Warfare and Deception – How Shō Hashi Established the 1st Ryukyu Dynasty

King Shō Hashi, described as the “Hometown Hero” for Okinawans, is the main character of the musical named after him.

“For Okinawans, King Sho Hashi was the first historical figure to have a truly positive impact on the country. I want to take that passionate Okinawan tradition and convey it to future generations using King Sho Hashi as the motif.” 

Let’s take a look at the happenings back at the time of King Shō Hashi.

As mentioned in the previous article, each of the Three Kingdoms of Okinawa had succeeded in entering the investiture and tributary relations with Ming China and all three were heavily engaged in the annual China trade. The trade provided them a boost in status, economy, and culture. Competition for the superior position in this trade increasingly depended on warfare, so much that the Chinese Emperor warned Ryūkyū, saying:

“I have learned that in Ryūkyū three kings are fighting against each other. Thereby they destroy the agriculture and inflict harm upon the people. This saddens me very much. […] The kings should end the war and let the people come to peace.”

However, the Three Kingdoms were not unified by any one of the three kings, nor by the successors of a presumed royal line, but by the outsider Hashi.

So, let’s take a look at the true story of Okinawa’s famous unification under the royal Shō dynasty.

In 1402, Hashi attacked and defeated the lord of Asato near Urasoe, providing Hashi with a strategic stronghold. Four years later, in 1406, Hashi attacked and destroyed King Bunei of Chūzan, and installed his own father Shishō as king instead.

Upon the death of a sovereign, the Chinese Court had to be informed immediately, and the name of the successor submitted for approval. Therefore, in the 4th month of 1407, “King Shishō” dispatched an envoy to Ming China with local products as tribute. The envoy told the Chinese officials that Shishō’s father, King Bunei of Chūzan had passed away. Of course that was a blunt lie, and in fact, they had killed the king, but the Chinese Emperor Taizu didn’t know and so he dispatched an investiture mission that enthroned Shishō as the official “King of Chūzan in the Country of Ryūkyū.”

In this way Hashi and his father Shishō took over the China trade as well as the title of King of Chūzan. Chūzan’s port of overseas trade was Naha, and this undoubtedly contributed to further gain in power. With Naha as an excellent harbor Hashi ran a thriving overseas trade, secured his economic foundation, and gained knowledge of advanced weaponry used abroad.

Next, in 1416, Hashi rallied his troops to attack Nakijin castle, destroyed king Han’anchi, and assumed power over Hokuzan. Similarly as before, he then appointed his brother as the king of that region. China accepted without further ado. And so Hashi also annexed both Hokuzan’s tribute trade rights and kingship.

Shishō passed away in 1421, upon which Hashi informed the Ming Emperor about the death of his father in the 2nd month of 1424. In 1425, the Ming Emperor dispatched his envoy Chai Shan, to bestow on him the title of “Chūzan King Shishō’s heir Shō Hashi.” Notably it was at this exact point that the surname “Shō” was granted to Hashi by the Ming Emperor, a family name henceforth carried by each and every Ryūkyū king.

In 1429 Shō Hashi continued his expansion by attacking Ōsato Castle and killing King Tarumī of Nanzan. Again, China accepted without further ado.

During all the time of Hashi’s takeover, from 1406 to 1429, tributary missions continued to be sent to Ming China annually. Like this, Hashi established a single unified sphere of kingship and a single authority for tributary trade with China on the island of Okinawa, manifested in the establishment of the 1st Shō Dynasty of the Ryūkyū kingdom in the year 1429.

And this is how Hashi took over Okinawa by a successive series of warfare spiced with a good sprinkle of lies towards China. In recognition of his achievements, posterity labelled Shō Hashi the “Ise Shinkurō of the Southern Islands.”

© 2022, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Okinawa Peace Theory. Bookmark the permalink.