. After a while, the Xies were quite seduced by the value [of the goods]. When the treacherous [merchants] hurried to solicit them back, the Xies owed so much debt that they could not pay it back, so [they] claimed angrily that “We are going to get you to the officials!” The treacherous [men] were enraged but also scared. So they partnered with their men and barbarian customers. At night, [they] looted and burned down the Xie lineage house, killed several men and women, took their booty and ran away. The county magistrate was so panicked that he wrote to his superior saying: ‘Wo thieves have turned into bandits.’ The Inspector General [Zhu] Wan immediately started to arrest the bandits… Powerful bandits at sea (巨盜), aiming at looting, saw that the tide was right so they disembarked, acting as Wo thieves in name only. In reality, there were not even a few real Wo. At the time, there had been too many days of peace at sea that few knew anything about military. When they heard about bandits, each of them run away like birds and animals, and their houses were all empty. When defense soldiers believed that the Wokou were coming, they [too] immediately started running away in tatters.
Zhu Wan’s attack on Shuangyu, the headquarter of the coastal Chinese bandits, thus started because of the private business dispute between Chinese coastal strongmen like Wang Zhi and Xu Hai and local elite like the Xie lineage. Wang Shiqi’s writing believed that the so-called Wo bandits that ravaged the seacoast was not the inherently inhumane and brutal Japanese who continued a tradition of killing, but rather it was the coastal Chinese bandits who took the opportunity again, as they did in the Ningbo incident, to turn a crisis into an opportunity of killing and looting and conveniently pushed the blame to the Japanese. Before we turn to a more detailed analysis of Chinese Wokou, it is necessary to briefly examine the dynamism of private trade between the coastal Chinese and the Japanese.
Barbarian customers were known for their goods such as swords and folding fans, though both were perceived negatively by racialist officials. Yang Shouchen wrote in despise that “their tribute goods like swords and folding fans are not a necessity. Their price was not even one thousand [coins].” Historian Charlotte von Verschuer wrote of the price of Japanese swords in the tribute mission, which could range as high as 10,000 coins per sword as in 1432, or as low as 600 coins in 1483. Von Verschuer also added that “folding fans, another Japanese creation, enjoyed particular success abroad… Fans were often decorated with ancient Japanese-style paintings… or with Chinese-style images that had been introduced by Zen monks.” These paintings were perceived by racialist scholar-officials in a negative way. Official Qian Wei and Li Chengxun both claimed that they agreed with Yang Shouchen’s belief of these Japanese goods. Qian Wei wrote “Yang Shouchen said that Wo barbarian often use little objects like swords and folding fans to desecrate the heavenly court” (褻瀆天朝). Li Chengxun wrote the same line. It may be possible that the word “desecrate” meant to describe the paintings on the fan that Chinese officials found inappropriate.
It is difficult to determine to which essay from Yang the two officials were referring. They may also be along the line with anti-trade scholar-officials in general. For example, Gui Youguan believed that “calling foreign barbarian to come trade with us is because they are from afar.” He wrote that treasuring distant products (遠物) not precious product (貴物) defined Ming’s tributary trade relation. In other words, official trade involving the tributary ritual was about the symbolic value rather than physical values of the goods. But for the dynamic private trade that drove the barbarians from all directions to the coastal Chinese was about profit margins. At the same time, the Japanese desired Chinese goods. General Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian gave an extensive list that included “silk, cloth, mercury, irons, iron pot, iron pottery, vinegar, and ancient coin.” Out of all of these goods, I believe the exchange between Chinese coins and Japanese silver to be most revealing of that history of dynamic private trade.
Zheng and Hu wrote that “Wo do not mint their own coins and use only ancient Chinese coins. Every one thousand coins is worth four tales of silver. If they are from Fujian private mint, the new money is worth one thousand coin for one silver and two coins. They only do not use Yongle and Kaiyuan two kinds.” New archaeological evidence proved otherwise of the lack of popularity on Yongle coin (永樂通寶) in Japan, at least not during the Jiajing era. Though this dislike for the devalued Yongle coin was certainly true during the early Ashikaga Shogunate period from 1500 to 1513, the constant inflow of better quality Yongle coin built up the confidence among the Japanese on this Chinese coinage. The popularity was such that, one source quoted Taiyu-in Temple record (大獻院殿御實記), as saying “Japan since the middle age has always received Chinese dynasty’s coins from Quanzhou, especially the Yongle coins of Ming dynasty is of widespread usage. If [you] sell land to people, all [you] say is how many guan (a string of one thousand coins) is this land, or even just the word “Yong” which was synonymous with the word for money.” Yongle coin was, however, eventually banned at the start of the 17th century under Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The period in between this rise and fall included the entire period of the Jiajing era from 1521 to 1567.
Today, archaeologists have unearthed Yongle coin in all parts of Japan, often hidden in pots and stored in temples. In 1930, Japanese scholar Niyuta Seisan investigated 48 places of Japan where 554,714 pieces of coins were found of which 99.8 percent were minted in China, and 73 percent of the coins of Ming dynasty were Yongle coin, ranked as the sixth most common Chinese coins of the study. Also, one location in Hōzan-ji temple in Hyōgo Prefecture found coins numbered a total of 194,825 Yongle coins (mixed with other coins). In other places such as Fukui Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, one can find Yongle coins at each location numbered at least 10,000 pieces (mixed with other coins). One can only speculate with interest the question, could these coins come from that period of dynamic private trade? We know that Fujian province, one of the Chinese provinces that interacted most extensively with Japan, was minting some 11 million pieces of coins per year at the beginning of the 16th century. Many houses today in southern Fujian also have been found to have hidden numerous foreign silver coins, which most historians would agree could only come from Japan and later the newly discovered America, for China lacks its own silver mines. In my view, whether it was Japanese silver in Fujian or Chinese coins in Japan, archaeological evidence supplements textual records by providing a tangible evidence of a period of dynamic private trade.
Figure 11: Chinese making coin money: The process of bringing out the mold.
Figure 12: Chinese making coin money: The process of burning the coins.
Figure 13: Chinese making coin money: The process of shining the coins.
Figure 14: Kingdom of Japan making silver money.
After this consideration of the scale of the trade, we return to the main characters, Chinese strongmen in coastal provinces. I suggest that not only were they not subordinated to any Japanese, but they in fact picked up the self-conscious concept of warriors that was popular in traditional local history. There were those such as “Zhangzhou’s so called twenty-four generals (jiang) and twenty eight stars (xiu).” These powerful Wokou did not hide their indigenous origin. While “jiang” reminds us of their association with heavenly soldiers in Daoist cosmic beliefs (a common phrase is Tian bing tian jiang 天兵天將), “twenty eight Xiu” was most obviously of Chinese origin, referring to the heavenly stars in control by four mythical animals called “Azure dragon” (青龍), “Black tortoise” (玄武), “White tiger”(白虎), and “Vermilion Bird” (朱雀). Then there were the most powerful Wang Zhi (?-1556) and Xu Hai (?-1556), both from southern Zhili, who were both defeated by General Hu Zongxian in 1556. Hu recalled his battle experience with Wang Zhi and wrote “their tactics are cunning. For every ruin they create they conspired to say that island barbarians did that, which is why the southeast knew rebel Wang Zhi but not know that he is the cause of all their miseries.”
While Wang Shiqi’s description of how Shuangyu incident started seem to suggest that there was not even one Japanese implicated in the fighting, Zhang Xiao’s account of the incident is in someways different but another way complementary to Wang’s. Like Wang, Zheng Xiao also paid attention to the treacherous merchants as the leading cause of the Wokou problem. Zheng Xiao was not aware of the implication of this specific Xie lineage but took note on how there were local Chinese elites who could not resist the temptation to cheat barbarian merchants. Zheng wrote that “treacherous local elites (奸豪) got in touch with the outside world and gathered information from the inside (of China to leak secret); there was no peace at sea. Barbarian goods were stored in treacherous merchants’ [houses]. After a while, treacherous merchants took advantage for as much as ten thousands [tales of] gold (多則萬金) and no less than one thousand [tales of] gold (少則千金), delayed them and refused to pay back.”
Zheng’s study is different in that he added the agency of the Japanese. Certainly, Zheng is not uncritical of the coastal Chinese strongmen or Chinese merchant houses just like Wang Shiqi’s study indicates, but Zheng provides an interesting situation in which the assumption of Japanese treachery and inborn brutality is reversed. The treacherous Japanese, as the racialist officials like to call them, were outfoxed by their Chinese merchant counterparts and driven to fighting in order to defend their own interests. First of all, I believe that these Japanese were also private traders. As Zhu Wan wrote, they were seduced by Chinese merchants to congregate in the cosmopolitan Shuangyu port of Zhejiang to trade and to loot. Therefore, they are not the same as official tribute mission. With the strong local elite holding up their goods and refused to return them, Zheng described the predicament of these Japanese: “They went to officials’ houses and were refused help, [thus] knowing that corrupted officials were worse than treacherous merchants.” The account continues to describe how, after they realized they were cheated, the Japanese fled to nearby islands and started killing and looting. Zheng wrote that if the official wanted to send soldiers, there would always be those leaking tips to barbarians (輒齋糧漏師) thus the official tried to “talk softly with the barbarians, promising that, ‘in another day, your merchandise will arrived. But they will be again put in my house.’ After this lasted for a while, the barbarians were in extreme anger at all the elites and official households.” They said “my goods are the items of the King of Japan. If you don’t compensate me, how can I reply to King of Japan. If I don’t loot some of your golds and treasures and kill you, the King of Japan will most certainly kill me.” Zheng highlighted here the corruption of local officials and their collaboration with lineage elites, who together took full advantage of the barbarians hoping that they could leave after being cheated. We certainly need not assume that either Zheng or Wang were omnipotent in knowing every detail and conversation, but what is important in their writings is how they vividly reflected hidden social problems.
The powerful Chinese merchants and coastal strongmen thrived because many coastal people were experiencing economic hardships. Zheng added that now with the participation of Japanese in the killing, it was an opportunity for ordinary folks to join the chaos of looting as well. They ranged from “murderers, prisoners, banished officials, monks, and unemployed scholars” who grew agitated in the context of hunger and cold, and the burden of high taxes and corvee labor. They were led by the infamous Wang Wufeng, Xu Biqi,  and Mao Yunfeng, who hired overseas Chinese (華人) to participate in looting of storehouses and letting out of prisoners. Zheng Xiao’s book, Wu xue bian, or “My own learning,” consisted mostly of his selections from secondary sources. Unfortunately, he made no reference to the source of these narratives, though it was rather common for scholars during the Ming to do so especially when concerning popular narrative. I suggest that Zheng Xiao’s study is not an imagination. This narrative of Wonu victimhood and the participation of the majority Chinese Wokou belongs to a dominant pragmatist narrative that countered the idea of the inherent killing instinct of Japanese. Though no pragmatist dismissed the role of “Japanese” once and for all, they considered them as minor in compared to the greatest enemies, those within China itself. Zheng Xiao’s description of Japanese was a group of people forced to condition of despair by their business with the underground Chinese and powerful Chinese merchant houses. This is different from the racialist account in which it was always the innocent Chinese losing their lives to the Japanese who killed and looted for greed. Another important point Zheng made is about the participation of desperate lower class Chinese in coastal provinces such as scholars, officials, and monks who were all in a condition of poverty.
A little known Cantonese origin official Huo Yuxia (霍與瑕jinshi 1559) wrote in an essay about what he thought had led his Cantonese natives to become Wokou. “People of this coastal province were fatigued. [They were] troubled by lawsuits, impoverished by corvee labor, [suffered] the encroachment of [their land by] the rich and the backbreaking debts. Their hatred penetrated into their bones. Their consideration about rebellion has been simmering for a long time.” Huo then compared the coastal strongmen who led the Wokou to famous Chinese historical generals like Liu Bei (劉備), Guan Yu (關羽), Zhao Yun (趙雲), and Zhang Fei (張飛). Huo also urged the government to co-opt three Cantonese elder martial artists, for he feared that they may take up the leadership of the impoverished Cantonese and go to sea. Huo’s examination is similar to Zheng in that both focused on the impoverished and rebellious coastal people and local strongmen who could rally their support. The three elders practiced “exceptional” martial arts, had experienced in military affairs (possibly veterans), and were also boatmen. The likelihood that they would seize this leadership opportunity was there and they might even have had as much potential as Zheng Xiao’s three Chinese pirates Wang Zhi, Xu Hai, and Mao Haifeng. Zheng wrote in reference to Wang, Xu, and Mao, that “these guys are all our overseas Chinese. [They all wear] golden crown and dragon robe, and proclaimed as kings in the islands.”
Song Yiwang (宋儀望jinshi 1547) , who served as Prefect of Wu prefecture in South Zhili and then moved to military affairs in Fujian against Wokou, referenced to this incident and helped Zheng Xiao’s argument that the Japanese started to kill only because they were heavily cheated by the Chinese:
[Our] trouble with Wonu starts from the trouble in China itself. Treacherous people were communicating with Wo. But then afterword, our treacherous people cheated them so much, losing the heart of Wonu, [thus] stimulating them into revenge killing to let out the regret from yesterday… Back then Wonu came here for some substantial marketing (厚販) when they got to place like Ningbo, but were betrayed by traitorous people… Their anger penetrated into their bones. Wang Zhi and Xu Hai, among others, took advantage to solicit their support and gathered people into invading the interior. That is why we face this (Wokou problem) today. China’s trouble is not stoppable.
Whether it was the Ningbo incident or Shuangyu incident, the two incidents both highlighted the agency of coastal Chinese strongmen who favored the time of crisis in which lawlessness and killing reigned. I wrote earlier that even official Japanese tribute group led by Ambassador Zhou Liang was almost cheated by Chinese strongmen with the false letter that Chinese authority had ordered all Japanese ambassadors to be killed. The issue of corrupt official, which Zheng Xiao’s description vividly demonstrated was highly probable. In Zheng Xiao’s letter, the officials tried to convince the Japanese that they will be honest keepers of their merchandise. Likewise, Japanese ambassador Zhou Liang also got a sense of corrupt Chinese official. According to Wang Shiqi, Fujianese official Zhang Dexi was killed by Zhu Wan because he was accused of hiding the bandits, refused to tell Zhu Wan about the letter, and even “falsely pretended to announce imperial edict (詐傳詔旨) to instigate the barbarians (Zhou Liang’s tribute group) into assassinating the Inspector General”
The pragmatist narrative that believed the Japanese acted in self-defense and were forced to use violence draws a contrast with racialist narrative. Fan and Tong also believe that Japanese killing was a martial “custom” (習性) and “instinct” (天性) of samurai. The main thesis of their book is that “the Wokou of the Jiajing era were just the same as those in Hongwu and Yongle eras. All were Japanese pirate organizations encouraged by Japanese daimyo to invade and disturb our country. Chinese people’s anti-Wokou struggle was an anti-looting and righteous war.” As to Chinese collaborators like Wang Zhi, Fan and Tong wrote that they are just “self-degenerating.” Fan and Tong lament that “after four hundred years, there are still people who argue that Wokou during the Jiajing era are not Japanese, how pale and weak [that argument is].” I have two challenges to Fan and Tong. First, they share similarity with my analysis of racialist Ming officials who do not take into account the heterogeneity of Japanese. In other words, whether a Japanese was a trader or pirate, whenever there was an incident related to Japanese origin pirates, regardless of who was at fault, it was seen as evidence that all Japanese are born to be like that. Second, nationalist historians like Fan and Tong consider the Wokou issue as a national issue, a struggle between China and Japan. This argument assumes a homogeneity of Chinese race and bypasses the fact that there was a constant struggle between the coastal provinces and the political center. The coastal people’s interest, way of life, and voice were largely subsumed under the umbrella of Chinese nation. Fan and Tong analyzed the writing by racialist official Zhang Chong and concluded that Wokou was about “a foreign race invading the Chinese race” (外族對中華民族的入侵).
I do not believe that my work will resolve the question of “Who were the Wokou” for historians. My goal is not about denying the participation of Japanese, but I discourage the scholarly approach of overly emphasizing nationality and ignoring the fact that social class and individual strongmen in the context of sea ban were the root cause of Wokou. I am also interested in the people being left out of this national debate, the coastal Chinese. When a national historian speaks of Chinese as “we” and Japanese as “them” in bipolar language like good and evil, he ignores the reality that both generalizations are inherently diverse. Not all Chinese shared the same interest and not all Japanese were the same. Coastal Chinese shared the same interest with the Japanese that came to them to trade more than they did with the central government that claimed to represent them by banning overseas trade. Racialist officials and nationalist historians neglect the interest of ordinary coastal Chinese and concentrated on blaming all Japanese for the fault of some Japanese. I suggest that we examine the stratification of Japanese society and then look into the conflicting interest between coastal Chinese and the political center.
- Examining the heterogeneity of Japanese Wokou
It is useful to also to make clear that there was a class differentiation within the Japanese Wokou. First, we have those who were business-centered. Official Song Yiwang wrote in the margin of his work that “Those Wo came to China, as far as we know, wanted to market and buy [goods], not necessarily aiming at being bandits. Our people going out to the sea also aimed at trade, not necessarily at soliciting [the barbarians to come loot]. The more [we have] sea ban, the more we have bandits. Now our solution is to protect their profit so not to suffer from their [infliction of] harms.” There were Japanese merchants just as there were many Wokou were poor and wretched, whether Chinese or Japanese, who simply followed the strongmen at the sea either to trade or to loot. Thus any discussion that focuses exclusively on Chinese or Japanese must understood that the ethnic origin of the participants made no difference whatsoever. Nor can an identity such as “Chinese” or “Japanese” be considered as homogeneous and singular. Racialist officials like Yang Shoucheng, for example, indiscriminately considered individual Japanese merchants and pirates as the same as Japanese tribute bearers. Chouhai Tubian records clearly the stratification of Japanese society:
People of Japan are divided by the rich and poor. For example, in Harima (攝摩), Ise (伊勢), Wakasa (若佐), Hakata (博多), their people were mostly businessmen. Their places have streets and vistas just like China. There were several thousand households of rich men. There were those who accumulated merchandise [worth] as much as one million (coins?) such as people of Izumi (和泉). [It has] eighty thousand households of rich men that all have accumulated goods for sell.
Not only were people of Japan rich, many were also “gentle” (淑).
[People of Japan] has those who are gentle and those who are evil (慝). For example,
Yingeli (鹦哥里?) of Satsuma (薩摩) has several thousands li of territory, their town Changanqing (長安慶?) instructs people to do right things, not one thing was stolen in there. Also people of Miyajima (宮島) do not indulge in killing. When things go wrong, they go to the temple to pay fines. Also there are three thousand and eight hundred households of monk in Kii (紀伊), they are trained in martial arts and killing people. But they never offend China.
Hu Zongxian and Zheng Ruozeng gave a very detailed account of different parts of Japan. This information possibly come from spies as people like the general Hu Zongxian and later the Fujian governor Xu Fuyuan all sent spies to different places. Chouhai Tubian also provides linguistic training for people who want to learn Japanese by transliterating Japanese pronunciation using Chinese characters. This information from Hu and Zheng cautions scholar officials who try to homogenize Japanese. As the two demonstrated, not all Japanese were bloodthirsty or bandits. Many were in fact merchants who lived well and were “kind” in personality. Hu and Zheng added who in Japan participated in Wokou:
The rich and gentle come to China either on tribute boats or merchant boats. Those who commit banditry are all the poor (貧) and the unkind (惡者). Yamashiro Prince (山城君 referring to either Japanese emperor or Shogun) gave order to them not to come (to China). But his position was an empty name.
I mentioned earlier of Wang Shizhen’s interpretation of Ningbo incident. Wang also pointed out how a Fujian eunuch believed that not all Japanese were brutal. Hu and Zheng also argued that there were two types of Japanese, the ones that were mainly interested in trade and the poor and wretched who became Wokou out of poverty. These Japanese, just like China’s own unemployed scholars, officials, and indebted farmers, were all driven to sea because of their social class and economic desperation.
I suggest that while the role of Japanese is important, their participation does not makes Wokou an issue of Japanese versus Chinese. The historiography that tries to turn Wokou issue into a national issue is biased in not taking into account of social class.
Figure 15: Map of Japan 1.
Figure 16: Map of Japan 2.
Figure 17: Map of [routes of] Japanese barbarians come to commit banditry.
Figure 18: Map of Four Barbarians.
Yang Guozhen, a prestigious scholar of Fujian and Ming/Qing history in Xiamen University, writes in his book that “it must be pointed out, Ming history sources make clear the differences between real Wo and fake Wo, fake Wo and pirates (海賊).” While he concedes that Chinese pirates often collaborated with Wokou, which in this context means “Japanese,” Yang’s argument is that “those who believe that the Wokou in historical sources were all indeed [Chinese] “pirates” makes a judgment that does not accord with facts…Secondly, those pirate attacks that happened simultaneously with Wokou invasion unquestionably belong to China’s internal class struggle… Denying the invasion of Wokou, thus to deny the righteous nature of anti-Wokou battle is also not acceptable.” Yang is similar to Fan and Tong in that nationalist historians in China predominantly emphasize the national origin of Wokou as if it was national difference rather than profit that mobilize all the killing. The logic appears that a Chinese killed by Japanese is somehow different than a Chinese killed by a Chinese. The idea that our pirates are our “internal” problem whereas if a pirate is a Japanese then it is a problem between two countries seems to me an unfair argument driven by nationalistic sentiment.
Today’s historiography that uses the officially preferred term “invasion” (侵略) did have its audience in the Ming. But General Hu Zongxian was not convinced by it. He wrote “those who [commit] banditry in China were all of their island’s’ poorest people. The rumors say that Japan (倭國) built some hundreds or a thousand ships, [which] were all fakes and lies (虛誑).” Neither, I believe, should the term Wokou be taken literally and thus independently from the context of Chinese pirates. Tu Zhonglu (屠仲律jinshi 1545), prefect of Luzhou in the Southern Zhili province wrote, “Barbarian men were about one tenth. Homeless men (流人) two tenths. [People of] Ningbo and Shaoxing were about fifth tenths. [People of] Quanzhou and Zhangzhou [in Fujian] were about nine tenths. Though generally called Woyi (倭夷Wo barbarians), in reality they were all just same (bian hu qi min編戶奇民).” Tu used a comprehensive idiom bian hu qi min which refers to the Chinese state’s practice of putting people into registry. It means that no matter who you are, all of you are the same and will be registered. Tu implied through this idiom that there should not be an emphasis on national origins. For whatever reason, Tu’s calculation mistakenly added up to more than ten.
Therefore, whether they were Chinese or Japanese does not touch the important question of why did Wokou problem continued throughout the Jiajing era? Was it because it was one race, the Japanese, constantly trying to cause problem to another race, the Chinese? Whether it is Chinese or Japanese, the poor people at the coast were all driven to desperation by the sea ban law. I shall come back to this theme over and over in the next few chapters. But it is important to survey the two occupations, traders and pirates. I argue that traders and pirates could turn into the each other easily. The two occupations are highly interwoven. This was well summarized by Xu Fuyuan (許孚遠jinshi 1562), a new Fujian Grand Coordinator in the Wanli era who wrote, “your official is aware that previous people (先民) has the saying that if you open up the trade, then bandits will turn into merchants. [If you] ban the trade, the merchants will become bandits. It is easy to ban trade, but really not easy to ban the bandits.” Just as in the nationality debate, I agree with Ming official Song Yiwang that it did not matter whether they were Chinese or Japanese, their primary goal was to trade, and piracy was only a last resort. I also believe that this fact is in accord with what Hu and Zheng wrote: that the majority of those participated in Wokou were poor people who were hired by powerful merchants who vacillates between the choice of banditry or trade. The powerful strongmen at sea gained preeminence only because coastal people’s livelihood were cut off by the arbitrary ending of trade and connection to the sea.
For most people, the term Wokou, which has the character for “bandit” in it, often denotes the image of Japanese who were busy killing and burning, emphasizing their martial, samurai, or warrior tradition. This largely overshadows the scene of peaceful, interactive, cross-cultural trade. Mao Yuanyi (茅元儀 1594-1640), one of the best known Ming military strategists, in his book on military strategy and technology, Wubei kao, took in a scene that vividly demonstrated Song’s description of trade-wanting, rather than blood-thirsty, Japanese. Mao collected in his section on “Maritime defense” various contrasting opinions among the scholarly circle which he introduced as “the advocate said” (議者曰). According to one advocate, there existed a peaceful underground trading network in Nanao Island, connected closely to the Fujian and Guangdong seacoast.
Figure 19: Map of Guangdong. (See top left for “Nanao Pengshan” 南澳彭山)
The advocate wrote that the Japanese found a place in Nanao to set up their market while the Fujianese, Cantonese, and people of Zhejiang and South Zhili, were doing their part by transferring goods from one province to another depending on where the local authorities were most active arresting people. This game of mice and cat highlighted the multi-provincial collaboration of the coastal people who understood the value of trade. Then how did the Wo barbarians (woyi) on their part engage with the Chinese customers? According to the advocate, “their appointed time was from late April to late May. They left [after that] no matter whether the goods were all sold or not. Their trade happened by setting up tents and laying their goods out on a floorboard (地鋪板). The goods were of particular elegance. [As to their] swords and spears and the like, they left them in their boats.” The designated period of trade was most certainly affected by wind pattern (xun 汛). It also makes sense that business haggling should not have weapons present. The advocate took serious interest in this discovery and said that “if we can order people to sink their boats at the coast, then we can capture those Wo on land even alive!”
Mao writes in his discussion of a naval base in Fujian that the Fujianese (福人) were the ones constructing boats to pick up the Japanese. If you were to navigate in areas like Shaban and Shuangyu, “whichever house’s boat is about to come, to which bay, someone is naturally bound to know. Whenever goods arrived, everywhere there is not a single person does not know it.” All that it takes to get Wokou news is to “pretend to be a merchant and trade with them. Then [you get to know] if they are coming or not coming, and how many of them are coming. In a matter of a year all things are known.” In my view, this shows a degree of mutual trust between the merchants and customers, the connection between coastal Chinese merchants and Japanese traders were not hampered by national difference but facilitated by a common interest in trade and familiarity with sea. While the Wubei zhi is not an endorsement of any particular discourses, also including the perspectives of nationalist/racialists who advocated the end of trade, Mao himself was not neutral on this matter.
In his private collected writings, he writes: “Ending tributary trade (絕貢市) [and] stopping private trade (杜私販) are long term strategies for ten thousand years? [I] doubt that is the complete story (然亦未盡然也). Heaven and earth cannot overturn consideration of human feelings (天地不能違人情), neither could saintly kings of the realm overturn the consideration of human feelings (制道聖王不能違人情).” Mao continues to write that the mutual desire for each others’ goods should not be artificially suppressed. Profit (利) is the most natural element of renqing (huamn feelings人情). This concept of human feelings is a difficult cultural term and possibly untranslatable. It can be used as a tactic to question law and authority and is still being used today. A common phrase used by defendants against the court’s judgment is falu bu wai hu renqing, or “law ought not to exclude consideration of human feelings.” If someone steals a piece of bread out of extreme hunger, he maybe condemned for the act of theft but sympathized by others who forgive him on account of human feelings. In other words, while there may be a certain set of strict law, such as the sea ban and prohibition of trade with overseas barbarians, a dissident may take the risk and ignore the law because he believes while law is not on his side, human feelings is. Renqing can also be used to describe a person. A person capable of human feelings (renqing wei人情味) is someone who has feeling and empathy. If a person makes a mistake at work because he is sick, and his superior takes into consideration of the fact that he is sick and forgives him, then one may say that this superior is capable of human feelings. The concept of renqing may defy law and authority. For example, if someone is a fisherman and the government prohibits him from going near the sea, it is against human feelings. In a famous passage in the Analects which considers what should happen if someone’s father steals a sheep, Confucius believes that the son should not report the father to authority but should cover up for the father, and a father will do the same for his son if vice versa. This is part of the logic of renqing in which consideration of familial love trumps obedience to the law. It stands in opposite to an ancient Chinese philosophy called “legalism” in which law is sacred. But in Confucianism and Chinese society, law has to negotiate a middle ground with renqing in order for people to obey. In the context of Ming sea ban, coastal Chinese actively defied the law using this concept.
Perhaps no official demonstrated this fear of conflict between law renqing more than Zhejiangness official Xu Fuyuan (許孚遠 jinshi 1562), the Fujian Grand Coordinator during the Wanli era, who wrote in a memorial regarding the continuing Ming sea ban that “thousands are unemployed, they have no way for living. [They are] buzzing (weng weng e e). Their influence will be greatly unpredictable.” This Fujian Grand Coordinator understood very well that when peoples’ way of living is cut off, the so called “mother and father officials” (父母官) can only nervously guess what the lower classes are murmuring about in each others’ ears. This was just Mao’s stance that no principle is sacred if it violates the natural instinct of the coastal people, the desire for trade and go out to the sea.
Another Zhengjiangness official Huang Chengxun (黃承玄jinshi 1586), also a Fujian Grand coordinator during the Wanli era, also found Fujianese difficult to rule. Like Xu Fuyuan, the new Grand Coordinator of Fujian was shocked by the local customs of the Fujianese. He wrote in a memorial to Wanli emperor about the condition of Fujian:
[Wokou] either coerced me to open up the trade or use our treacherous coastal people to spy on me. [It seems like] they are the host and I am the guest. They were always relaxing and I am always working. They can freely advance to attack or retreat to defense. [Whereas] I have no place where I do not see an enemy. There is not a day in which I can relax from coastal defense, this is the real disaster of eight prefectures of Fujian.
Huang Chengxun touched upon an issue that was timeless the Fujianese tradition of getting along with barbarians in trade and maritime activity. The new Grand Coordinator faced another issue, which was that he mistrusted the loyalty of the Fujianese, and thus his maritime forces excluded coastal people. He wrote that “it is like when they see a wave, their faces turn to dead ashes, when they see the enemies, and they start hiding in the decks. There is little hope that they will fight as if against a common enemy, they are proponents of running away.” While on the other hand, the Fujianese are a maritime people and that is why they can thrive in the Wokou era.
The depiction of the Fujianese as being trade-wanting, maritime, often intermingling with barbarians, and in general cunning and treacherous is a narrative that was almost timeless. It can be found in the words of people in the Hongwu era, the Jiajing era, and the Wanli era. To understand the story about Wokou requires an understanding of the coastal people’s way of life, history, and custom. I will now examine Fujian as a case study to show why there has been such a consistency in who they are throughout the history.
- Understanding the Coastal Chinese: The case of Fujian
I wrote earlier of how there has been an increasing trend of historians interested in the coastal Chinese. While I am certainly encouraged and excited by this trend, I believe it is important to emphasize the local history of different provinces of China. The private agency of Fujianese, Cantonese or Zhejiangese who go overseas to trade did not mean that they follow what is considered “Chinese”. The term “Chinese” is an umbrella that includes people of many different ways of life and belief who inherited a history that is uniquely their own. What it means to be Chinese is a certainly a debatable question, but I think most will associate it with Confucianism and sedentary agriculture. In this sense, the coastal Chinese are not the typical Chinese for they were maritime, mobile, adventurous and trade-wanting.
The Wanli emperor once wrote a response that in my view sums up well why I caution against the overarching term “Chinese.” In response to a massacre of mostly Zhangzhou Fujianese by the Spanish in Manila, Wanli told his officials that “of China’s four people (social classes), merchants are the meanest. How can we use military on behalf of the meanest? Merchants abandon their families and wander at sea, staying afar because of winter. Father, brother, [and] relatives all despise them!” Maritime sojourners who went overseas to trade or to become Wokou were all making private choices against the wishes of the Ming imperial government. The Wanli emperor despised the Zhangzhou Fujianese, who he considered to be lowest in social class and un-Confucian because they were merchants and travel afar. Thus, I argue that it is necessary for historians to highlight the existence of regional difference and diverse ways of life of people in the coastal provinces. As a Fujianese myself, I shall use the case of Fujian to show how a local perspective will help us understand better the coastal Chinese and Wokou. General Hou Jigao (候繼高 1533-1602) of Zhejiang wrote that “the Wokou problem starts all because Fujian’s Zhangzhou and Quanzhou people solicited barbarians to come.”
Zhang Shiche (張時徹jinshi 1523), Minister of the Board of War (兵部尚書) of Nanjing and a general who fought Wokou, wrote a congratulatory note to his friend Wang Fanghu, Grand Coordinator of Zhejiang, for being newly promoted to the rank of Provincial Military Commander of Fujian (福建提督). After congratulating him on the decimation of Chinese Wokou Xu Hai and Chen Dong, he gives some advice to this Zhejiang-based official on the Fujianese since Zhang himself also once served as Chief Secretary of Fujian (福建參政):
Fujian and Zhejiang are two different places with the same problem [of Wokou]. Fujian is on the sea coast, its people are very used to it, [to the] splash of whales and bubbles of aquatic dragon, [as if they were] swimming in narrow creeks. Always well armed and easily getting into fights, its people are strong and brave which [we] can use. [They] come and go in barbarian islands where they are considered as trusted friends.They can also be used as spy but the problem is they spy us on behalf of barbarians and not help us spy the barbarians.
Hoping that Fujianese can spread their “spirit of bravery” and open up a “road to repentance”, and adding the collaboration of local lineages through Baojia, or mutual watch system, Zhang believes that only then could peace resume. Zhang does not specify “Wo” in my examination of several of his memorials, preferring to call them bandits (賊).
But Fujian is also special compared to the other three coastal provinces, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and South Zhili. The choices facing the Fujianese were not the same as say those in Zhejiang and Guangdong, which is why it was way more common to find Fujianese at sea than it is of others. Dai Chongxiao (戴沖霄), a less known general who in the late Jiajing era assisted General Qi Jiguang (戚繼光) in decimating Wokou in Fujian notes what he sees as a problematic of the sea ban. “Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, and other places in Fujian are mountainous with little land. Their everyday necessity depended on the rice from Guangdong’s Huizhou and Chaozhou.” Noting how the sea ban affects the supply of rice and causes it to be expensive, Dai laments that “How can people survive?” He writes that “I also heard that Zhangzhou and Quanzhou people are shipping items to the cities. If they go by the sea, every one hundred jin [of rice has] has a road fee of about 3 fen (3/100) tale of silver. If go by road, then the price goes up by twenty-fold.” Fujian, unlike Zhejiang and Guangdong, was of the most food dependent province. Though Fujianese were not passive in letting the merchants of Zhejiang, South Zhili, and Shandong to take profit home safely. General Hou wrote in his study how after shipping the rice to Fujian, and buying up Fujianese sugar, indigo cloth, wood, the merchants from different provinces had to travel together in case that “wicked people in Fujian” may ambush them. Mao shares with Dai in saying that “eight prefectures of Min (Fujian) have lots of mountains and little land and lack interior water ports.” One can see in the maps below of how Fujianese cities like Fuzhou, Zhangzhou, and Quanzhou, were all mountainous.
Mao also writes that people of Guangdong and Zhejiang could make up to three times more money if they were permitted to sell rice to the Fujianese through the sea route, which “Fujianese would feel convenient and [would allow] Cantonese and Zhejiangness to make a big profit.” For people in other three provinces where at least food is secured, trade was more or less a choice. For the Fujianese, it is a matter of survival. Geography thus predetermined the Fujianese participation in overseas trade. In fact, this was the case throughout its history. In the late ninth century, when the kingdom of Min (Fujian) was created, its founder Wang Shenzhi and his general Zhang Mu considered it a priority to “solicit barbarian merchants [to come].” Fujianese trade activity with barbarians was not considered as greed in the traditional Confucian and agricultural China. Fujianese scholar He Qiaoyuan considered this as a virtue along with virtues like “be humble and generous to lower people.” He Qiaoyuan praised them for “gathered the money without having to use violence, it takes only days [for the people] to be rich.”
But geographical limitation did not mean that the Fujianese were content simply for enough money to survive. They were out to make big money as well. General Dai Chongxiao also wrote that:
Poor people of Fujian coast rely on the sea for their livelihood. Catching fish and selling salt is their main occupation. But the profit is really low. The ones that are foolish and weak think “how can we be contented?” The wicked ones and the tough ones all voluntarily boarded barbarians’ ships to go to foreign countries for profit. The profit can be as much as ten times [more than what they make at home].
Figure 20: Map of Fujian.
Figure 21: Map of Fuzhou Prefecture of Fujian.
Figure 22: Map of Quanzhou Prefecture of Fujian.
Figure 23: Map of Zhangzhou Prefecture of Fujian.
The Fujianese desired to go to overseas countries to make profit. They were able to do so because it was rooted in their custom and history. Zhang Shiche may not have been exaggerating when he said the Fujianese were swimming in dragon’s bobble and whales’ splash. General Tang Shunzhi wrote that “the root cause of banditry all starts in Fujian. In order to plan and control the sea, this area is the number one priority. They and the ocean share one breath together, the Fujianese bandits are also now the bandits in Zhejiang and Zhili.” Xie Zhaozhe (謝肇淛 jinshi 1592), a native of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian, wrote a book Wu za zu in which he described many of the local customs of Fujian. I believe that these customs tell us the characteristics of Fujianese and help explain why they did what they did in the era of the Wokou, such as trade and maritime activity. Xie wrote that there is a ghost story in coastal provinces about how the ghosts and humans were trading goods with each other every night by the sea, and Qin Shihuang, the first Chinese emperor, is the guardian of the trade between the living and the dead. The moral of this story teaches that “living people must not deceive the dead people.” The story’s implied message is to ask merchants to be honest when doing trade. Fujianese also celebrated a custom involving “boat racing, which [historically] the Kingdom of Chu and Kingdom of Shu were most famous for. Our Fujian love it as well and believe that it chases out all the plagues; the officials tried to prohibit this custom but could not succeed.” Xie also identified with the courage of Fujianese maritime sailors in their fearlessness of the ocean. He mocked a group of Zhejiang boatmen for foolishness because they were afraid to sail beyond of a small island because of rumors that the island was the palace of sea dragons.
Zhejiangness official Chen Kan (陳侃), the Jiajing emperor’s emissary who was sent to Ryukyu for investiture in 1531, wrote about the maritime bravery of Fujianese sailors from Fuzhou. The investiture boat encountered a tempest that went on through the night, and the several dozens of Fujianese sailor cried so loud that even heaven could hear them. Chen wrote of the hopelessness that he and other emissaries felt “we people knew then that there was no chance for survival. We looked to each other and sighed.” But suddenly, he heard the Fujianese boatmen all shout “Tianfei” (天妃Goddess of the sea), imploring for her help. A mysterious red light then appeared in the boat which convinced the Fujianese that Tianfei was there with them. “Seeing the sign of auspiciousness, the crowd suddenly got up to move the rudder. The tiller was really heavy. It was over two thousand jin, normally not even one hundred men were enough [to lift it]. But these several dozen men lifted up effortlessly.” The courage of Fujianese sailors saved Chen twice in this journey, so he petitioned to the Jiajing emperor to construct a monument for the Goddess saying that this Fujianese origin God was saving people since the time of Zheng He.
The Fujianese also learned to get along with the nature and not to fight the nature. For example, Fujian seaman all know that they must obey the wind and not fight the wind. Xie Zhaozhe differentiates between how Chinese emperors and Fujianese have viewed nature differently. He mentions how Emperor Qin Shihuang was climbing a mountain and encountered a great storm, thus he sought revenge by giving an order to burn the mountain. When Emperor Sui Yangdi was on a boat tour and encountered a strong wind, he angrily shouted that the wind was arrogant (ba hu跋扈). In juxtaposition, Xie continues to write “today, the Fujian dialect still pronounce “rain” (Fujianese: hou 雨) for the word “support” (Fujianese: hou 輔).” Therefore, inherent in Xie’s writing is the understanding that Fujianese are more capable of understanding nature and getting along with nature (which is necessary for any maritime people) than the powerful Chinese emperors. Whether it is getting along with nature such as rain and wind, fascinated by boat race, being honest in trading, or being fearless of the sea, these everyday stories told through the perspective of Xie Zhaozhe’s “We Fujianese” (吾閩人) show unique local customs and characteristics of this maritime people.
Besides introducing Fujianese customs, Xie also vividly shows a Fujianese conception of the sea. Xie believes that the relationship between the continent and the sea ought not be confrontational, that China ought not to be considered as separated from the sea.“Overseas countries like Ryukyu and Japan are in the sea and not beyond the sea. It is not certain whether beyond the northern desert there exist any seas. If there are, then China and northern barbarians are also in the sea.” This harmony with the sea and nature helps us understand why the Fujianese and other coastal people actively participated in maritime activities. Unlike people in non-coastal provinces, coastal people considered the sea as their home.
I also like to draw attention to the work of Zhi Dalun (支大綸jinshi 1572), magistrate (Tuiguan 推官)of Quanzhou. Zhi’s writing left many vivid details that show the everyday life of Fujian and its chronic problems. I suggest that we examine several of his career experiences, which will aid us in understanding the coastal people. In my view, the vivid everyday life of common folks is helpful in understanding the larger theoretical debate between officials. Zhi Dalun was a minor and little known official, but he preserved many court cases and implemented policies to suit the local needs. In one public announcement to all doctors in Quanzhou, he wrote of the chronic problem faced the Fujianese: Famine.
Our prefecture’s poor people often experience the hardship of famine, hunger, and cold. In the spring, there is even a plague. Rich people are affected a little bit but they can rely on doctors to gradually cure themselves. Only the poor people close their doors and lie on the bed, without even enough to eat, not to mention where they are going to get the medicine. Now I order the doctors of our prefecture to come to the courtroom to get funding and use it to buy medicine. Whenever you see people who are sick, record it and give them the medicine. Every morning knock on their door to send them some medicine. Once their sickness begins to be cured, take some of the porridge I made from cooking white rice, plus some vegetable and salt, give to each of them in the record. If they have some dependents, then give them some more rice for them to cook. Every doctor must not shortchange the amount, or give bad medicine to cover up, I have a way to find out. Do not think you can deceive me. I leave my words here.
In another announcement, also in the context of famine in Quanzhou, the magistrate encountered the difficulty of how to treat farmers violating the law by killing old farming cows for food. As opposed to enforcing the law and punishing them, he wrote:
The farming cow is old but people always have the sympathy for him and do not want to kill him. But nowadays, with the heavy taxes and burden of miscellaneous corvee labor, the people experiencing the famine are living in difficult situation. Common folks’ families cannot take care of themselves. There are elder parents who need to be fed and there is not even enough food for them. Who has the extra energy to find a piece of land to continue to take care of the sick and old cow?
His decision was that it was understandable to forgive the guilty for killing the old and sick cow in the context of famine but he prohibited others from killing hardworking and healthy cows. This Quanzhou magistrate was concerned with the condition of the poor people, but the problem of famine was a chronic problem and understandably poor people were always the ones that suffered the most. The famine in Quanzhou combined with the larger problem of the food dependency of Fujian in general. How could the Fujianese survive if a drought comes and at the same time, just as general Dai Chongxiao said, rice transportation by sea is prohibited? The impractical law of the political center contrasts with the flexibility of magistrate Zhi who understood that you cannot blame the poor people for killing an old cow because they were driven by extreme hunger. Magistrate Zhi even cooked white rice himself to feed the poor.
I emphasize this story because these poor people are the ones who could either be left to die or they could venture to sea. The sea not only was closed to them, it was a way in which the poor Fujianese could make huge financial gains. Poor and hungry, it also is understandable if these people took up arms and joined the Wokou. I will show later the story of one Fujianese from Quanzhou who was driven to sea precisely because of the famine problem magistrate Zhi described. He was one of those who refuse to accept the fate of the poor, and thousands of Fujianese eventually gathered in ships armed with cannons to sail for a better life. As far as I know, Zhi Dalun’s experience has never drawn the attention of any historian. He was a minor local official and did not influence any major events. I argue that it is important to look at his stories and those of other minor officials such as the Cantonese Huo Yuxia, for they were actually the ones who interacted with real people. It is not Zhang Chong or Xia Yan, court officials near the emperor, but these lower rank officials who knew most clearly the condition of simple people.
I highlighted here the fact that Fujianese were driven by geography and economic conditions to go out in search of a better life. I would also draw attention to the fact that while the Fujianese may have gone to trade out of desperation, magistrate Zhi also had the experience of dealing with Fujianese who were capable of stratagems and defying the government. In other words, the Fujianese were not always passive to their condition. Some were really excited by situations of crisis and lawlessness. As I said early, General Zhang Shiche believed that Fujianese were always hungry for a fight. While some poor people may have locked their doors and lain on the bed in situations of desperation, others bonded together and became successful Wokou. I want to illustrate briefly how the underground Fujianese were always playing with authority. This brief account should solve one obvious issue, which is that no society and people can be simply generalized as good or evil. It will also help us transition to a discussion I have about the stratagems of coastal Chinese and their taking advantage of the crisis for personal gains.
During his career, the magistrate recorded a business dispute between two merchants who gathered dozens of people in a gang war because of competition over profit, and one of the merchant even pulled out three Japanese swords. In another record, “local scums” (市井之無賴) tried to become local headmen (zongjia 總甲) by bribing prestigious old men with wine, prostitutes, and feasts. In another record, a man reportedly carried on his shoulders one thousand tales of silver to bribe so and so Minister and Chief Justice, “telling both of them to protect him, and he boasted of himself as an insect with a hundred legs (meaning he would never be caught).” While it may be obvious that criminal elements exist in almost all societies, I highlight these stories of bribes, fighting against authority, merchant competing over profit, only to show the everyday challenge facing a low ranking official in Quanzhou Fujian. They help illustrate the theme of “traitorous people” (奸民) that general like Zhu Wan took notice.
When general Zhu Wan first came to Fujian in 1546 and surveyed the maritime defense of the province, the ubiquity of crimes in Fujian shocked him and led him to vow serious reform. He noticed on how Fujianese in Zhangzhou were dismissive of the magistrate over there. They were at liberty to do what they wanted without fear of the magistrate of Zhangzhou. Zhu wrote to the Jiajing emperor: “Just January of this year, the bandit forcefullya Wuzhou’s decent woman and claimed that [he] wanted to marry her. Ten miles from there, [he and his followers were] up in a tall tower, performing Chinese operas, publicly feasting and singing.” In Tongan sub-prefecture of Quanzhou, there was a “jinshi degree holder Xu Fuxian who was at home taking care of parents. One of his sisters was taken by the sea bandit. Because of this marriage connection, his family became imminently rich.” There were also a former Quanzhou magistrate’s assistant (qian shi僉事) named Lin Xiyuan (林希元) who compiled in volumes words that defamed the Quanzhou magistrate and handed one or two volumes to higher rank officials, “claiming that he was just being honest, when in reality he was blackmailing them. Local officials all feared and hated him.” Also, Lin Xiyuan was responsible for “private torture, false public announcement, theft of government property, and the construction of illegal giant ships. [He] pretended that they were just for ferrying, [when in reality] they were used specially for the smuggling of contraband goods.” Zhu Wan lamented how law does not exist in Fujian. “The so-called village official, the beacon of the entire village, was reduced to a condition of pity. [The bandits] did not even put officials in their eyes (meaning extremely dismissive), Zhangzhou and Quanzhou are breeding grounds of criminals.”
I argue that one cannot fall into the dichotomy of good and evil such as that evident in the racialist official Xia Yan’s memorial. It is not that the “living beings of the coast” were all innocent victims of Japanese Wokou, some coastal Chinese thrived on lawlessness and were the beneficiaries of an era of crisis by arming themselves to become bandits. I am also disappointed by the disproportional blame on the Japanese by both racialist officials and nationalist historians. While some Japanese came to China for trade, others were drawn into piracy not because of their own agency but because of the solicitation of coastal Chinese. Lower class Japanese did not lead an invasion of China, they simply followed the will of Chinese coastal strongmen who took advantage of them through bully, deception, and abuse.
- Reverse of the Narrative of Good and Evil
On February 28 in the twentieth year of Wanli (1592), two months before the outbreak of Imjin war in which Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea, a spy letter was sent by Xu Yi (許儀) to Zhu Junwang (朱均望). Xu Yi was a Chinese doctor who was kidnapped by Wokou and sold to Satsuma where his superior medicinal skill led him to gain the trust of Japanese. He wrote that “the overseas Chinese living in Japan are all parties of thieves and bandits. Not one of them wants to tell the truth, all are marketing and living in the village, not caring even slightly about national affairs, and none wants to tell the truth.” Xu Yi was a nationalist who cared about the Great Ming. When delivering the letter to Zhu Junwang in China, the two hugged each other and both shed tears, and Xu said “we could finally dedicate ourselves to the country!” In this secret letter, Xu Yi recorded all his experiences in Japan and covered areas from military affairs to Japanese custom.
One small part of this letter strikes me. In the section “Explaining why Japan wants to invade” (陳日本入寇之由), Xu Yi brought up his knowledge about Japan aiming to invade China rather than Korea:
Ryukyu sent monks to come pay tribute (to Japan) and was given a hundred tales of gold in return. They were told that “I, [Toyotomi Hideyoshi], want to invade Great Tang (China) and use your Ryukyu kingdom as a pathway and therefore request you to come. Not long ago, we asked the cohorts of Wang Wufeng (Wang Zhi) who told us that ‘in the old time, when Great Tang caught Wufeng, our people led some three hundred men looting all the way from Nanjing and down to Fujian. After a year, we all return with full armor. Great Tang is afraid of Japan like tigers. We can conquer Great Tang as easily as flipping a hand.” The regent (關白 Toyotomi Hideyoshi) then said “with our intelligence and our soldiers, [our invading China is like] a flood storms through the sand, a sharp sword chops up the bamboo, which country will not go extinct?”
This letter helps illuminate some history of Wokou incidents during the Jiajing era. The event involving the three hundred Wokou was in 1556, the year of the death of Wang Zhi. It was during the peak of Wokou ravages that Wang Shizhen wrote “disturbance [were] all under heaven, Southeast had exhausted its bones marrow.” It is debatable whether Wang Zhi’s three hundred men were Japanese or overseas Chinese. If they were Japanese, it makes sense that they identified with Japan and said that China feared Japan like tigers. But on the other hand, it was also convenient for Hideyoshi to co-opt the legacy of Wang Zhi since his intention was to convince Ryukyu ambassadors that Japan was capable of invading China. The Wokou legacy was not a burden of national image anymore but more a political bargaining chip that showed Japan’s strength.
There is another possibility, which is that the three hundred men were all overseas Chinese, or huaren. This term was closely related to coastal Chinese. Zheng Xiao wrote, “Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangnan, Jiangbei, and Guangdong, all have people who follow Wonu. For the most part, the bandits were all huaren and Wonu were about one tenth or two tenths.” Xu Yi’s letter may favor the nationalist historian who would argue that the Japanese leader Hideyoshi was proud of that history of Wokou invasion. For example, nationalist historians Fan and Tong connected Wokou, Hideyoshi, Japanese war criminals during World War Two, and present day right wing parties, as they said that they are all “of the same strain” (一脈相承). I argue that Hideyoshi was co-opting that legacy of Wang Zhi. The agency and the leadership of Wokou were not in the hand of Japanese but coastal or overseas Chinese. The two term are interrelated because once coastal Chinese go to the sea, they are often called huaren (華人), or tangren (唐人). As opposed to the Japanese, I argue that it was always the coastal Chinese who were the superior.
The Fujianese were among the most active coastal Chinese to take advantage of this maritime crisis. Tu Zhonglu (屠仲律 jinshi 1550), prefect of Luzhou in South Zhili, wrote “The Zhangzhou and Quanzhou coastal people built giant ships. People said that in the next spring, Wo were bound to come. Your official at the beginning could not believe it. [It] turned out to be true.” In other words, whether Wokou were coming or not did not depend on the agency of Japanese, the townsmen knew that their coming was all up to the Fujianese to decide. Tang Shu (唐樞 jinshi 1526 ), was Chancellor of Board of Punishment and one of the most widely known Wokou experts whose works interested Zheng Ruozeng, Hu Zongxian, Mao Yuanyi and many Ming studies on Wokou. He believed that Chinese Wokou were dangerous even to Japanese tribute bearers. He wrote that “The Wo live in Eastern ocean right across from Zhejiang and Fujian. [Their business] goes through the southern Ningbo path. Whenever they appear, there are Zhangzhou and Ningbo outlaws [waiting for them]. Thus, they [the Japanese] must hide themselves and use their martial learning. The fact that they [the Japanese] are bonding together thus is an inevitability.” Another official believed that Chinese Wokou inspired Japanese merchants to become Wokou. Liu Xi (劉熹 jinshi ?),Vice Chancellor of Rectifying Armed Force of Zhejiang (浙江兵部副史), wrote that “Wonu’s situation was originally just about trade. In China, they interacted with Chinese merchants only in private smuggling. But then they realized how the gain of looting was far greater than trade. The Wonu’s hearts were therefore corrupted.”
But even though Japanese merchants could turn into banditry, they were acting privately and not through government actions. Wang Shu (王忬jinshi 1541), the Provincial Military Commander of Fujian and Zhejiang in 1552 and a successor to General Zhu Wan, tells us “that now every Wo trades privately, they get all the benefit. The chieftains [in Japan] are very unhappy. [They] try to stop the Wo from going east, often telling every Wo not to attack the east. Yesterday, those who went to Huangyan (island) were mostly killed… [The chieftains] stopped some twenty or so Wo boats from coming to China.” Thus, as of now, we have mostly concentrated on the Japanese merchant class who were influenced by the Chinese Wokou to participate in piracy.
I wrote in chapter 6 the heretogeniety of Japanese Wokou, that besides the merchant class, i.e. those who were “kind” and “rich”, the majority of the Japanese participants were poor just like the coastal Chinese. Poverty was understandably a main drive for people to participate as Wokou, whether they were coastal Chinese or Japanese. Official Tang Shu wrote that there were seven circuits (七道) in Japan, of which three were associated with mountains: Sotomonomichi (C. Shanyin dao), Tōsandō (C. Dongshan dao), and Kagetomonomichi (C. Shanyang dao). “Nowadays the news that [they the Japanese] are escaping famine is not a fake narrative. Last year the three mountain circuits were experiencing drought. Our people long had wicked ideas and took the opportunity to solicit their participation, hiring them while they were hungry. But none of their kings knew anything about it.”
Tang Shu’s “our people” refers to people of Zhangzhou and Ningbo who he believed “chose the path of no return (meaning becoming members of the underworld), having no where to hide, Thus they all practiced gruesome martial arts and bonded together.” Knowing that they themselves had not enough manpower, “our people” actively solicited the Japanese when the latter were experiencing famine. These Japanese were not the ones leading the Chinese, but vice versa. I will illustrate this point further by comparing the beliefs of three officials. Zheng Xiao (鄭曉jinshi 1523), Minister of the Board of Punishment; Tang Shunzhi (唐順之jinshi 1529), Chancellor of the Board of War in Nanjing; and Wang Shizhen (王世貞, jinshi 1547), Chancellor of the Board of Punishment.
Zheng Xiao was first of all a scholar with extensive literary accomplishments such as the book Wu xue bian (吾學編). The Korean court in the new year of 1564 came to Beijing specifically requested the purchase of Zheng Xiao’s book Wu xue bian and Wang Shizhen’s Yan shan tang bie ji (弇山堂別集). Both books are voluminous studies of over ten thousand pages each. My examination of the two scholars also partly draws from these two works. Zheng Xiao was also a capable general who wrote extensive war report memorials to the Jiajing emperor.
Zheng Xiao’s work has been widely studied. For example, Fan and Tong quoted Zheng Xiao’s Wu xue bian extensively to argue for Japanese brutality and agency, such as one instance in which Zheng Xiao describes the Japanese as ferocious and greedy. Wu xue bian, like I mentioned before, is called “my own learning” which he wrote by studying secondary sources. However, there is also the personal side of Zheng Xiao. Zheng Xiao’s letter to Tang Shunzhi is one of the sources that I find has received no scholarly attention. In his Zheng duan jian gong wen ji (鄭端簡公文集), or essay collection, which is also partly incorporated in the Ming Statecraft Collection, we find not the serious scholarly works organized by chronology and themes, but scattered personal entries. I shall examine important parts of the two letters in which he wrote to general Tang Shunzhi, his long time friend. Not only was Zheng Xiao not a racialist or nationalist, he was sympathetic toward Japanese lower class people being misled into Chinese Wokou organizations:
These bandits are all overseas Chinese, manipulating the barbarians to commit their own evil. Fall passes and spring comes, everything operates as a norm. This fall may not see them, [but it] only means the spring next year will be more worrisome. Killing all the real Wokou is not what Wu (武martial spirit) is about. I have learned that those in their lands came to China to trade, their father, mother, wife, and children wrote letters to call them back. But they did not know that they have become floating ghosts. If the real Wo are caught, [we] should keep several of them, give them our official letter and order them to keep this and return to their islands. When they read them in their islands, [they will then] tell their people over there not to listen to the words of overseas Chinese to become bandits and lose their lives. Since they [the real Wo] will have seen it with their own eyes, their words are bound to be sincere. They [the islanders] most likely will trust it. Those treacherous people [Chinese] who did the soliciting will then run out of ideas. Listen to how much they [the Japanese] feel have been wronged. You only need to see a few lines to be deeply in touched.
Zheng Xiao writes of how the real Wo, the Japanese, were being mistreated and taken advantage of by the overseas Chinese. He writes that “barbarians are human too,” and cautions Tang that the problem will keep on going “if only insisting on maneuvering soldiers and investing money to pursue and kill them.” Zheng’s letter is full of sincerity and respect for Tang. He ends his letter by concluding that “the trouble is not in the islands, but inside the wall (xiao qiang蕭薔). Thirty years of friendship as if having the same bone and flesh (meaning they are like brothers), [I] do not dare to be unusually submissive and quiet. I write this quickly with my brush, therefore [it is bound to be] incoherent.” Zheng Xiao does not considered “martial spirit” as equivalent to excessive killing. He emphasizes understanding and empathy by suggesting the human side of barbarians. He brings up the fact that they have families. Confucianism highly values the centrality of family in a moral society. Therefore, he suggests that their lives should be spared. This is in contrast to Zhang Chong’s metaphor of the Japanese as dogs or racialist officials who believed that barbarians should be decimated by heaven.
Zheng had good reasons to write to Tang, for Tang was a general who focused primarily on military affairs. Zheng Xiao calls Tang “Kongming” the courtesy name of famous military strategist Zhuge Liang in 3rd century A.D. Tang certainly deserved this tile; not only was he famous for his military experience but he was also a famous martial artist. But Tang leans toward the nationalist camp. He writes concerning both the “Eastern barbarians” (Japanese) and “Northern barbarians” (Mongols) that “China and its barbarians are like a big house that had thieves for neighbors, not afraid of their strength so much as their proximity.” In most of his victory-related memorials, the general took great interest in counting the number of heads especially of real Wo, i.e., the Japanese, promising 30 tales of silvers per head. Tang is a traditional Confucian loyalist who believes in the duty of officials to emperors. In 1559, then the 52 year old Tang Shunzhi sensed his ill health and wrote a memorial to the Jiajing emperor on his life experiences.
Tang writes that “your official had his origins in Changzhou prefecture [in southern Zhili], [grow up as] a person with a record of crime. I saw the plague of Wokou and understand the business at sea… Ever since I was entrusted with command, I have experienced the ocean and walked on foot with my troops. [Now] an old man in retirement, I still go around visiting and getting information.” Tang continues describing how he “met with Hu Zongxian and others, [together] respectfully sharing opinions on issues such as the recent imperial edict on training soldiers.” For Tang, military strategy was his chief concern. “Knowing that I might die at any moment,” he writes to the emperor that the fight against Wokou must be carried out at sea and not on land because Chinese warships are typically stronger and bigger than those of the Wokou. How to treat soldiers well is another important matter especially concerning proper rewards, regular food rations, etc. Likewise, he is famous for the theory of hitting Wokou like hitting tiger. It is best to hit tigers when they are hungry, meaning when they came to look for food (Wokou who came to loot out of desperation). It is less advantageous to hit the tigers when they try to protect the meat at their mouth and on their way home (Wokou who tried to protect their gains).
Whatever the strategy, Zheng considers Tang to have missed an important element. In another one of his letters to Tang, Zheng Xiao cautioned him against overly emphasizing Japan and not see the real enemy. “Jiangnan’s rich and powerful men find it profitable to collaborate with the bandits. [They] benefit from looting and stealing, ravaging the villages and towns. [These] collaborators of the bandits supply food and leak secrets, [and have] hundreds of wicked stratagems, [all were] especially fearsome.” Zheng Xiao and Tang Shunzhi are different in that Tang considered Wokou problem as a Sino-barbarian issue. Tang’s metaphor is that China is the rich man who unfortunately had poor and greedy neighbors. On the other hand, Zheng Xiao used a classical term, “xiao qiang”. While the word means “wall”, the wording “the trouble is not in the islands, but inside the wall” (禍不在海島, 而在蕭薔) is a rephrase of a line in Confucius’s Analects. “I am afraid [official] Jisun’s concern is not in Zhuanyu (a country), but inside the wall” (吾恐季孫之憂，不在顓臾，而在蕭牆之內也). A Chinese idiom originated from this classic is xiao qiang zhi huo (蕭墻之禍) or “trouble inside the wall.” The story is that Confucius was skeptical of official Ji Sun chanting for conflict with a foreign country because he knew that Ji Sun only wanted to use it as an excuse to solve domestic problem. Simply speaking, the idiom means internal trouble. Zheng Xiao advocates for an attention of China’s own people.
As a general who actually was in the battlefield fighting with Wokou, rather than serving the emperor in the court, he took notice of the participation of Chinese in the Wokou, Tang is well aware of the participation of Chinese. For example, he noted how a little known Chinese became a powerful Wokou and how a group of so-called Wokou were all Chinese:
Your official sees it with my own eye, over thousands of Wozi (meaning Wokou) in Sansha [islands] were natives of Guazhou [in Southern Zhili]. One of the kidnapped man, Feng San, encouraged them to adventure for treasures in Yangzhou (揚州取寶), then they all swarmed there from afar. Feng San in China has not even the weight of a louse, but in the island he can have such influence. Even though he has been exterminated, the poison has long been spread.
In fact, I wrote this earlier that racialist officials all know about the participation of Chinese in the Wokou, it is only that they put them in a lesser importance than they did of Japanese. This is most clearly demonstrated in Tang’s case. I believe Tang’s nationalist belief is also because he is a typical Confucian loyal official and a devout believer of Sinocentric world order.
In his palace exam for jinshi degree (廷試策一道) taken in 1529, Tang made several interesting points:
Your official understands that at this moment, the emperor has a heart that is like that of [King] Tang of Yin [Shang dynasty] blaming himself in the forest. He is also like Emperor Gao (Ming founder) sitting on a sheet outside the palace [concerned that] there has not been any rain throughout the summer… The heart of heaven is humane, I will like to assist the emperor to work as hard as if xiao gan (宵旰 meaning putting up dress before the sun comes out and eat only when the sun sets) in order to achieve the prosperous age of Jiajing… The way of a official is to be able to bring peace to the people, and also to be able to eradicate the bandits and defend against the barbarians. Therefore, your official believe that the most important step to take to bring peace to the people is the get the right [talented] persons. It is said that of these people who become bandits, how can it be their genuine wish? All were forced by conditions of despair or ignorance of consequences… When the son of heaven is righteous, he defends against the barbarians of four direction. But nowadays, all the barbarians are being opportunistic in disturbing our border and slaughtering our people. The trust of people [in government] is jeopardized. Your official believes that the main trouble is not the barbarians [being strong] but that our China lacks its own [capable] general.
First, Tang’s loyalty to the Jiajing emperor is expressed through the language of a typical Confucian gentleman. The emperor is concerned for the people and he sympathizes with them because he is humane. The barbarians of four sides are inferior so they killed our innocent people. Tang upholds the belief that China is not weaker than barbarians. All China needs is capable generals. Toward the end of his exam, he sums up his theory using a Confucian belief of moral uprightness as the solution to all problems. While Zheng Xiao used the idiom Xiao qiang from Confucius, in the same section of the Analects, Confucius also said “if those people in afar are not contented, then [we] should cultivate our literacy and morality to attract them [to us]” (故遠人不服, 則修文德以來之). Tang follows that idea about Chinese-barbarian relationship:
[Sage king] Shun ruled with profound morality and therefore all the bandits and thieves disappeared. Likewise, defending against the barbarians is the same principle. Do not be idle and do not be negligent, [when] the four barbarians come the king, the sage king shows his cultivated morality to barbarians and treats all barbarians as his guests, this is the best strategy (shang ce上策) to defend against barbarians. It is just like what Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒 a famous Confucian scholar) described as ‘if the heart is righteous, then the court will be righteous; if the court is righteous, then hundreds of officials will be righteous; if hundreds of officials are righteous, then ten thousand people in far and near will be righteous.
Second, Tang got his jinshi degree with this essay because he touched upon exactly what the Jiajing emperor wanted to hear. The theme of our people becoming bandits not because of inherent evilness but life hardships is a typical expression of humaneness. I believe one reason that the Jiajing emperor was unwilling to criticize people in China more than people in Japan for Wokou banditry is because it conflicted with his duty as the son of heaven. As Tang’s writing implies, the morality of the emperor is proportional to the level of peace in society. If an emperor is as sage as Shun, then there ought not to be any bandits and thieves. In other words, if there are bandits and thieves roaming in society, it is an implication that the emperor is not sufficiently moral. The emperor therefore ought to show humaneness and forgiveness to his people for committing crime and at the same time sympathizing his people for being slaughter by uncivilized barbarians.
In 1523, the Jiajing emperor wrote an Imperial Edict in response to a series of natural disasters, a sign of losing Heaven’s endorsement: “Heaven causes me to be in shock and afraid, not be able to sleep or eat.” The emperor then wrote that it must be that his officials were covering up people’s difficulties such that Heaven transfers the blame to the emperor. In 1524, another imperial Edict includes the statement that “everywhere, all the bandits are people driven by hunger, cold, and poverty. They became homeless and unemployed or being coerced by others into forming bandit groups. When the imperial edicts arrives, all officials must send announcement to send my message of permitting them to turn themselves in and erasing their previous crimes.” More than just formal and ritual language, I believe that the the Jiajing emperor was sincere in considering himself as son of heaven. I argued earlier that the Jiajing emperor may have been heavily influenced by racialist officials around him during the Ningbo incident. But the Jiajing emperor himself also adhered to the traditional Confucian teachings. In one of his rare to directly address local people in Chengtian Prefecture of Huguang province in 1541, he told the commoners that:
People of this village, let me tell you that when my parents were alive, at the time of Xiao Emperor, our fief was here. My father and mother accumulated such great virtue that [heaven allowed me] to inherit the position of emperor. Today, I come here for my parents. Every one of you should have elder parents from those years [when I lived here]. Today, seeing those of you like me who are young people, [I only find out] that I have not a bit of virtue at all. My father and mother are all in heaven now. This is a bitter feeling that you must all feel as well. After my business today, I will be returning to Beijing. I am just here to tell you some important words. Everyone must be employed and fulfill the duty of filial piety. Those of you who are the fathers must instruct your sons and grandsons. The elderly must support the young, and the young must respect the elderly. Be energetic about life and be good persons, follow these words of mine. But I cannot say more in depth for the convenience of those illiterate ones among you. You should teach them so that you can save the trouble of keep on remembering it.
The Jiajing emperor has an incredible connection with, and concern for, his people. He urges them to uphold filial piety and talks to them as if he is their equal, making fun of himself for not being as virtuous as the young people he sees. The element of humor is also present as he tries not to embarrass those who cannot understand big words. These words from the Jiajing emperor and those from Tang Shunzhi together explain why, unlike the pragmatist officials and generals, they are less inclined to criticize “our people.” It is because both of them are committed to the ideology of a harmonious relationship between the ruler and the ruled in an ideal Confucian world. Our people may commit crime such as to become Wokou but they can be guided by morality. They both vehemently criticized the barbarians because of the hierarchy between the civilized and uncivilized in the Sinocentric world.
The Jiajing emperor wrote an imperial edict in 1542 in reference to losing the blessing of Heaven (天心) which described how the hierarchical sino-barbarian relationship was worsened by a lack of good officials. “China is Yang and foreign barbarians are Yin. Nowadays the barbarians invade China as if is a barren land. Thus, one can see that it has to be caused by the officials far and near do not love the people.” Throughout his entire reign, the Jiajing emperor subscribed to a traditional Sino-barbarian world order where the relationship was hierarchical just like the well-known opposite of Yin and Yang, complementary and co-existing. Tang’s mentioning of Dong Zhongshu and the idea of cultivating morality to attract the barbarians is also part of Jiajing emperor’s ideology. While the emperor did not have a positive image of barbarians as I showed earlier that he was heavily influenced by racialist officials, his language was still within the theoretical relationship between a suzerain and barbarians. In other words, the emperor cultivates his morality and shows it to the barbarian guests. Thus, in July 1555, the Jiajing emperor sent an embassy to the “King of Japan” about demanding him to stop the Japanese Wokou coming to China. The two emissaries Jiang Zhou and Chen Keyuan did not see the King of Japan and the letter was not delivered, but by serendipity they met the adopted son of Wang Zhi which led to the Chinese pirate’s eventual demise. The letter writes that:
[Your] Kingdom ever since our emperor Taizu inherited the realm was always obedient and paying tribute to the heavenly court. The heavenly court treated you with blessings that were not even a slightly thin… Today your Wo loot our people. Consider that your kingdom’s law has always been strict, [if] people steal a chicken or a dog, [they] are killed without recourse. How can there be a reason for allowing the people to come loot? It must be [that the commoners were] deceiving and covering their private trips from the King, which is why we sent emissary Jiang Zhou and Chen Keyuan to transfer the message to the King that if you can keep ancestor’s teaching, think about the gratitude owed to the saintly court, respond angrily to the lawlessness of your people, and strictly discipline and control their private trips to the ocean [that are] disturbing China, then the border will be peaceful and quiet, conflicts will not arise, and both [Japan and China will] enjoy the benefits of peace…The glory will be written in the history books and passed down for hundreds of generation. Is that not a pleasure? If not, then evil merchants and island people will continue to cause trouble, all kinds of people are involved, basing in oceanic islands to wait for their opportunities. [I] fear that is not to your kingdom’s advantage either.
In sum, Tang’s life was guided by his Confucian moral education, which led him to focus more on the barbarians and have a moral idealistic view of “our people” as a whole. Though on paper, he raised the theoretical solution of upholding morality to fight barbarians, I believe his words also demonstrated his willingness to train soldiers to chop off barbarian heads. Tang’s stance was bound to dissatisfy his younger colleague Wang Shizhen (jinshi 1547). As the minister of the Board of Punishment and one of the most famous writers of the late Jiajing era, Wang shared many of the same ideas as other pragmatist officials and generals such as the participation of Chinese and focusing on China’s own people rather than barbarians. But he is special in that he sees the Wokou issue as part of a larger pattern of Sino-barbarian relations. This pattern refers to the active collaboration of borderland Chinese (bian min邊民) with barbarians of all directions. Whether it is Annan (today’s Vietnam), Hami (Turpan), Bei Lu (Mongolia), or various islands of Wo, Wang writes that the participation of borderland Chinese in assisting these barbarians is universal. He writes that “training soldiers, solidifying gateways, knowing how to reward and punish, all these are bookworms’ talks! (此書生談耳) Was it really that easy? [They say] the Mongol and Wokou ravaged us, but do not mention [the crime of] our own people. The worry is not in the south or north, but in China itself.” Wang then wrote in the margin “this line is beneficial [to learn] even today. At the end, he writes that “the court loses [to barbarians] not because of geography (地理), but because of [losing] people’s trust (ren xin人心). Alas! At the end, what is to be done then?” This pattern is against the theoretical Sino-barbarian relationship in which the barbarians ought to come to China to be transformed. Chinese collaboration with the barbarians, such as the Wokou incidents, is humiliating to the Chinese authority who often used the term “treacherous people” (奸民) to describe these collaborators.
The enemies are not in the north or south but in China itself. This theme is at the core of pragmatist beliefs. This pattern also drew the attention of Fujianese scholar Xie Zhaozhe. Xie talked about how northern Chinese went to Mongol lands, first because their language and food were similar; second because China burdens them with heavy taxes and corvee labor, whereas that “although the barbarians also have their law, but the ruler and the ruled worked and rest together, suffered together, every time they see someone alone with their tents, the barbarian king and his wives and children all treated them like their own family members.” Xie then immediately tides this with Japanese relations with Fujianese, Zhejiangness, and Cantonese:
They consider sea as if it is land. They consider Japan as if it is their next door neighbor. They trade with each other and do not distinguish each others’ difference. [While] we do trading openly, they come here to do trading secretly. There are one or two of those [Chinese] who find delight in other people’s misery, seducing them (the barbarians) to our inner territory [to loot]. When they lose, the barbarians were the ones to be slaughtered. When they win, they refuse to share the gains with barbarians.
Therefore, it is important to understand that coastal Chinese do not necessarily abide by the idea of a loyalty of Chinese people. Many of them share more in similarity and interest, such as trade and maritime activity, with the barbarians than they do with the political center. Xie echoes Wang Shizhen’s theme of the Chinese court losing to barbarians, not because of geography but because of people. Unlike Tang’s belief that geographical proximity with the barbarians is the main concern, Wang Shizhen said the alienation between the Chinese court and coastal people is the real problem. The imperial court does not understand the needs and wishes of the coastal people, their willingness to trade and interact with barbarians. Xie clarified that for us by showing that although barbarians are theoretically inferior, borderland Chinese are often likely to identify with them because of a similar way of life. Wang’s writing also criticize Tang’s another problem, the excessive emphasis on military as a solution. Just like Zheng’s point about “martial,” Wang said that training soldiers and knowing how to reward and punish (the core ideas of Tang’s lifetime experience) are just talks by bookworms. Without paying attention to need and agency of the coastal Chinese, military suppression solves the symptom of an illness but not the illness itself.
General Tang Shu summarized this pragmatist stance the best. He writes, in reference to Fujian, that there are two strategies. He calls one a “temporary strategy” (權宜) and the other a “long term strategy” (長策). The temporary strategy is to send soldiers to decimate the bandits in the mountain and at sea. The long term strategy is “return to the old time of regular maritime defense, and taking care of the poor people in the coast. This way they will not be the collaborators of the bandits.” The pragmatists are not saying that military defense are unnecessary or unimportant, many of them are capable and well-experienced generals themselves. They only emphasize that the reason why Wokou problem is self-regenerating is because the imperial government did not pay attention to the actual need of the coastal people such as their poverty and famine, that sea is their home and only alternative for survival.
There is another important question that scholars continue to debate and that is the question of blame. I certainly do not claim to be able to solve it once and for all, but I argue that the question is not to be taken seriously. Who is to be blamed, Chinese or Japanese, for this Wokou crisis with all the killing and burning of China’s coasts? I feel that this is like trying to balance two people sitting on a seesaw, the Wokou narrative that is either Japanese-centered or Chinese-centered. I do not evade the case of Japanese participation that nationalist historians often emphasize, but it is also also questionable whether the so-called “Japanese” were always real Japanese. One may recall of my reference to General Hu Zongxian who wrote that Chinese Wokou like Wang Zhi was spreading rumors in South China that all the killings were done by the Japanese, when it was actually done by his overseas Chinese cohorts from Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, or Ningbo.
Overseas Chinese came from coastal Chinese. These two terms were rooted in each other. General Zhu Wan was highly aware of that and said that “Zhangzhou and Quanzhou people, can they live in the sea? Which one of them do not have parents and brothers, wives and children? If they have a day to leave, they are bound to have a day to return. The ships they built to collaborate with barbarians, can they sail [so quietly] like if they are ghosts and gods?” Thus, while Wokou pirates are called overseas Chinese, their roots are in coastal China. It is the source of all problems and breading ground of all Wokou. With these information in mind, I will now contrast the experience of Chinese and Japanese in the Wokou organization, which I argue that the former benefit from their native origin and intricate stratagems whereas the latter were all alone and suffered from their dependency on the coastal Chinese.
Zheng Xiao’s memorials give the most vivid account of war battles. On April 13th 1554, Zheng Xiao was then a general defending the city of Yangzhou in South Zhili against Wokou. His war report described the seriousness of Chinese participation in Wokou:
Wokou kept on invading us. Most of those were either people of Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangnan, Jiangbei, and Zhili, or treacherous elites pursuing profit, or tough and bored people who supply food and leak secrets [to the Wokou]; all are dismissive of the law and gather together in banditry.
A typical Wokou scene he described is that “[they] rode here in two-brig giant ships. There were some seventy Wokou, all were wearing red and green clothing, each holding weapons like swords, spears, and arrows. They abandoned their boat and disembarked. They fired the cannon and were all screaming and running forward.” They did commit unbelievable horrors. Zheng Xiao reported to the throne gruesome images of killing, burning, with “bodies were all over the floor as if human lives were like grasses being cut off.” But the “Wo bandit” that committed this crime in Yangzhou was not Japanese. Zheng Xiao himself ran after the Wokou and caught one of them called Tang Huangmao (湯黃毛). The name is indicative of his origin. While Huangmao literally means “yellow hair,” it actually also means “petty kid.” This is a Chinese name that likely implied that he was a notorious local youth.
Zheng Xiao caught a Wokou spy who confessed that “Wokou wanted to go from Tongzhou to Yangzhou, and also said that there were so few real Wokou (Japanese) and so many fake Wokou (Chinese). Real Wokou wanted to leave but fake Wo saw the advantage of chaos in the city and were persuading them to stay.” The disagreement between Real Wokou and fake Wokou is shocking. The situation refers to the barricade of Yangzhou by the Wokou. The few Japanese did not want to continue the fight, but their Chinese partners who were of the same race as the Chinese in the city, were the scourges of people in the city. They sensed that victory was about to come and hoped the Japanese could stay and helped them to fight to the end. These Chinese Wokou were powerful in their strategies and Zheng Xiao was well aware of that through his battle experience. The assumption nationalist historians hold is that Japanese were the invaders and Chinese collaborators were their followers. In reality, the Japanese were the followers of their Chinese Wokou leaders who were capable of great stratagem and abuse.
Figure 24: General Hu Zongxian’s stratagem against Wokou 1.
Figure 25: General Hu Zongxian’s stratagem against Wokou 2.
Wang Shizhen’s essay sums up this relationship well. He first describes poor Japanese Wokou who were the naked ones wielding the swords and accompanied by the Chinese Wokou who were hiding, then he says, “their leaders (魁) are all Fujianese and Zhejiangness who are capable of setting up traps, could use small numbers of people against many, and take advantage [of the fact] that they are both the guest and the host.” The Fujianese and Zhejiangness are native to their land and thus could use that familiarity with landscape to their advantage. Zheng Xiao considers them as formidable:
Your official is a native of Western Zhejiang. I serve mostly in Jiangbei and saw many Wokous with my own eyes. Of those people of China, Those who have strong arms, tough guts, and are full of stratagems often become bandits. They are swift in their scouting and they set up traps to confuse our soldiers, station in strategically important positions to fight our land force and water force, and pretend to hit the east when they want to hit the west. They know about our actual strength, thus for only a few years, interior territory has already been ruthlessly ravaged. We have not been able to decimate them even now.
After explaining the danger of coastal Chinese, Zheng proposed the government to co-opt them:
If people of China did not become bandits, who is to say that after a few years, we will not find greatest generals among them. Nowadays they all follow the bandits. The gracefulness of heaven is boundless, [I urge the emperor to] send specific yellow cloth announcement to appease the bandits, forgive them and ask them to turn themselves in… If not, I fear after a few years there will be those who are like Xu Xun, Sun En, Huang Chao, Wang Xianzhi who will continue to be multiplied and the disaster will never be quelled.
The bandits that Zheng Xiao compared Chinese Wokou with were rebels in Chinese history whose ravages killed millions of people. He wrote that “even if Sun Zi and Wu Qi resurrected, and we put them in charge of decimating Wokou, I fear it would not be a quick victory.”
Zheng Xiao mentioned that these Chinese Wokou stand out more because they were capable of stratagems, for example “sheng dong ji xi” (聲東擊西) describes how Wokou could distract imperial forces to one side when they were interested in attacking another side. The Wokou knew the strength of imperial forces because they themselves are people of China and used that advantage for intelligence gathering and spay activity. Wang Shizhen mentioned the interesting point of how the Fujianese and Zhejiangness were actually hiding and letting the Japanese to do the fight. This may explain why Zheng Xiao’s caught spy said that Japanese were not as enthusiastic as the Chinese in taking Yangzhou.
I believe that the majority of Japanese who participated in these Chinese Wokou organizations were in this condition. Indeed, they were prone to suffer from Chinese Wokou’s abuse because they were not native to this land, and thus were highly dependent on the coastal Chinese. One may recall that I mentioned Zheng Xiao’s letter to Tang Shunzhi. Zheng Xiao used psychological warfare by having the caught Japanese to go to the islands to share with islanders their genuine experience of being deceived and mistreated by Chinese Wokou. Their condition was so desperate that Zheng Xiao even told Tang that he believed Tang will cry if Tang reads what the Japanese wrote about their experience. Just as Tang Shu said, of those who came many of them were driven by famine in Japan and the active solicitation of coastal Chinese. Thus, they greatly differed from what nationalist historian describe as “Japanese invasion.”
The relationship between coastal Chinese and Wokou is best demonstrated in a letter by
Zong Chen (宗臣jinshi 1550), a native of South Zhili and Chief Secretary of Fujian who wrote a private letter to a friend about Wokou invasion of Fuqing sub-prefecture in Fujian:
You said fisherman merchants are honest people and not to chastise them. But today’s fishermen, how can any official chastise them? When you chastise there is chaos, when you don’t chastise there is chaos. Those who thought about selling fish [thought it] tiresome and costly. They were neither fishing nor selling, thus neither tired nor costly. Carrying a giant sword to walk for some ten miles, they can get several jin of gold and molest several dozen beautiful women, and then arrogantly walk away. [Plus] our soldiers are scared of them, is that not pleasurable and satisfying? This is the stratagem of overseas Chinese.
Zong continued to write that even if the greatest generals in history such as Su Qin, Zhang Yi, Zhuge Liang, and Sima Yi all came back to life that they won’t know what to do either.
Such was the condition of coastal Chinese who thought of the Wokou era as opportunity. They were liberated from poverty with this money-making opportunity. Zong Chen, whose lively letter was also took notice by Mingshi, offers vivid details of how the Sino-Japanese relationship in Wokou actually worked. I am certainly not the first to study this letter. Some historians have tried to find a place to fit it under the larger Japanese-centered Wokou narrative. For example, historian Gu Guohua and Xu Jianzhong write that “the root problem is Japanese armed organizations’ invasion, but these “overseas Chinese” must also have undeniable responsibility!” They did give credibility to Zong Chen by pointing out that he had actual military experience and also was a historian. However, Gu and Xu were trying to find find a place for Zong Chen’s letter in the fixed and politically correct language of “invasion”. My interest is different. I am not bounded by the rigid conclusion of Japanese invasion and I argue that Zong Chen’s letter seriously undermines that argument of Japanese invasion.
It is certainly plausible that Zong Chen may have added his own beliefs or based his writing on hearsay specifically because of the amount of vivid details. In one part of his letter he writes:
Overseas Chinese had the real Wo [i.e. the Japanese] stand in front of them. When the defending soldiers saw barbarians, they were scared so the city was easily taken. Then the overseas Chinese ran to stand in the front. They told the real Wo that the prison over there was where the treasury was. The real Wo then called their kind (other Japanese) and thousands stormed into the prison. Seeing that there were only people who were tied up (prisoners), they thought they were the guards of the treasury and asked “where is the treasury?” When they did not get it, [the real Wo] tied them up [again?] and killed them. [By then] overseas Chinese had already massively stormed the treasury, carrying tens of thousands [tales] of gold and ran away. The barbarians were so poor, as if about to die, that they started looting around the mountains. Wearing tattered clothing and eating spoiled rice, they were still happy too but inside they were economically desperate. People [thought] how can this be considered as greed? They don’t know that overseas Chinese are treacherous. When they lose, all the captives were barbarians, not a single overseas Chinese was injured. Overseas Chinese abandoned their country, and then abandoned the barbarians. Today, each one of them has golds to adore their wives, drinking wines and tasting meats, playing and amusing in neighborhood alleys, how can they be considered as “innocent registered people”? 
Zong Chen’s account of overseas Chinese are not people from afar or another country. These so-called overseas Chinese are called “overseas” by their sojourning status. In fact, they are most likely the natives of Fuqing just like his mentioning of a fisherman there who abandoned fishing and chose to be a Wokou outlaw in which money, lust, and power were could all be satisfied. But there is another theoretical problem that needs to be addressed. How can people like Zong Chen and Zheng Xiao tell that a Wokou is Chinese or Japanese? Zheng Xiao wrote that in the 15th day of August 1554, “newly arrived Wokou boat had some sixty men. [They] burnt their boats and disembarked. Though the number was small, it was all real Wo and Zhangzhou bandits, [who were] extremely ferocious.” In 10th day of April 1554, he also wrote “[we caught] real Wo of about 600; fake Wo were beyond [our] ability to count.” Zheng Xiao was able to distinguish Japanese Wokou by observing “samurai sword, iron hat, banner with a painting of a donkey, seal with Japanese character.” Like most Ming generals, the most important feature is that “those whose heads have no hair are the real Wo.” This judgement is highly unstable as one Chinese Wokou said that he was forced by other bandits to get a haircut so that he had to depend on other Wokou for protection. It was reported that soldiers randomly cut off heads of ordinary people and then gave them a haircut in order to claim rewards.
Certainly, this difficulty to be certain about who was Japanese will lead historians to more debates. However, there is another way in which a Japanese Wokou and a Chinese Wokou can be differentiated. Rather than relying on physical appearance, this way looks at their behavior. Its revelation supports the theme of suffering Japanese. An essay by Fan Lai (1574 jinshi) on Zhejiang’s coastal defense provides a useful alternative way in making that vivid distinction, though even its criteria are themselves reminiscent of the many examples I gave. The original work is smeared with ink which has made certain characters illegible, but enough remains to permit a general understanding. Fan’s “fake barbarians” refers to the Chinese, and “barbarians” refers to the Japanese. The section is called “distinguishing the real and fake Wo”:
Wokou who come to China are not always the barbarians, but there are always fake barbarians who guide them. I heard that the ones to be concerned about today are not barbarians, but fake barbarians… the barbarians are the most foolish people in all under heaven which is why they always carry words and walk in the front, one faces the front and the other faces the back. [As of how to distinguishing the two] Those who specialize in hiding are fake barbarians. The [barbarian] island’s customs value the rich and despise the poor so the rich men there eat millet, while poor people eat empty grain husks. [The barbarians] fight the cold on all alone, and in the times of snows, [they have] no cloth to put on their body. [The barbarians] were also the most suffering people in all under heaven. In the past, [when the barbarians] saw tattered clothing and one bushel of millet, they will be very happy. Those forced to walk in the front are always barbarians, whereas those who are good at choosing gold and silk and choose the best are fake barbarians. Those whose hair has a gourd shape (禿而內匏 meaning the middle is bold, but there were hair on two sides, see the picture below).  and those whose hair was bald like a monk were fake barbarians. Those who were tired but still standing at a yu (盂a Buddhist worship utensil) and  bow and kneel are barbarians. Those who sit down and used it (yu) to drink wine are fake barbarians. Fake barbarians were often the kings and barbarian were often their laborers, they left after a big looting. [Those] decimated at the sea are barbarians. [Those] who carried away gold and retired into the field  were fake barbarians. Fake barbarians often got the profit [from looting] and barbarians often suffered the harm [of battles]. This is the fate of barbarians and the power of barbarians.Their fate was just like those [kidnapped] seamen nowadays who turn into the bandits’ accomplice after the bandits looted them (meaning that just like the Japanese, these kidnapped men were helpless people controlled by Chinese pirates). Thus the real concern is not for barbarian, but for fake barbarian. Today’s urgent challenge is fake barbarians; the barbarian problem can wait. The fake barbarian issue is a heavy [problem] while the barbarian issue is a light [problem], just like, to stop water that is boiling it is best to remove the firewood. Though the firewood is not the bubble, bubbles was born because of the firewood. If one is afraid of the cold then it is best to stay out of the wind, wind does not cause the cold but it makes people cold.
Figure 26: Wokou painting by Qiu Ying.
As a book on maritime defense for Zhejiang province, Fan’s work is almost never read, which is unfortunate since his detailed drawings of maps and historical perspective are fully as informative as books such as Chou hai tu bian. Fan Lai, Prefect of Nanchang in Jiangxi province, was an official under Wanli emperor and this section I quoted come from his essay on the Jiajing era Wokou and not his discussion of the Wanli era.
Fan Lai tells us several things. His study adds weight to Zong Chen’s description of real Wo and fake Wo relationship. The discussion of Japanese being more religious and pious toward Buddhist utensils is an indication of their difficult life as Wokou, although interestingly, the spy Xu Yi believed that Japanese only pray to god when they want to win money in gambling. Nevertheless, Fan Lai’s image of Japanese piety is a contrast with the underworld Chinese who used the religious utensil to drink wine. Zong Chen and Fan Lai both mentioned the poor Japanese not even have enough to wear and were being fed only spoiled rice by Chinese Wokou. Zong Chen asked “how can this be considered greed?” This belief contrasts with racialists who generalized Japanese race as greedy and ferocious. In other words, a desire to stay warm and have some millet for food is not greed as all the treasures stolen actually went to the coastal Chinese bandits and not the Japanese. This led Fan Lai to call them the “most suffered people under heaven” (天下之至苦). Fan compared the Japanese Wokou to the coastal merchants forced into participation of banditry by Chinese strongmen. This comparison works by suggesting that like those victims of Chinese looting, Japanese had no choice and depended on the Chinese pirates. This book was written in 1602 which is after the first Sino-Japanese war in Korea (1592-98), and given that context, the degree to which Fan was able to sympathize with the Jiajing era Japanese goes to show the degree of truth it held to this scholar.
Fan Lai’s metaphor that to stop boiling water, you need to remove the firewood first echoes the pragmatist belief that the root problem of Wokou is in China and not in the islands.
Fan implied that those who take the term Wokou literally to mean people of Japan only observe the problem on the surface. To see Wokou issue in the dichotomy of “us” versus “them” ignores the fact that water itself does not boil. Only the constant heat given by firewood can cause the water to boil. The firewood is a symbol of the fake barbarians, or coastal Chinese. Zeng Cheng also reminds us that “as of today, the stratagem must first be against the overseas Chinese, barbarians need no stratagem to be taken care of.”
I argue in this chapter the reverse of good and evil in which the presumed role of Chinese as good and Japanese as evil was flipped. Chinese Wokou was ahead of the game than Japanese origin Wokou in this era of crisis and they controlled not just the poor coastal Chinese but also impoverished Japanese islanders. However, I do not find it useful the good and evil dichotomy and my analysis in this chapter only aimed to show that the narrative of Japanese as evil and Chinese as good is insufficient. I argued in chapter 6 the flaws of generalizing Japanese and Chinese given the degree of heterogeneity within both of these peoples. That chapter addresses the question “was it Japanese or Chinese” by criticizing the scholarly approach of using generality to describe the two groups and putting an overly emphasis on national origin and not social class. This chapter responds to the question “who is good and who is to blame” by complicating the smooth narrative of “foreign race” versus “Chinese race” raised by Fan and Tong. I suggested that a desire to simplify Wokou problem in the dichotomy of good and evil, Chinese and Japanese, neglects the fact that there always existed more than one narrative. I illustrated through out this paper that there was a competition of different beliefs which I roughly generalized as racialist and pragmatist. Rather than choosing who is good and who is bad, I suggested that the competing narrative allowed the story of blame to go both directions.
I mentioned how historian Fan and Tong used Zheng Xiao’s writing to argue that Japanese warriors were instinctively brutal, but at the same time I found personal letters from Zheng Xiao that showed he, just like Fan Lai and Zong Chen, all have sympathy for the Japanese participants and was more concern about the Chinese Wokou than they did of Japanese. Some historians may point to the scenes of Japanese Wokou killing and burning the sea coast (as in Figure 25), but other may also point to the Japanese Wokou being the “most suffering people under heaven” who did not have enough to eat or drink, but were content just to survive by eating the spoiled rice and tattered clothes given them by Chinese Wokou. Poor and hungry, they were hired by coastal Chinese strongmen during times of famine. Religious and pious, the Japanese bowed to Buddhist utensils while the Chinese Wokou used the utensils to drink wine. In a land unfamiliar to them, the Japanese followed the Chinese strongmen and were forced to to stand in the front in battles. Their wives, mothers, and children in the islands wrote letters begging them home but many were killed in land or at sea. Zheng Xiao was enemy to these Wokou and fought fierce battles with them, but it was not hatred or blame that he developed for these people. It was empathy and understanding. When he caught the real Japanese and read their written letters, the general was so touched that he believed other generals will cry as well.
Instead of identifying myself in the either or choice question of “who is to blame,” I propose the question be change to “how can we understand.” I have used extensive works from pragmatist officials to show that we need to understand why there were small number of Japanese in Wokou organizations. Their writings lead us to focus on the coastal Chinese or overseas Chinese. The overseas Chinese are maritime sojourners from Fujian, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and South Zhili who conducted trade and piracy. This change in focus should not be assumed as simply a transfer of blame from Japanese to coastal Chinese. I argued in chapter 7 that a focus on coastal Chinese should also take into account of the local condition, custom, and the context of sea ban. I suggested that we need to understand the situation of coastal Chinese, such as the Fujianese, just as we need to understand the lower class Japanese.
One certainly need not assume that by suggesting “understanding” as my goal, I am excusing or bleaching the horrific and brutal killings by Wokou whether they were by Chinese or Japanese. In fact, I was born in a village near Fuqing sub-prefecture of Fuzhou in Fujian, the city in Zong Chen’s letter. My maternal grandmother and her neighbors are from villages with horrific Wokou killing experience. Fan and Tong described the joined forces of General Qi Jiguang and Dai Chongxiao who fought fiercely with Wokou to protect the villagers. A local delicacy which my maternal grandmother makes well is called Guangbing (光餅), a round cake with a hole inside and sesame seeds on the surface, and nowadays also with pork belly meat inside. It was popularly known in Fujian that this cake means gratitude for General Qi Jiguang. The story was even incorporated in a Fujian opera (閩劇) based on local folktales and folk dances. The opera is about Qi Jiguang’s soldiers chasing Wokou all the way to Fuqing, where every household of Fuqing Fujianese made cakes for the soldiers so that a rope can go through the ring of the cakes and be hung on soldiers’ necks. The soldiers then can eat while they march and fight Wokou. Given this history, it is a sensible question for readers to ask, why I talk about “understanding” the Wokou and not exclusively “condemning” the Wokou and “praising” the Chinese national heroes?
I am aware of the amount of scholarships before me that showed it was an era of crisis and fear for many people. But just as the word “crisis” (危機) in Chinese is a word combined of two terms “danger”(危) and “opportunity”(機), or “perilous opportunity,” there were people who tried to survive and thrive in the crisis. Coastal Chinese like the Fujianese as a whole faced a crisis, but their crisis was man-made. While Wokou ravage was one crisis, there was a more systematic crisis from which Wokou crisis was born. I illustrated in chapter 7 the chronic problem of land and food shortages in Fujian. The crisis for the Fujianese was the arbitrary sea ban that cut off the livelihood of coastal people who historically depended on trade and sea. This man-made crisis turned the poor and the merchants into pirates. It is only the systemic problem of sea ban that prohibits coastal trade and even the transport of rice by sea that forced the Fujianese to one choice, defiance. It is only the context of famine and despair that allow coastal strongman like Wang Zhi to gather the poor in China and Japan to become powerful Wokou.
I suggest that we consider two case studies, one of a Fujianese trader Li Zhang (李章) from Quanzhou who went to Japan for trade but was blown to Korea where he needed to convince the Korean court to not send him and his men back to China in fear of sea ban law. Another Fujianese named Chen Gui (陳貴) from Zhangzhou who went to Ryukyu for trade. Chen was said to be heavily cheated in Ryukyu and the Ryukyu court sent him back to China where he faced the law of sea ban. The two men represented the people of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou who, as General Zhu Wan believed, were most active sea goers and bandits. I use their stories to understand the voice of these maritime traders. How would they rationalize their doing to either the Korean king or Chinese court? Would they succeed? Rather than constraining ourselves to officials and generals, I ask would the voices of these little known individuals participating in maritime trade offer a way to understand the coastal people?
- Li Zhang and Chen Gui: Two Differnet Outcomes of Fujianese Traders:
In the context of Ming sea ban, anyone who secretly went out the sea faced “extreme punishment” according to Ming law. I mentioned earlier how the law not only punish the person with indescribably horrific torture, it also affected his entire family who could face either banishment or imprisonment. As I quoted earlier his concern, the Hongwu emperor’s strict law emerged because he feared that coastal people would helped Japan to invade China’s seacoast. But the chronic problem of famine and land shortage meant that if a drought comes, the Fujianese are left with the choice of starvation. Fujianese Chen Gui was caught by Ryukyu and sent to the Chinese court in May 1542 and Li Zhang went out to sea and was caught by the Koreans in July of 1544. In order to understand the story of these two Fujianese men, we must first understand the context. I will argue that Li and Chen were merely a drop in the bucket of a large wave of Fujianese traders. I will then argue that there is a reason why the Fujianese went out in massive number during those years.
The two men were among thousands of other Chinese who made their presence known the ocean. The Korean court records show the magnitude of Chinese going out to the sea for trade during those years. While most of the early records report the occasional appearance of Chinese traders, such as a dramatic incident involving a group of Chinese merchants with puppies in 1528, but 1545 and 1546 are special in that the Korean records document an unprecedented number of Chinese ships and traders being caught. In July 1545, three ships of Chinese (Tanng ren 唐人) were forced to dock in the Yuyang prefecture (與陽縣) in Korea because their ships were damaged by the winds. They grouped together and escaped to the mountains where they were pursued by the Korean soldiers who said they thought they were “Wokou” who had come to commit banditry. One hundred and eight Chinese were killed by the soldiers which shocked the Korean officials. In August of 1545, another Chinese boat was washed ashore to Rok Island (鹿島) where Korean commander Zhang Ming (張明) killed and arrested a sum of over four hundred men.
The largest group of Chinese was perhaps a group of over six hundred men that showed up in Jeju Island in July 1545. The Jeju governor then reported to the King that the Chinese told him “they came here to trade with Japan but the wind damaged the boat.” The group of Chinese petitioned that the Korean court let them leave by sea through Jeju rather than being sent to the Chinese court. One Korean official opposed this, saying that “these men are China’s rebels who carry silver and iron to trade with other countries. From this we can see that they do not fear China’s law. We must not heed their wish to let them go by Jeju.” In order to get to the court to satisfy their wish, the Chinese wrote two letters. The first letter stated that “We are merchant boats from Great Ming who come to Japan for trade. Can you let us know where we are now? In order to get into the port, we must first ask for permission, please generously let us know your decision.” In this first letter, they indicated that they did not know they were in Korea. In the second letter, they added “Last year, our people were trading in Japan, this is a righteous thing that heaven will approve (秉天公道).” The letter continued to ask if the Koreans were interested in trading with them as well, and added some gifts that “here are some inexpensive native items, we beg that you generously take them.” The Korean court had more interest in their Chinese cannons than the gifts. The court asked them to teach the Korean soldiers, which the latter wrote that the cannons were not as good as the Korean cannons. Eventually, the court sent the six hundred men back to China after it had received the request of a Chinese emissary.
The eventual fate of these six hundred men was also recorded in a Chinese source. The book Jiajing wo luan bei chao writes that in February 1546, the Korean King Yi Hwan (李峘) sent to Chinese court a total of six hundred and thirty one “barbarian collaborators,” or maritime traders who went to Japan. The record says that they were all people of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou. There is a good likelihood that all those earlier incidents of Chinese being killed or sent back were Fujianese because incidents reported in Jia jing wo luan bei chao were all specified as Fujianese. There were over one thousand Fujianese who carried fire units and merchandise to go to Japan and “Wonu (Japanese) used to not have cannons until now. It is all because of these people (Fujianese) stormed out the gates [to trade].” The fact that Chinese traders were always well armed with cannon is another indication of their Fujianese origin. According Lin Xiyuan, native of Tongan sub-prefecture in Quanzhou, the official who General Zhu Wan accused of building giant ships and blackmailing other Fujianese officials, Fujian had a mature cannon making skills. “Nowadays, Zhangzhou prefecture produces Frankish cannon (佛郎機炮) on a daily basis. I am not sure if it will be used in Zhejiang or in our Fujian.” These Fujianese came out to trade because those were difficult years of drought and famine.
The decade of the 1540s was difficult for coastal people in general. Liu Cunde (劉存德 jinshi 1538), magistrate of Songjian prefecture in South Zhili and a native of Tongan sub-prefecture of Quanzhou, discussed the matter with other magistrates in South Zhili and Zhejiang and wrote a memorial in 1545. He wrote how the Jiajing emperor actively sent relief to the coastal people in 1539 and 1541 for the crisis during those years. In 1545, the Jiajing emperor dispatched fifty thousand tales of silver to the coastal prefectures. However, Liu added that it was not enough, “there was not a drop of rains for months, no snow in the winter, and when spring came, all the sprouts in the farms were dead.” He added that “impoverished people living by the sea endured the hunger and their faces looked not a bid like living human beings.”
The series of natural disasters gained the Jiajing emperor’s attention and he actively tried to address them. In April 1541, he wrote an imperial edict that emphasized the suffering of his people. “Everywhere people are experiencing hardship because of miscellaneous corvee labor,” thus he ordered a reduction of corvee labor. In the same edict, he said “in both Beijing and the outer provinces, those lonely elderly and disabled people who could not find employment should be admitted to public charity houses (養濟院) and be given clothes and food. Make sure that they do not become homeless.” He added that “everywhere people are experiencing natural disasters, commoners are suffering from poverty. If any official in the prefecture and county does not care about people as parents care about children (撫摩愛養) and being greedy and cruel,” the Jiajing emperor warned the lower officials of potential punishment and ordered the Inspector Generals to watch the lower officials or else they could receive the same punishment (連坐). These texts show that the emperor tried to live up to the ideal of a humane emperor. He and his coastal officials in general were not oblivious or nonchalant to the suffering people.
I illustrated in chapter 7 the systemic problem that the Fujianese faced. Other provinces may have suffered from hunger in times of famine, but they were least not as mountainous as Fujian which meant that transportation of food to their provinces was possible so long as the court provided enough relief money. However, Fujian is mountainous as Mao Yuanyi and Dai Chongxiao both pointed out. General Dai said that the rice price will increase by twenty-fold if the merchants were not allowed to use sea route but had to go by land. This apparently was the case during the sea ban. The case in 1545 seem to suggest that local magistrate could intervene the sea ban law and implement policy that suited the local need.
Yu Zibo (俞咨伯 jinshi 1532), who served as magistrate of Quanzhou, 1540-1545, was faced with the serious problem of drought and famine. Qing dynasty’s Fujian gazetteer described his career as the following:
During those years [of his service], every year was a wave of drought and banditry. Transportation [of food] was not possible. The entire prefecture experienced great famine. Zibo personally went to city to find out who were the poor people, and gave them millet for relief. He also cooked porridge to help relieve the poor. He was afraid of the increase of price for rice, so he attracted merchants from afar [to come sell rice] and he prohibited the old problem of merchants fighting each other [for profit]. In less than half month, boats carrying rice were coming from all places. The price [of rice] was suddenly normalized and he saved tens of thousands of people.
This gazetteer acknowledged the fact that the transportation of food was not possible, which was likely referring to the mountainous terrain the separated Fujian from other provinces. But Yu Zibo was able to attract rice merchants’ boats from afar. The Jinjiang county gazetteer, a county of Quanzhou, helps us clarify how Yu Zibo was able to solve the rice deficiency in Fujian.
A great drought hit in 1545. Wheat was just about to be ready for harvest but it rotted because of the lack of rain… [Yu] attracted rice merchant boats to come. Whenever the merchant arrives, he gave them wine to thank them for the trouble of coming.
The gazetteer continued to write how Yu established a trust in the merchants so that “when the bandits see so many merchant boats and merchants were coming, they had to move away. It was such a move that served two purposes.” In other words, Yu used two strategies. First, he used his personal charm such as buying wines to establish a bond with the merchants. Second, he tried to intervene merchant competition by making sure none of them will lose profit to more powerful merchants. The question is, how was Yu able to bypass the sea ban law and got the merchants to come by sea? Certainly, both gazetteers compiled during the Qing dynasty credited him for saving people and considered his act as a virtue. But this retroactive praise should not mislead us into thinking that Yu did not have to circumvent the law in order to help the local needs. I argue that Yu most likely had to be flexible with the sea ban law just like magistrate Zhi Dalun had to be flexible with permitting the poor to kill the old cow. We should keep Yu in mind because he was the magistrate of Quanzhou at the time when Li Zhang and other Quanzhou Fujianese left to Japan for trade. Is it possible that Yu Zibo was aware of his people leaving and was flexible enough to let them go? I suggest that it is a possibility.
Figure 27: Map of Upper Korean Peninsula on the left. Coastal Fujian on the right.
Figure 28: Map of Lower Korean Peninsula.
I will now turn to Li Zhang. Like the other Fujianese boats that encountered the Koreans, the first encounter between Li Zhang’s boat and Korean soldiers was a cannon battle. In July 1544, Seungjeongwon, or Royal Secretariat, described the first encounter based on a report from the Korean water force. The Chinese boat docked in Feimi Island (飛彌島?) of Nanju. The Korean water force was sent to barricade the ship. They found that:
[The Chinese] were all wearing black clothes, estimated to be around ninety people. Our language is mutually incomprehensible, so we wrote in big characters “Where are you from,” “Who are you,” “For what reason being blown here?” They looked at us in the eyes and not a word was uttered. They suddenly fired cannons at us. Our boat has two men that were killed by the shells, two other men were harmed. Even though we were told by the [King’s] edict to only arrest them alive, but condition propelled us to fire back with cannons and arrows. The Chinese set up shields in the outside, and escaped inside the boat. They hurriedly turned the boat to the east, because the wind and rain were with them, it was difficult to chase after them. 
But the Koreans were not contented to just let the Chinese boat escaped especially after the death of Korean soldiers. Only days later, Korean Magistrate Piao Guangzuo (朴光佐) of Taean prefecture located the Chinese boat. Royal secretariat discussed with members of the water force that “the Chinese are bound to surrender now.” However, it was not easy. A process of constant negotiation happened between the Korean court and Li Zhang’s boat. Royal secretariat ordered the translators to go tell the Chinese that the court had forgiven them for killing the soldiers on account that the Koreans mistook them for Wokou, which the Chinese must defend themselves. The Korean record in his section is overwhelmed with information received by the Royal Secretariat. After several negotiations, the Korean court learned more about why Li Zhang and his Fujianese cohorts were scared to come down. “The Chinese are afraid. They do not dare to come down the boat in fear of being send back to the central plain (China) and be charged with the crime of privately going out to the sea.” The Chinese boat also delivered a message to the Royal Secretariat:
People of Quanzhou prefecture of Fujian province of Great Ming [are out for] business because our country is experiencing horrendous natural disaster, people are so hungry. We have no choice so we collectively petitioned to the prefect magistrate (possibly Yu Zibo) to let us carry merchandise to foreign countries for sell. Now we have been blown to your country, it is really heaven’s blessing to keep us alive.
This account reveals the possibility that Yu Zibo accepted the request or at least had the knowledge that the people of Quanzhou was leaving by sea to escape the famine. It also shows that the Korean forgiveness of Chinese who killed the soldiers led the boatmen to believe that there was hope. Eventually all men came down from the boat and the Koreans learned that they were all Fujianese from Quanzhou. There were ten leaders, one of whom was was Li Zhang, and sixty sailors. As one of the headmen and fearing the prospect of being sent back to China for the punishment of sea ban, Li Zhang decided to take action. The Koreans had many experience dealing with Chinese traders who try to survive. For example, in August 1544, there was a Chinese boatman who used coercion, saying that “next year, my Great Ming will send one hundred giant ships to barricade your country to famine!” But no Chinese traders ever succeeded in persuading the Korean court except one man. Many wound up like the thousands of Fujianese being sent back to the court. Li Zhang took his chances and he was the only one to succeed.
On July 18th, 1544, Li Zhang handed in his first letter and was read in Royal Secretariat:
Zhang lives in a remote corner called Tongan (in Quanzhou, Fujian). The population is dense, every inch of land is as expensive as an inch of gold, families live in houses that hangs a stone (家室懸磬 meaning really poor), and cooking utensils are covered with old dust. Plus, in October of last year [there was] a great drought, with no rain in the spring and summer. Farmland had cracks like a turtle’s shell and wild grass self immolated. The hungry people that moved from one gully to the next (溝壑 meaning places of death), [and] starving beggars sat on the side of the road. There were fathers and sons who were not able to take care of each other, there were people whose wives and children went not found. The joy of feeding parents water and beans (shushui zhihuan 菽水之歡 meaning filial piety to parents) was never to be fulfilled. Helpless as we were, [we decided to] trade and build a boat, conducting trade in foreign countries, managing to make a tiny profit so to get the joy of family being together in morning and night. With a small boat, passing through million hectares [of water], [we felt] a sense of lost. Whales splashed and the sun bathed us, and though death was ahead we were fearless. Tempests covered the whole the sky, but we little valued our lives and rushed through it. Unfortunately, heaven did not bless us, a hurricane suddenly roared, our boat nearly capsized and people were almost immersed in the water. One cried “heaven,” one cried “earth,” one cried “father,” one cried “mother”. They accused heaven of its injustice (號冤呼顯天). The god of wind stopped and hided it (the storm). Greatly blessed, we soon sailed on. The god of the sea was calm. Coincidentally, we landed in Taean, and luckily benefited from meeting the official. We beg that you consider [that we two are] brotherly countries, for better private relation and the convenience of trade; for the convenience of each other and for the heart to heart of understanding between gentlemen; to love those you do not love as if to love those you loved (words of Mencius), all these one hundred people’s lives come from a father and mother. Placing the burning heart inside the body (推赤心, meaning putting forward words of sincerity), can be seen to ten thousands li away. A commoner [who is like] the quiet valley yearning for the spring season (shu you gu fa yang chun 庶幽谷發陽春), naturally feels itself as boasting. A sunflower leans to the morning sun, which selflessly nurtures it with sunlight. Having depended on [you] for two days, [the benefit] is like a river that irrigates nine miles [of land], so the blessing that Zhang receives is abundant. Insisting that we are outsiders (一膜之外) and to consider us as barbarians (huyue 胡越), this does not accord the hearts of benevolent gentlemen. We only hope that [you will] show sympathy to the foolish and accept our request, consider our condition and feel pity. Then we will be blessed!
This letter touches upon the theme of Fujian as a land of land shortages and famine. Li Zhang utilized many ancient terms from classical books like Zuozhuan and words by the sages such as Mencius. He also used a line from popular literature. The line in which he begs the Korean king to be merciful was “quiet valley yearning for the spring season, naturally feels itself as boasting. Sunflower leans to the morning sun, which selflessly nurtured it with sunlight.” This is actually a poetic phrase about love from Ming writer Wu Jingsuo’s Jin lan siyou zhuan (金蘭四友傳), a novel on male homosexuality. From his letter, one gets a sense of the danger of the sea and the maritime adventurism of the Fujianese that I discussed in chapter 7. The Fujianese had all had good reason to shout to heaven for its injustice. As I suggested, famine is a chronic problem and the sea ban law both cut off people’s livelihood and threatened the Fujianese with famine. One author, Fu Zongwen, also took note of Li Zhang’s letter. Fu argued that Li Zhang should have also mentioned to the Korean king the heavy corvee labor in China, “which [like the issue of famine] added to the reason why townsmen gathered together and left for trade.”
The most important part of the letter, in my view, is his rationalization of trade under the core principle of Confucian ethics- i.e. filial piety. The desire for profit and maritime activity were both traditionally considered to be un-Confucian. One may recall that I mentioned the Wanli emperor’s judgment on why he thought the Fujianese in Manilla were not worth of a fight with the Spanish. The reasoning goes that maritime sailors are profit-motivated, thus were greedy merchants. Merchants were considered as the lowest in the hierarchy of “scholars, peasants, artisans, and merchants.” In addition, the Wanli emperor also wrote that because maritime sailors were sojourners often staying in the sea away from their families, they were therefore un-filial and uncommitted to family. Filial piety, or the values of family, is arguably the highest virtue in the Confucian world. During early imperial history, filially pious people were recommended for office. The renowned book Classic of Filial Piety has a line by Confucius that says “between heaven and earth, people are the most important. Of people’s behaviors, nothing is more important than filial piety” (天地之信人為貴, 人之信, 莫大與孝). In fact, the Jiajing emperor himself considered filial piety as the governing principle of his reign. He wrote an imperial edict that began with “I have heard that saints who rule the realm considered filial piety as the highest priority.” I also wrote how when he was addressing the commoners in Chengtian prefecture, he asked that the young and old must all abide the rule of filial piety. I shall return to this theme of filial piety in the second letter.
The Korean dynastic record indicates no response to Li Zhang’s letter. But the first letter seems to have gained effect as seen in the second letter. The major difference between the two is that Li Zhang shifted away from a more general “we” to an “I” perspective which he used to describe his personal experience of how he became a sailor. Li Zhang used the pronoun “chen” (臣) which normally means “I, your humble official.” But, since Li Zhang had no position in the Korean court, it was more likely used to indicate his respectability. While Li Zhang does not claim to have any degree from passing Ming civil service exam, his knowledge in Confucian classics indicates some type of Confucian education. After all, “ever since the Song dynasty, [Fujian] has the reputation of “hai bin zou lu” (海濱鄒魯).” The title means literally the coastal version of the Kingdom of Zou (hometown of Mencius) and Kingdom of Lu (hometown of Confucius), which praises the popularity of Confucian education among the Fujianese. It is this Confucian education that made Li Zhang stood out among thousands of lower class Fujianese traders. On August 19, 1544, a second letter went to Royal Secretariat:
[I], your official Zhang from China, even though I have been inspired by the custom of literacy, my home is [nevertheless] in a barren land. Every year there is famine, my family’s farmland turns from productive to waning, such that my only consolation comes from my shadow (刑影相弔). My father is seventy-five years old and does not have many days to live. My toddler son cries wanting to be breastfed. The person at the house (室家 meaning wife) is worried and alone. I tried to be a bond-servant in order to [make money so to] achieve the joy of family being together (shushui zhi huan 菽水之歡). But I have nowhere to be employed, thus I listened to my father’s advice to go to foreign country for profit, not knowing that it was so difficult. Even though I feel guilty in terms of law and discipline (於紀律固有虧), but in terms of human feelings I have not a bit of shame (在人情而無愧). A son must die for filial piety, an official must die for loyalty, this is the principle of heaven. How can I be shaken? Luckily, heaven’s principle reigns, and our boat was blown by the wind and has come to you. [We feel as] the blessed people. Everyone disembarked and come to you. A messenger arrived in Taean with a royal edict and read that considering that [we are] people of Great Ming, thus also people of Korea, in consideration of the appropriate friendship between the two brothers (Ming and Korea), in sympathy with the innocence of the people, hereby orders that [we] be accommodated in houses, treated with a feast with abundant food and wine. You sent people to invite us to you, the [invitation come with] followers on horses that were as many as the cloud. [Your] sincerity and virtue are equivalent to heaven and earth, your kindness is heavier than mountains, I realize how lucky a person I am to have to deserve this. [Your blessing] can be seen ten thousand li away, putting forward the burning heart in the body (meaning sincerity), shining with love, responding to many people’s skepticism by talking to them face to face (meaning lack of hierarchy), grieving over the poverty of people, agonizing over our separation from wives, specifically ordering that a boat be prepared to send us back to home when the wind is right. [You were] personally investigating the condition, believing that leaving by sea is the most appropriate, and ordering through an official document that the [Taean] prefecture to let us go, and transferring the message to the capital (Beijing). Thus, [I] thank the King for assisting [us] back to life. [But] the best stratagem is to satisfy both (兩全之術, meaning the responsibility to Beijing and the fate of Li Zhang and others). If the authority can be stretchable with rules, your official will be very grateful, though when I am alive, I pray to heaven and earth, but when I am dead, I will be very grateful (jie cao er han huan 結草而含環). If [you disregard] the ten thousand li distance and transfer [us] to the imperial capital, even though this is out of a sense of love, it actually will be a punishment. Even though it is as if treating us like sons, it actually is like chopping us like woods. Since we have come here without imperial permission, but return with the order of the King, not only will it be burdensome for the King’s army, but it will also mean that [we] will be punished by law. If this is the prospect, we would rather smash our heads on the jaded staircase, than have our body exposed in wild grassland. We beg the King to consider this as if to grant us the benefit of rebirth, to look up to the will of heaven (天心) and look down to comply with human feelings (人情), do not be overly concern and thus cause the death of several dozens of people. [We will die] if [you are] not able to distinguish right and wrong, cannot be persuaded by commoners, and mixed kindness and evilness. The nature [of the issue] is obvious. [I] sincerely present this letter for your reading. 
If Li Zhang’s description of Korean hospitality and the generosity of the King was accurate and not an exaggeration, then Li Zhang’s first letter was a successful one. There were several important things to look at in this letter. First, Li Zhang was afraid that the Koreans were going to treat him and his men like huyue. I translated this as “barbarians” but the term itself is very fitting for that context. While Hu refers to the northern barbarian, usually the Mongols or Turkic horse riders, Yue refers more broadly the southern barbarians. Yue is the name of the ancient kingdom that dominated areas near today’s Southeast China. Another name for ancient Fujian was Baiyue (百越), specifically because of a linkage to that history of barbarian interaction. Thus, while Huyue was a more general term to mean barbarians, Fujianese Li Zhang worried that the King was going to consider Fujianese as barbarians among the Chinese.
Secondly, Li Zhang referenced to the concept of Renqing, or human feelings. I elaborated this concept in earlier chapters how it can be used as an attempt to make any fixed law or tradition more flexible. Li Zhang is not so unlike the earlier discussion of six hundred Fujianese traders who asked the Koreans if they are interested in trading with them and presented the native goods as a gesture of friendliness. The six hundred men failed because a desire for trade is insufficient an argument of human feelings in the Confucian world. Trade has to be couched under a core Confucian principle, filial piety. Li Zhang finely demonstrates that understanding. The letter mentioned no desire to become a rich person, but rather his earliest thought was to sell himself as a servant so to make enough money for the family. Li Zhang’s desire was to accompany his toddler son, dying old father, and a lonely wife.
Unlike what the Wanli emperor said about the Zhangzhou Fujianese that the merchants are un-filial for leaving the family, Li Zhang’s case shows a father encouraging his son to go to a foreign country to trade and Li Zhang expressed his desire to stay together with the family. In both letters, a Confucian idiom came up as the reason for Fujianese went out to trade, it is called shushui zhihuang (菽水之歡). Its origin comes from the Classic of Rites in which the two simple items shu (beans) and shui (water) are all it takes to please the parents. The idiom is about filial piety. The reason why the parents were said to be pleased was not because they were fed with luxurious items. It was a scene of family harmony and togetherness in which the simplest items conveyed the greatest meaning. Li Zhang does not dispute with his offense to law, he said he felt guilty knowing that he had violated the sea ban law. But he then supported his action with the concept of human feelings, saying that he has not a bit of shame for that. I mentioned the story of Confucius believed that in his land, a son will not turn his father in for crime because human feelings trumps consideration of law. In Li Zhang’s story, both the father and son are challenging the law with human feelings. Human feelings can also cover empathy. Li Zhang wrote that the Korean King was actively helping him and other Fujianese because the King sympathized their poverty and desperation and also in part because he, as a man, empathized the Fujianese for separation from wives. Therefore, the king may be said as possessing human feelings (人情味).
But words certainly were not enough, and Li Zhang did not depend on them. According to the Korean court historian, Li Zhang also gave speeches in the court:
Zhang came here on his boat to search for goods, floated to our country, his look was like a piece of jade, and his knowledge was like water. Sitting at the court, he was confessing. Occasionally [he was] holding the petition, those vocabularies can move people’s hearts. In Taepyung house (太平館 the residence of Chinese emissaries), the setting sun shines the pillar, [Li Zhang] looked at it while wiping away his tears. His memory of his family and his concern about death, are honestly [worth our] sympathy.
After noting that all Zhang wanted was to return home by water so to avoid the Chinese authority, the Korean court historian writes that the court “satisfied his wish, even though we knew it to be a deception to the upper kingdom (the Ming) and knew it was not supposed to be. Those who wanted it be done did so just because they treasured this [man of] talent. Confucian gentlemen’s hearts of treasuring talent were not to be constrained either.” The court historian indeed merely indicated the wish of the Korean court, both of officials and the King. Korean dynasty record recorded the King’s response only as “the Chinese want to go back by water; the things they report cannot be ignored.”
The Korean record ends Li Zhang’s story with the conclusion of this court historian. One fact is for certain. No Ming sources ever reported about this cover up by the Korean court in protection of Li Zhang. The irony is also that Li Zhang was invited to Taepyung house, the residence for Ming diplomatic emissaries. While Li Zhang and others might be called “treacherous people” (奸民) by the Ming, his story was listened to and understood by the Korean officials. If Li Zhang were to be sent back as thousands of Fujianese were, both him and his family members were to be treated under the harsh sea ban law. Li Zhang told the king that he and his men would rather smashed their heads in the King’s jaded staircase than to have their corpses exposed in the grassland. Staircase and grassland are of course all literary vocabularies, but the concern are genuine.
Li Zhang shed tears worrying about his life and the lives of his family members, then the question remains is the Chinese court upholding filial piety by punishing Fujianese maritime traders and banishing their families? This question is difficult to answer and one should not ignore the complexity of the issue. I showed earlier how the Jiajing emperor tried to fulfill his duty as the son of heaven and concerned deeply about the livelihood of his people. His anger toward Japanese barbarians in the Ningbo incident stemmed largely from the anger that the “living beings of the coast” were being killed by the Japanese. He gave much famine relief during those years and urged lower officials to treat the people like if they are their children. Then, where do the maritime traders fit? Would he be able to sympathize people like Li Zhang just as the Korean king did? The complexity in the Jiajing emperor’s relationship to coastal people is that while he considers them as his suffering people, he does not see the connection between maritime trade and coastal people. In other words, the coastal traders who violated the law and go out to the sea are just as despicable as the barbarians, and at the same time there existed an idealized image of “our people” who are the victims of all the problems stem from trade and piracy. I argue that this complexity is best shown in the case of Chen Gui (陳貴).
Yan Song (嚴嵩 jinshi 1505), a high court official who served as Grand Secretariat, wrote a memorial to the Jiajing emperor on May 18th, 1542. The memorial told a story that involved the conflict between Ryukyu official Cai Tingmei (蔡廷美) and Fujianese merchant Chen Gui. Yan Song writes how the Ryukyu court sent official Cai Tingmei to accuse the Ming of Chen Gui’s crime in Ryukyu. However, Yan did not consider the Ryukyu court to have told the truth. Yan Song received a report from Fujian Chief Censor Xu Zonglu who interrogated Chen Gui and found a different narrative than the one from emissary Cai Tingmei. Cai’s narrative was that Chen Gui is a Fujianese from Zhangzhou, one of the seven Fujianese leaders, who led twenty-one ships and one thousand and three hundred men to Ryukyu for trade. But Chen Gui’s boat encountered the Cantonese merchants in Ryukyu where the two groups started killing each other because of competition over profit.
However, Yan Song described how Chen Gui confessed a different story that the actual conflict was not between the two groups of Chinese, but between Chen Gui and the Ryukyuans. In reality, Chen Gui had twenty six ships of goods. Yan wrote that Chen Gui’s goods “were all confiscated by their country.” He inferred from this that:
Obviously it has to be that their country could not resist the greed and because of a difference in price negotiation so they started [Cai and Chen] killing each other and defame him (Chen Gui) as a bandit. The man[Chen Gui] travels by sea for ten thousand li all the way to their barbarian island. The difference in number meant that they were easily defeated and being framed as bandits.
Yan wrote to the Jiajing emperor how all the goods in Chen Gui’s boat could be traced origin, indicating that Chen Gui was a merchant and not a bandit that it had to be that “their country craftily made up fake words.” Chen Gui and Cai Tingmei shared something in common. They are both Fujianese. Chen Kan, the earlier mentioned Chinese emissary who was sent to Ryukyu, who met Cai Tingmei said that Cai was among the descendants of Fujianese thirty-six families dispatched to Ryukyu by Ming founder Hongwu. He added that Cai and several other descendants of Fujianese in Ryukyu all received their education in Chinese imperial academy, “all are handsome and teachable, and used to come to China for learning and were students of famous Confucians.” The irony of the story is that given that Cai Tingmei was well educated in Confucian classics, the idea that he would participate in illegal trading with Fujianese Chen Gui and even cheated him is a shocking revelation.
Figure 29: Portrait of Ryukyuan
Figure 30: Portrait of Cai Tingmei
Yan Song wrote that “Cai Tingmei used to trade [with him].” He also believed that it is possible that Cai Tingmei himself did the trading and Ryukyu King had no knowledge of this trade. Ryukyu King Shō Sei apparently was not informed of the private trade business and he was believed to “prohibit his barbarian cohorts to trade or collaborate with the Chinese.” Nevertheless, Yan wrote of the fact the Ryukyu King had always benefited from the saintly court, and ought not to have committed such a foolish act. He recommended to the emperor that “Zhongshan King Shō Sei must repent and must tell his barbarian cohorts to not trade nor communicate with China’s merchants to cause troubles.” He added that “treacherous [Chinese] merchants randomly appeared in the islands to trade with barbarians. This problem is endemic. If we do not heavily control the [maritime] activity, then we will lose dignity and be confronted with annoyances such as Chen Gui’s case.” The Jiajing emperor’s response was:
Chen Gui and other criminals who ignored the law and collaborated with barbarians must be investigated properly by local authorities according to our law and be treated harshly. As to Ryukyu kingdom’s collaboration with him, now had the guts to steal all the goods and arbitrarily arrest and kill my people (wo ren我人), and then frame them as bandits, such a stratagem-centered and disobedient barbarian [country]! Cai Tingmei and others are supposed to be imprisoned and punished severely. But considering the [face] of the King, thus generously let them go. If in the future, such trouble occurs again, then [we will] end the tribute relationship and prepare our forces, tell that country [this] with all seriousness.
It is unknown what eventually happened to Chen Gui nor do we know what will happened to their families. Chen Gui created an annoyance for the Ming court because he participated in maritime trade and communicated with barbarians. Yan Song and the Jiajing emperor both learned that Chen Gui was a victim in the trade with Ryukyu official Cai Tingmei. The latter killed Chen Gui’s men because of a desire to take over his goods. Chen Gui from Zhangzhou traveled ten thousand li to get his goods to barbarian lands, only to find out that the barbarians cheated him and had the idea of sending him back to face the harsh sea ban law. The Jiajing emperor did not have sympathy for Chen Gui as the Korean king had to Li Zhang. If the story of Li Zhang firing cannons at Korean soldiers were learned by the Ming court, and that the Korean court send Li Zhang back to China, I believe the Jiajing emperor would have treated Li Zhang the same as he did to Chen Gui.
The irony of the Jiajing emperor’s response is that he considered Chen Gui as “my people” but insist on a harsh punishment for “my people” and lenient punishment for the barbarians who cheated Chen Gui. When the conflict was between Chinese and barbarians, the Chinese authority was often quick enough to identify who is “we” and who is “they.” Just as in the context of Ningbo incident, in the case of Chen Gui, the Jiajing emperor was quick to distinguish the issue as “our people” as victim and Japanese as the “aggressor.” But does this desire to create a dichotomy between Chinese and barbarians necessarily mean that the Chinese authority understood the need and interest of our people? In his constant imperial edicts that stressed the necessity to care about the livelihood of the poor, did the emperor understand that Chen Gui and Li Zhang were only microcosm of the people in the coast who suffered from the very policy he designed to protect them? The Jiajing emperor’s conception of being a humane emperor seems to exclude any understanding that coastal merchants and traders were just following their way of life and sea was their only avenue for a better life.
The presence of sea ban law did not mean that the law was fair to people like Chen Gui, or to thousands of Fujianese being sent back for trials during those years of famine. It was precisely this inability to understand the need of coastal people that I argue caused the endemic Wokou problem throughout the Jiajing era. If the Fujianese faced the choice of hunger and went out to trade, but this only avenue for livelihood is considered illegal in the context of Ming sea ban, then it makes sense that a Fujianese will participate in Wokou and fight back.
In this research, I have tried to illuminate the voices of the coastal people and paid a special attention to the Fujianese. The Fujianese are important to the Wokou story because I mentioned how several generals and officials all agreed that issue of Wokou all started because of Fujianese. But my goal should not be considered as a transfer of blame, such as from blaming the Japanese, to blaming the coastal Chinese, and then to blaming the Fujianese. My goal throughout this paper has been about “understanding” why the Wokou problem continued throughout the Jiajing era? I argue that it is not a problem that was simply externally forced upon China, such as to say that it was about Japanese invasion or bands of overseas Chinese strongmen. There certainly were lower class Japanese and Chinese who followed the strongmen to loot and kill throughout China’s seacoast. This was my argument in the early chapters.
But my question is, would the coastal strongmen, said Wang Zhi and Xu Hai, be influential if not for the systemic problem in China’s seacoast? I have done very little to describe the stories of these coastal strongmen because I consider that the greater problem is the lack of an understanding of the Chinese court for its coastal people. The fact that coastal Chinese were prohibited by law to continue their way of life and forced to cut off their tradition of trade and association with sea suggests that the Wokou problem is to a large extent, a self-regenerating problem. The political center implemented self-contradicting policy of sea ban in a sense that it was aimed to reduce Wokou problem since the Hongwu era, but in reality, it only fueled the Wokou problem. I presented in this research how officials and generals noticed that one cannot disassociate “traders” and “pirates.” People like Fujian Grand Coordinator Xu Fuyuan petitioned to rescind the sea ban because he saw how the lower classes were all in discontent. Others like Tang Shu said that traders turned into bandits because of the sea ban. The fact that these maritime traders knew that they were all on their own and that the Chinese law not only does not protect them but persecute them means that their turning into bandits is understandable.
I have used a very different approach in this research in compare to previous scholarships before me. Contrary to major publication on Wokou such as the book by Fan and Tong, my work does not have organized statistics and chronology on how many people Wokou killed and where and how did people suffered from those cruelty. I have dedicated most of my attention to competing narratives rather than trying to construct one smooth narrative void of complexity and inconsistency. My work does not claim to answer all the important historical questions. For example, was it a Japanese invasion of coastal China? I showed that if we were to concentrate just on the racialist narrative, then the answer is positive. But I also dedicated to show that there was a group of pragmatist officials and generals who associated the problem with China’s own people. The two categories are of course my rough generalizations. I am also aware of scholars’ potential disagreement with my use of terms such as “national” or “racial.” But I consciously employed these terms because I find them most appropriate in the Ming context after extensive reading of primary sources. In other words, I did not choose these words out of a nationalistic sentiment or a lack of knowledge of scholarship such as about Benedict Anderson or twentieth-century Chinese nationalism.
I have also endeavor to present the voices of many groups of people in this research. Rather than avoiding the complexity, I unveil how the Jiajing emperor is not what is popularly believe for not caring about people. Nor shall we simply assume that his continued sea ban law was based on a lack of attention to coastal people. His concern for the coastal people co-existed with the fact that he did not understand the coastal people and their way of life. He tried to protect the coastal people by being angry of Japanese barbarians for he assumed that they are the ones who killed his people in the coast. At the same time, he does not understand that the coastal people associated themselves with trade and the maritime world. The coastal people did not consider sea ban with gratitude, such as Zhang Chong and Xia Yan believed, they actively resisted the inflexible law because it does not accord with their history, custom, and way of life.
This research is also not just about the voices of important people like the Jiajing emperor and his high officials. Voices from minor individuals such as coastal officials and traders were also being presented. I argue that while it is customary for historians to focus on what the decision makers have to say, it is important to know that simple folks affected by the policy have their stories as well. Zhi Dalun and Yu Zibo were minor officials in the Ming, but they understood the need and concern of coastal people more than the emperor or his high officials. I have shown that both Zhi and Yu participated in going out to the street, giving the poor Fujianese their own cooked porridge in order to help them relieve from famine. If Li Zhang’s letter to the Koreans were right then Yu may have helped people like Li Zhang and his villagers to go out to trade. Whether it is Yu or Zhi, both have tried to use human feelings, or renqing, to circumvent the fixed law. At the end, they all showed an understanding for the people and not a one-sided criticism or denunciation of their people. Zheng Xiao also used human feelings to convince Tang Shunzhi. He argued that generals cannot be bounded by the racialist narrative of Chinese versus barbarians, for doing so fail to understand the difficulty and humanity of barbarians. Wang Shizhen said that it is not the difference in military strength or geography that China lost to barbarians, it is the lost of people’s trust that was the greatest enemy faced the imperial government. I follow both Zheng and Wang’s advice that the Wokou story, which involved all the different groups of people, what historians need to do is not aim to construct a flawless narrative of good and evil. Rather it is most important in seeing how each group has a story that we need to understand.
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Jia Sanjin 賈三近. Huang ming liang chao shu chao 皇明兩朝疏抄, 1586. Reprint in Shanghai: Shang hai gu ji chu ban she, 2008.
Li Fuyuan 李釜源. Di tu zong yao 地圖綜要, (possibly Chongzhen era 1627-1644). Private collection of Liu Chenggan 劉承干(1882−1963) in Zhejiang: Jia ye tang cang shu lou 嘉业堂藏书楼.
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Mao Yuanyi 茅元儀. Shi min si shi ji 石民四十集, Chongzhen era (1627-1644). Reprint in Shanghai: Shang hai gu ji chu ban she, 2002.
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Qian Long 乾隆. Yu xuan ming chen zou yi 御選明臣奏議, 1781. Reprint in Taipei: Yi wen yin shu guan, 1969.
Song Yingxin 宋應星. Tian gong kai wu 天工開物, 1637. Reprint in Shanghai: Shang wu yin shu guan, 1936.
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Tang Wenji 唐文基. Fu jian gu dai jing ji shi 福建古代經濟史. 1st. ed. Fuzhou: Fu jian jiao yu chu ban she, 1995.
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Wu Xihuang吳錫璜. Tong an xian zhi 同安縣志, (Guangxu era 1875-1908). Reprint in Taipei: Cheng wen chu ban she, 1967.
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Xie Zhaozhe 謝肇淛. Wu za zu 五雜俎, 1616. Reprint in Shanghai: Zhong hua shu ju, 1959.
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Xue Jun 薛俊. Chong kan ri ben kao lue 重刊日本考略, (after Ningbo incident in 1523). Museum in Nozawaonsen, Japan おぼろ月夜の館斑山文庫, special purchase 特購 3352, purchased in February 7, 1951.
Yan Song 嚴嵩. Nan gong zou yi 南宮奏議, (1480-1567). Shanghai: Shanghai gu ji chu ban she, 1995.
Yang Dezheng 楊德政. Yang wen yi gong wen ji jing chuan gao 楊文懿公文集鏡川稿, 1588. National Archives of Japan 內閣文庫, Bangō-Kan 番號-漢 10365, Saku 冊數9-2, Hako 函號 314-77.
Yi yu tu zhi 異域圖志, 1430. Cambridge University library, gift of Sir Thomas Francis Wade, K.C.B., G.C.M.G., Minister at Peking, Professor of Chinese in the University, 1818-1895, 11 October 1886.
Yang Guozhen 楊國楨. Min zai hai zhong :zhui xun fu jian hai yang fa zhan shi 閩在海中:追尋福建海洋發展史. 1st. ed. Jiangxi: Jiangxi gao xiao chu ban she, 1998.
Zhang Xie 張燮. Dong xi yang kao 東西洋考, 1617. Reprint in Cong shu ji cheng chu bian 叢書集成初編.Shanghai: Shang wu yin shu guan, 1981.
Zheng Liangsheng 鄭樑生. Ming dai zhong ri guan xi yan jiu: yi ming shi ri ben chuan suo jian ji ge wen ti wei zhong xin 明代中日關係研究: 以明史日本傳所見幾個問題為中心. 1st. ed Taipei: Wen shi zhe chu ban she, 1985.
Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian 鄭若曾, 胡宗憲. Chou hai tu bian 籌海圖編, 1562. Reprint in Taipei: Taiwan shang wu yin shu guan, 1974.
Zheng Xiao 鄭曉. Wu xue bian 吾學編, 1567. Reprint in Shanghai: Shanghai gu ji chu ban she, 2002.
Zheng Xiao 鄭曉. Zheng duan jian gong zou yi 鄭端簡公奏議, 1571. Reprint in Shanghai: Shanghai gu ji chu ban she, 1995.
Zhi Dalun 支大綸. Zhi hua ping xian sheng ji 支華平先生集, 1619. Reprint in Jinan: Qi lu shu she, 1997.
Zhou Xuezeng 周學曾. Jin jiang xian zhi 晉江縣志, 1830. Reprint in Fuzhou: Fu jian ren min chu ban she, 1990.
Zhu Houzong 朱厚熜. Ming shi zong bao xun 明世宗寶訓, 1577. Reprint in Taipei: Zhong yang yan jiu yuan li shi yu yan yan jiu suo, 1962.
Zhu Lili 朱莉麗. “Fen rao de hai yu yu cuo wu de ri ben xiang-wo kou bei jing xia ming dai ren de ri ben ren shi” 紛擾的海域與錯誤的日本像-倭寇背景下明代人的日本認識. pg 15-126 in Shi jie shi zhong de dong ya hai yu 世界史中的東亞海域, edited by Fu dan da xue wen shi yan jiu yuan bian 复旦大学文史研究院编, Beijing: Zhong hua shu ju, 2011.
Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋. Huang ming zu xun 皇明祖訓, 1373. National Archives of Japan 內閣文庫, Bangō-Kan 番號-漢 9202, Saku 冊數1-1, Hako 函號 294-35.
Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋. Da ming lu shi yi 大明律釋義, originally published in 1397. Reprinted 1552. Shanghai: Shanghai gu ji chu ban she, 1995.
 Xu Jie and Zhang Juzheng 徐階, 張居正. Ming shi zong shi lu 明世宗實錄, juan 28, pg. 779.
 Charlotte Von Verschuer. Across the perilous sea: Japanese trade with China and Korea from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries, pg. 115-116.
 Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋. Huang ming zu xun 皇明祖訓, pg. 3.
 Zhang Xie 張燮. Dong xi yang kao東西洋考(二), juan 6, pg. 75.
 Tokugawa Mitsukuni 德川光圀. Dai Nihonshi大日本史, volume 96, juan 333, pg. 13-14.
 Ibid, pg. 14.
 Wan Sitong 萬斯同. Ming shi 明史, lie zhuan 210, wai guo 3, pg. 14.
 Ibid, pg. 16.
 Ibid, pg. 17.
 Ibid, pg. 16.
 Ibid, pg. 17.
 Xue Jun 薛俊. Chong kan ri ben kao lue 重刊日本考略, pg. n.a. See under “Kou bian lue” 寇邊略.
 Yang Dezheng 楊德政. Yang wen yi gong wen ji jing chuan gao 楊文懿公文集鏡川稿, juan 5, pg. 1.
 Zhang Chong 張翀. “Du jiao yi yi an zhong tu shu” 杜狡夷以安中土疏 in Chen Zilong, Xu Fuyuan, Song Zhengbi 陳子龍,徐孚遠,宋徵壁. Huang ming jing shi wen bian 皇明經世文編Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 292, pg. 3074.
 Gui Youguang 歸有光. “Lun yu wo shu” 論禦倭書in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 295, pg. 3110.
 Fan Zhongyi and Tong Xigang 范中義, 仝晰綱. Ming dai wo kou shi lue 明代倭寇史略, pg. 110.
 Li Chengxun was mistakenly called “Advisory official” (給事中) by Jia Sanjin 賈三近 in Huang ming liang chao shu chao 皇明兩朝疏抄, pg. 18.
 Li Chengxun. “Kan chu wo kou shi qing yi mi hou huan shu” in Huang ming liang chao shu chao, juan 16, pg. 58.
 Ibid, pg. 59.
 Ibid, pg. 60.
 Zhu Houzong 朱厚熜 (Jiajing emperor). “Yu zhong wai chen gong jia you sheng” 諭中外臣工加脩省 in Fu Fengxiang 傅鳳翔. Huang ming zhao ling 皇明詔令, juan 19, pg. 33.
 Zhu Houzong. “Kuan xu zhao” 寬恤詔in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 20, pg. 1.
 Xia Yan 夏言. “Kan chu wo kou shi qing shu” 勘處倭寇事情疏 in Qian Long 乾隆Yu xuan ming chen zou yi 御選明臣奏議, juan 19, pg. 2.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian 鄭若曾, 胡宗憲. Chou hai tu bian 籌海圖編, juan 5, pg. 4.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 5, pg. 5.
 Wang Tao 王濤. “Hong wu shi qi de jin shi guan” 洪武時期的近侍官 135-149 in Ming day zhi du yan jiu 明代制度研究, pg. 144.
 Wang Tianyou 王天有. Ming dai guo jia ji gou yan jiu 明代國家機構研究, pg. 73.
 Ibid, pg. 74.
 Ibid, pg. 77.
 Ibid, pg. 73.
 Wan Sitong. Ming shi, zhi 57, shihuo 5, pg. 40.
 Xia Yan 夏言. “Kan chu wo kou shi qing shu” 勘處倭寇事情疏 in Qian Long乾隆Yu xuan ming chen zou yi 御選明臣奏議, juan 19, pg. 3.
 Zhang Chong 張翀. “Du jiao yi yi an zhong tu shu” 杜狡夷以安中土疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 292, pg. 3075.
 Luo Qi 羅玘. “Song kun shuai huang jun fu jian bei wo xu” 送閫帥黃君福建備倭序in Huang ming jing shi wen bian 皇明經世文編, juan 125, pg. 1201.
 Ibid, pg. 1202.
 Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋. “Lun wu chen xu jun chi” 論武臣恤軍 in Huang ming zhao ling , juan 3, pg. 17.
 Zhang Chong. “Du jiao yi yi an zhong tu shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 292, pg. 3074.
 Yang Dezheng. Yang wen yi gong wen ji jing chuan gao, juan 5, pg. 2.
 Ibid, pg. 3.
 Hou Jigao候繼高. Quan zhe bing zhi 全浙兵制, volume 1, pg.n.a. See under “Ning shao qu tu shuo” 寧紹區圖說.
 Li Chengxun. “Kan chu wo kou shi qing yi shen guo wei shu” 勘處倭寇事情以伸國威疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 101, pg. 905.
 Qian Wei 錢薇. “Yu dang dao chu wo yi lun” 與當道處倭議論in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 214, pg. 2235.
 Li Jinming 李金明. Zhang zhou gang : Ming dai hai cheng yue gang xing shuai shi 漳州港: 明代海澄月港興衰史, pg. 15.
 Zhu Lili 朱莉麗. “Fen rao de hai yu yu cuo wu de ri ben xiang-wo kou bei jing xia ming dai ren de ri ben ren shi” 紛擾的海域與錯誤的日本像-倭寇背景下明代人的日本認識 in Shi jie shi zhong de dong ya hai yu, pg. 121.
 Fan and Tong. Ming dai wo kou shi lue, pg. 208.
 Ma Xianhong 馬先紅. “Xue jun de ri ben guan ——yi di yi bu yan jiu ri ben de zhuan zhe “ri ben kao lue wei zhong xin” 薛俊的日本观——以第一部研究日本的专著《日本考略为中心》, pg. 1.
 Xue Jun. Chong kan ri ben kao lue, pg.n.a. See under “Chong kan ri ben kao lue xu” 重刊日本考畧序.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 12, pg. 101.
 Yang Dezheng. Yang wen yi gong wen ji jing chuan gao, juan 5, pg. 1.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian , juan 12, pg. 112.
 Zheng Xiao 鄭曉. Wu xue bian 吾學編, juan 26, pg. 83
 Li Chengxun. “Kan chu wo kou shi qing yi shen guo wei shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 101, pg. 906.
 Ibid, 904.
 Wang Shizhen 王世貞. “Wo zhi” 倭志 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 332, pg. 3555.
 Hu Zongxian. “Guang fu ren tong fan chang jin lun” 廣福人通番嘗禁論 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 267, pg. 3555.
 Zhu Yuanzhang. Da ming lu shi yi 大明律釋義, juan 15, bing lu 兵律3, guan jin 關津, pg. 10.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-26, pg. 9127.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 209-5, pg. 8855.
 Tang Shu 唐樞. “Fu hu mei lin lun chu wang zhi” 復胡梅林論處王直 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 270, pg. 2850.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi 武備志, juan 117, zhan chuan 10, pg. 4806.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi 武備志, juan 117, zhan chuan 7, pg. 4799.
 Li Jinming 李金明. Zhang zhou gang: Ming dai hai cheng yue gang xing shuai shi 漳州港: 明代海澄月港興衰史 pg. 13.
 Wang Shiqi 王士騏. Huang ming yu wo lu 皇明馭倭錄, juan 5, pg. 4.
 Ibid, pg. 5.
 Zhu Houzong. Ming shi zong bao xun 明世宗寶訓, juan 9-40, pg. 815.
 Du Xiaojun 杜小軍. Mu fu ri ben hai jun shi 幕府日本海軍史, pg. 40.
 Wang Shiqi. Huang ming yu wo lu, juan 5, pg. 6.
 Zhu Wan 朱紈. “Shao bao yi chuan shi” 哨報夷船事in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 205, pg. 2162.
 Zhu Wan. “Hai yang zei chuan chu mo shi” 海洋賊船出沒事 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 205, pg. 2161.
 Cai Ruxian 蔡汝賢. Dong yi tu shuo 東夷圖像, pg. 10.
 Yi yu tu zhi 異域圖志, pg. 3.
 Chen Jiru 陳繼儒. Zeng bu wan bao quan shu 增補萬寶全書, juan 2, pg. 2
 Cai Ruxian. Dong yi tu shuo, pg. 6.
 Ibid, pg. 6.
 Ibid, pg. 3.
 Zhu Wan. “Shao bao yi chuan shi” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 205, pg. 2163.
 Wang Shiqi. Huang ming yu wo lu, juan 5, pg. 9.
 Yang Dezheng. Yang wen yi gong wen ji jing chuan gao, juan 5, pg. 3.
 Charlotte Von Verschuer. Across the perilous sea: Japanese trade with China and Korea from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries, pg. 159.
 Qian Wei. “Hai shang shi yi yi” 海上事冝議in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 214, pg. 2241.
 Li Chengxun. “Kan chu wo kou shi qing yi shen guo wei shu” 勘處倭寇事情以伸國威疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 101, pg. 905.
 Gui Youguang. “Lun yu wo shuo” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 295, pg. 3110.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 2, pg. 245.
 Wu Qi and Xiu Bin 吳起, 修斌. “Shi lun ‘yong le tong bao’ zai ri ben de liu bu” 試論‘永樂通寶’ 在日本的流布, pg. 208
 Ibid, pg. 210.
 Ibid, pg. 200.
 Chang Lan 萇嵐. 7-14 shi ji zhong ri wen hua jiao liu de kao gu xue yan jiu 7-14世紀中日文化交流的考古學研究, pg. 119-125.
 Tang Wenji 唐文基. Fu jian gu dai jing ji shi 福建古代經濟史, pg. 494
 Ibid, pg. 494.
 Song Yingxin 宋應星. Tian gong kai wu 天工開物, middle volume 中卷, pg. 26
 Ibid, pg. 27.
 Ibid, pg. 28.
 Zheng Liangsheng 鄭樑生. Ming dai zhong ri guan xi yan jiu: yi ming shi ri ben chuan suo jian ji ge wen ti wei zhong xin 明代中日關係研究: 以明史日本傳所見幾個問題為中心, pg. 45.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 9, pg. 30.
 Zheng Xiao 鄭曉. “Huang ming si yi kao shang juan” 皇明四夷考 上卷, pg. 40 in Zheng Xiao 鄭曉. Wu xue bian, 吾學編, volume 26.
 Ibid, pg. 39.
 Ibid, pg. 40.
 王忤瘋 Nickname of Wang Zhi meant “recalcitrant madman,” not to be confused with 五峰, another one of his nickname.
 徐必欺Nickname of Xu Hai meant “bully is a must.”
 毛醞瘋Nickname of Mao Haifeng meant “Drunk madman.”
 For example, the history of “Wonu” from Han dynasty to Ming became such a standardized format for memorials that officials often used copies.
 Huo Yuxia 霍與瑕. “Ping guang dong wo kou yi” 平廣東倭寇議 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 368, pg. 3975.
 Zheng Xiao. “Huang ming si yi kao shang juan”, pg. 40 in Wu xue bian, volume 26.
 Song Yiwang 宋儀望. “Hai fang shan hou shi yi shu” 海防善後事宜疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 362, pg. 3900.
 Wang Shiqi. Huang ming yu wo lu, juan 5, pg. 6.
 Fan and Tong. Ming dai wo kou shi lue, pg. 25.
 Ibid, pg. 19.
 Ibid, pg. 37.
 Ibid, pg. 50.
 Ibid, pg. 24.
 Song Yiwang. “Hai fang shan hou shi yi shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 362, pg. 3900.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 2, pg. 36.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 2, pg. 1.
 Ibid, pg. 2.
 Li Fuyuan 李釜源. Di tu zong yao 地圖綜要, hai fang 海防 25, zong lun 總論, pg. 129-130.
 Li Fuyuan 李釜源. Di tu zong yao 地圖綜要, si yi 四夷 2, zong lun 總論, pg. 183.
 Yang Guozhen 楊國楨. Min zai hai zhong: zhui xun fu jian hai yang fa zhan shi 閩在海中: 追尋福建海洋發展史, pg. 161.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 2, pg. 50.
 Tu Zhonglu 屠仲律. “Yu wo wu shi shu” 禦倭五事疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 282, pg. 2979.
 Xu Fuyuan 許孚遠. “Shu tong hai jin shu” 疏通海禁疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 400, pg. 4334.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 1, pg.10.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 313-22, pg. 9075.
 Ibid, juan 313-22, pg. 9076.
 Ibid, juan 314-19, pg. 9113.
 Ibid, juan 314-19, pg. 9114.
Mao Yuanyi. “Ri ben kao” 日本考in Shi min si shi ji石民四十集, juan 46, pg. 12.
 Mimicking the sound of mosquitoes.
 Xu Fuyuan. “Shu tong hai jin shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 400, pg.4333.
 Huang Chengxuan 黃承玄. “Ti liu qiu zi bao wo qing shu” 題琉球咨報倭情疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 479, pg. 5268.
 Ibid, pg. 5274.
 Xu Fuyuan. “Shu tong hai jin shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 400, pg.4333.
 Hou Jigao 候繼高. Quan zhe bing zhi 全浙兵制, volume 2, pg.n.a. See under “Wen chu qu tu shuo” 溫處區圖說.
 Zhang Shiche 張時徹. “Zeng shan feng ruan gong jin fu dou yu shi fu zhen fu jian xu” 贈山峯阮公晉副都御史撫鎮福建序 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 243, pg. 2541.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-25, pg. 9125.
 Close to a pound.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-25, pg. 9126.
 Hou Jigao. Quan zhe bing zhi, volume 2, pg.n.a. See under “Wen chu qu tu shuo.”
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-19, pg. 9114.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-20, pg. 9115.
 He Qiaoyuan 何喬遠. Min shu 閩書, juan 133, ying jiu zhi 英舊志, qiao yu 僑寓 1, pg. 3988.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-22, pg. 9118.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 4, pg. 1.
 Ibid, pg. 5.
 Ibid, pg. 3.
 Ibid, pg. 2.
 Mao Yuanyi. Wu bei zhi, juan 214-22, pg. 9118.
 Xie Zhaozhe 謝肇淛. Wu za zu 五雜俎, juan 3, pg. 46.
 Ibid, juan 2, pg. 12.
 Ibid, juan 4, pg. 19.
 Chen Kan 陳侃. Shi liu qiu lu 使琉球錄, pg. 20.
 Ibid, pg. 21.
 Ibid, pg. 10.
 Xie Zhaozhe. Wu za zu, juan 4, pg. 18.
 Ibid, juan 1, pg. 5.
 Ibid, juan 4, pg. 18.
 Note that Tuiguan 推官 and Zhixian 知縣 are both translated as “magistrate.”Tuiguan is more responsible for judicial process, and zhixian is the highest position in the local area.
 Zhi Dalun 支大綸. “Yu ge yi sheng shi” 諭各醫生in Zhi Dalun支大綸. Zhi hua ping xian sheng ji 支華平先生集, juan 17, pg. 26.
 Zhi Dalun. “Zai niu lun” 宰牛論 in Zhi hua ping xian sheng ji, juan 17, pg. 27.
 Ibid, juan 18, pg. 11.
 Ibid, juan 17, pg. 23.
 Ibid, juan 18, pg. 5.
 Zhu Wan 朱紈. “Yue shi hai fang shi” 閱視海防事in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 205, pg. 2158.
 Hou Jigao. Quan zhe bing zhi, volume 2, pg. n.a. See under “Xu yi hou chen ji mi shi qing” 許儀後陳機密事情.
 Wang Shizhen. “Wo zhi” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 332, pg. 3556.
 Zheng Xiao. “Huang ming si yi kao shang juan”, pg. 42.
 Fan and Tong. Ming dai wo kou shi lue, pg. 26.
 Tu Zhonglu 屠仲律. “Yu wo wu shi shu” 禦倭五事疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 282, pg. 2979.
 Tang Shu唐樞. “Yu wo za zhu” 禦倭雜著in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 270, pg. 2849.
 Liu Xi 劉熹. “Da zong du hu mei lin fu jiao wo kou shu” 答總督胡梅林撫剿倭寇書” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 308, pg. 3254.
 Wang Shu 王忬. “Wo yi rong liu pan ni jiu jie ru kou shu” 倭夷容留叛逆糾結入寇疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 283, pg. 2998.
 Tang Shu. “Yu wo za zhu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 270, pg. 2849.
 Wan Sitong. Ming shi, lie zhuan 208, wai guo 1, pg. 61.
 Fan and Tong. Ming dai wo kou shi lue, pg. 25.
 Zheng Xiao. “Da jing chuan tang yin tai” 答荊川唐銀臺 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 218, pg. 2273.
 Zheng Xiao. “Fu nie shuang jiang” 復聶雙江in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 218, pg. 2278.
 Tang Shunzhi 唐順之.“Tiao chen ji lian bing shi yi shu” 條陳薊練兵事宜疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 259, pg. 2743.
 Tang Shunzhi. “Tiao chen hai fang jing lue shi shu” 條陳海防經畧事疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 260, pg. 2746.
 He eventually passed away in 1560.
 Tang Shunzhi. “Tiao chen hai fang jing lue shi shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 260, pg. 2748.
 Tang Shunzhi. “San sha bao jie shu” 三沙報捷疏 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 259, pg. 2744.
 Zheng Xiao. “Yu jing chuan tang du xian” 與荊川唐都憲 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 218, pg. 2274.
 Tang Shunzhi. “Tiao chen hai fang jing lue shi shu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 260, pg. 2746.
 The story of Shang dynasty King Tang praying for rain in the forest because his people are experiencing the drought. He blames himself for heaven’s not raining. The story means that he cares about his people so much.
 Tang Shunzhi. Jing chuan ji 荊川集, juan 1, pg. 2.
 Ibid, juan 1, pg. 3.
 Ibid, juan 1, pg. 6.
 Ibid, juan 1, pg. 8.
 Zhu Houzong. “Kuan xu zhao” 寬恤詔 in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 20, pg. 1.
 Zhu Houzong. “Zhao sheng huang tai hou bing yu xian di hou cheng hao zhao” 詔聖皇太后并與獻帝后稱號詔 in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 19, pg. 42.
 Zhu Houzong. “Xuan yu cheng tian fu bai xing” 宣諭承天府百姓 in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 21, pg. 63.
 Zhu Houzong. “Ri shi ba mian fu chen chi” 日食罷免輔臣敕 in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 21, pg. 77.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 2, pg. 9.
 Ibid, juan 2, pg. 8.
 Wang Shizhen. “Wo zhi” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 332, pg. 3354.
 Ibid, juan 332, pg. 3558.
 Xie Zhaozhe. Wu za zu, juan 4, pg. 38.
 Ibid, juan 4, pg. 39.
 Tang Shu. “Fu jian shi yi” 福建事宜 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, pg. 2859.
 Zheng Xiao. “Zhong da wo kou qi chu qian liang shu” 重大倭寇乞處錢糧疏 in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi 鄭端簡公奏議, juan 1, pg. 12.
 Zheng Xiao. “Chi zhi ming zhi zhang yi fang wo kou shi qing” 敕旨明職以防禦倭寇事情in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi, juan 1, pg. 7.
 Zheng Xiao. “Shi fen jin ji wo kou shu” 十分緊急倭寇疏 in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi, juan 1, pg. 15.
 Ibid, juan 1, pg. 16.
 The author of the book claimed to be descendant of Hu Zongxian and depicted this general as Hu Zongxian. Hu Xianzong 胡獻宗. Chong ke wu lu shen ji 重刻武略神機, pg. 52.
 Ibid, pg. 54.
 Wang Shizhen. “Wo zhi” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 332, pg. 3555.
 Zheng Xiao. “Qi shou wu yong ji yi zhao fu yi xiao zei dang shu” 乞收武勇亟議招撫以消賊黨疏 in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi, juan 2, pg. 7.
 Ibid, juan 2, pg. 8.
 Zheng Xiao. “Yu peng cao ting du xian” 與彭草亭都憲 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 218, pg. 2277.
 Zong Chen 宗臣. “Bao zi yu” 報子與in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 330, pg. 3531.
 Ibid, juan 330, pg. 3532.
 Gu Guohua and Xu Jianzhong 顧國華, 許建中. “Lun Zong Chen yu wo san wen de shi liao jia zhi” 論宗臣御倭散文的史料價值, pg. 169.
 Ibid, pg. 168.
 Zong Chen. “Bao zi yu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 330, pg. 3531.
 Zheng Xiao. “Wo kou deng jie shu”倭寇登劫疏in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi, juan 5, pg. 312.
 Zheng Xiao. “Shi fen jin ji wo kou shu” 十分緊急倭寇疏 in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi, juan 1, pg. 16.
 Zheng Xiao. “Qin zhan wo kou shou e shu”擒斬倭寇首惡疏in Zheng duan jian gong zou yi, juan 1, 32.
 Gui Youguang. “Bei wo shi yi” 備倭事宜in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 295, pg. 2112.
 Zheng Ruozeng and Hu Zongxian. Chou hai tu bian, juan 11, pg. 231.
 Fan Lai 範淶. Liang zhe hai fang lei kao xu bian 兩浙海防類考續編, juan 8, pg. 1-2.
 Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo 東京大學史料編撰所編. Egakareta Wako: ” Wako Zukan “to” Kowa Zukan ” 描かれた倭寇 「倭寇図巻」と「抗倭図巻」pg. 18.
 Hou Jigao. Quan zhe bing zhi, volume 2, pg. n.a. See under “Xu yi hou chen ji mi shi qing.”
Zong Chen. “Bao zi yu” in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 330, pg. 3531.
 Fan and Tong. Ming dai wo kou shi lue, pg. 270-271.
 Lin Qiuming 林秋明. Fei yi fu qing 非遺福清, pg. 67.
 “Zhong zong da wang shi lu liu” 中宗大王實錄六 in Wu Han 吳晗. Chao xian li chao shi lu zhong de zhong guo shi liao 朝鮮李朝實錄中的中國史料, pg. 1136
 “Zhong zong da wang shi lu yi” 中宗大王實錄一 in Chao xian li chao shi lu zhong de zhong guo shi liao, pg. 1384.
 Ibid, pg. 1385.
 Ibid, pg. 1385.
 Ibid, pg. 1386.
 Ibid, pg. 1387.
 Ibid, pg. 1389.
 Jia jing wo luan bei chao 嘉靖倭亂備, pg. n.a.
 Lin Xiyuan 林希元. “Shang xun an er si fang wo jie tie” 上巡按二司防倭揭帖 in Huang ming jing shi wen bian, juan 165, pg. 1679.
 Liu Cunde 劉存德. “Qi zhen dai shu” 乞賑貸疏 in Wu Xihuang吳錫璜. Tong an xian zhi 同安縣志, juan 28, pg. 11.
 Ibid, juan 28, pg. 12.
 Zhu Houzong. “Jiu miao kuan xu zhao” 九廟災寬恤詔 in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 21, pg. 68.
 Ibid, juan 21, pg. 69.
 Ibid, juan 21, pg. 73.
 Xie Daicheng 謝道承. Fu jian tong zhi 福建通志, juan 30, pg. 29.
 Zhou Xuezeng 周學曾. Jin jiang xian zhi 晉江縣志, juan 34, pg. 54.
 Hu Xianzong. Chong ke wu lu shen ji, pg. 18-19.
 Hu Xianzong. Chong ke wu lu shen ji, pg. 19-20.
 “Zhong zong da wang shi lu shi” 中宗大王實錄十 in Chao xian li chao shi lu zhong de zhong guo shi liao, pg. 1365.
 Ibid, pg. 1366.
 There is a small episode about Li Wangqi (李王乞), one of the ten leaders being arrested because he alone disembarked while everyone else stayed in the boat. He was then sent back to China. Given the complicated nature of the story, his story is omitted so not to distract us from the importance of Li Zhang.
 “Zhong zong da wang shi lu shi” in Chao xian li chao shi lu zhong de zhong guo shi liao, pg. 1366.
 Ibid, pg. 1367.
 Ibid, pg. 1367.
 Ibid, pg. 1371.
 Ibid, pg. 1369.
 For scholars interested may read partially in here http://open-lit.com/listbook.php?cid=9&gbid=278
 Fu Zongwen 傅宗文. Cang sang ci tong (xia) 滄桑刺桐 (下), pg. 394-395.
 Zhu Houzong. “Nan shou huan jing zhao” 南狩還京詔 in Huang ming zhao ling, juan 21, pg. 63.
 Zhu HouzongHuang Zhongzhao 黃仲昭. Hong zhi ba min tong zhi 弘治八閩通志, juan 44, pg. 1.
 Jie cao 結草, tying up the grass, is a story about an old man wanting to pay back his gratitude to a general so he improvised a rope by grabbing and tying up the grass around him, thus tripping the general’s enemy which led to his victory. Han huan 含環 is a story about a siskin bird been rescued by a boy from the mouth of eagle. The boy nurtured the bird and when the bird was recovered, it fitted in its mouth rings as gifts to the boy which were said to be able to give him good luck. Eventually the boy and his family became famous officials.
 “Zhong zong da wang shi lu shi” in Chao xian li chao shi lu zhong de zhong guo shi liao, pg. 1370.
 Meaning knowledgeable in that he was always able to respond quickly like the speed of water
 “Zhong zong da wang shi lu shi” in Chao xian li chao shi lu zhong de zhong guo shi liao, pg. 1371.
 Ibid, pg. 1370.
 Yan Song 嚴嵩. “Liu qiu guo jie song tong fan ren fan” 琉球國解送通番人犯 in Yan Song. Nan gong zou yi 南宮奏議, juan 30, pg. 505.
 Chen Kan. Shi liu qiu lu, pg. 34.
 Ibid, pg. 31.
 Cai Ruxian. Dong yi tu shuo, pg. 1.
 Cai Duowen 蔡多文. Jia de chuan shuo 家的傳說, pg. 436.
 Yan Song. “Liu qiu guo jie song tong fan ren fan” in Nan gong zou yi, juan 30, pg. 505.
 Ibid, juan 30, pg. 506.