Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The First Sho Dynasty

The great military strategist and tactician Hashi conquered the three separate kingdoms of Okinawa and united them under his rule.    One of the first things he did was move the capital and seat of government from Urasoe to Shuri. 

When Hashi’s father passed away in 1421, the Ming Emperor gave Hashi the title of “Sho Hashi, King of Ryukyu”.  This was after he had conquered Hokuzan in the north but a few years before he had conquered Nanzan.  The Chinese, as a token of their recognition, also gave him a large tablet with the Chinese characters for Chuzan inscribed on it. 

Sho Hashi showed his appreciation (and importance) be having a gate erected at the entrance to Shuri castle where he installed the tablet for all to see.  He also had a bell created that is now called the bridge of nations bell.  The inscription on the bell recognizes the importance of trade with all countries as the key to his kingdom and Okinawan prosperity.  This bell was also hung at the new entrance gate.  Today the original bell is at the Okinawa prefectural museum and a replica is at Shuri castle.

See my post on Shuri Castle for pictures of the main gate and the Bridge of Nations Bell.

Governance and Economic Expansion

Although the old kingdoms of were destroyed, Sho Hashi kept the three districts geographically intact.  But now they were called Kunigami, Nakagami and Shimajiri instead of Hokuzan, Chuzan and Nanzan.  The local aji were still the basis of control of their respective outer areas.

With the entire kingdom under his control, Sho Hashi was now able to collect and use all the resources of the island to build and support his desires at Shuri. 

He taxed the villages severely and used the proceeds to build up Shuri, the seat of the royal family and the government.  He also invested in Naha and Tomari, his key trading ports and links to international commerce.  Villagers were left with very little of the product of their labors and led hard lives.

Okinawa had few natural resources of its own.  Trade with other countries was the key to increased wealth, which he promoted strongly.  He kept the loyalty of the local aji by military force, but more importantly by allowing them to share in the lucrative trade and profits with China and other countries if they were cooperative with him.  He had excellent diplomatic skills with the Chinese Ming dynasty.  This further led to investment in ships, trading ports and the fostering of strong diplomatic ties with the Chinese.

Cultural Developments

The reign of Sho Hashi marks the age when Okinawan life began to absorb many of the unique elements which define it today. The classical body of Okinawan song and tradition originates from this era, as does cloth making and other arts and crafts.

In 1439 a permanent Okinawan settlement was built at Fukien (Fujian) province for more effective trade with China.  Fukien is in southern China across the sea from modern day Taiwan.  It was here that Okinawan students came to serve as clerks and also to learn Chinese language and customs. This village lasted until 1875, when the Ryukyu kingdom was dissolved by Japan.

Because of this intimate linkage to China, much was learned and adopted by the Ryukyu royal court.  The unique Ryukyu tombs, bridges, food, textiles, leisure activities, and manners were all based on lessons learned and brought back by the Okinawan students and traders.

Trade expanded significantly.  Ryukyu trade ships reached all the way south to the Indies and as far north as Korea.  All kinds of articles of commerce passed through Naha.  Okinawans were exposed to a wide variety of different cultures.

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