The Ryukyu government began instituting measures to reconstruct their society beginning in the mid 1600’s, following the Satsuma invasion. These efforts continued for the rest of that century.
Three notable leaders emerged, who would shape the philosophical and political course of the Ryukyu kingdom. All three faced the problem of how to justify the existence of Ryukyu in light of the new conditions the kingdom found itself in, namely a vassal to both China and Japan.
Each of these men had distinctly different philosophies on how best to accomplish this. In this post, we will examine the works of Tei Junsoku.
Tei Junsoku (Nago Ueekata Chobun), often called the “Sage of Nago”, was the second person of historical note to influence Ryukyu development following the Satsuma invasion of 1609. Born in Kumemura in 1663, and a frequent traveler to China, he served various positions in the Ryukyu government, including membership in the Sanshikan (Council of Three).
Contrary to Sho Shoken’s approach, Tei Junsoku viewed Ryukyu as a vassal of China’s Qing Court, and before that, the Ming Dynasty. He worked to improve Ryukyu’s image in China’s eyes by promoting Chinese studies in Ryukyu, and essentially ignored any impact or influence on the kingdom that may have come from Japan.
Tei Junsoku was a scholar, poet, and diplomat who promoted Chinese studies in Ryukyu. He had very little political influence, although he was a district administrator of Nago for a time. He spoke Chinese fluently and spent many years in China over the course of five visits.
Tei Junsoku viewed Beijing as the cultural center of the world and tried to tie all things Ryukyuan to China, rather than Japan.
Teacher and Poet
Tei Junsoku received his formal education in Kumemura in Okinawa, and at age 21 moved to China to study for four years. When he returned to Kumemura in 1687 he got a job as a teacher. Two years later he went back to China as an official at the Ryukyu trading center in Fuzhou.
When he returned to Ryukyu three years later, and brought with him several sets of Chinese historical works in 159 volumes, printed at his own expense. Two years after that in 1693, at age 31, he won a poetry competition sponsored by the crown prince Sho Jun.
In 1695 he went back to china as interpreter for a tribute mission, travelling all the way to Beijing. Along the journey he wrote poetry on the trip, a famous work called “Setsudo’s Travels to Beijing”.
Tutor to the Ryukyu Royal Family and Author
In 1704 he became tutor to crown prince Sho Jun, who died before taking the throne, and then to Prince Sho Eki who later became king.
In 1706 he went back to China as head of a tribute mission. While there he published two books at his expense before leaving.
“Amplification of the Six Maxims” was a rewriting in colloquial Chinese language of the Confucian maxims that originated in Ming China in 1652. He also wrote a Ryukyu edition. The book was used to teach proper Chinese to Ryukyu students.
The Confucian maxims are:
1. Be filial to your parents
2. Respect your social superiors
3. Live in harmony with fellow villagers
4. Educate your children
5. Work diligently at your occupation
6. Do no evil
In 1754 on a trip to Edo (Tokyo) as the official in charge of correspondence he gave a copy to shogun Tokugawa as a gift from Satsuma. The shogun was so impressed that he ordered it translated into Japanese. It was published under the title “The General Meaning of the Amplification of the Six Maxims”. It was used widely in elementary schools in Japan well into Meiji era.
His other book, “Guide to Navigation” was a detailed manual for how to navigate between Fuzhou and Naha, based on two sources: Folklore, and his own studies under a Chinese ship pilot. The work was significant in that it contained ocean maps, instructions for how to navigate by celestial bodies, methods of weather interpretation, the invoking of divine powers for guidance, and perhaps most importantly - compass techniques.
In 1718 he revised the rites at Confucian temples in Okinawa to be more like the rites as practiced in China.
His final trip to China was in 1720, at age 58. He brought back several dozens of volumes of Chinese poetry again at his own expense.
The “Sage of Nago”
Tei Junsuko’s final years were spent in despair and semi isolation after losing all his sons to illness or accident. After his death he was considered a symbol of selfless virtue and high morals. He died in 1734.
Next Post: Sai On
Gregory Smits. Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics. University of Hawaii Press, 1999.
George H. Kerr. Okinawa: the History of an Island People, revised edition. Tokyo: Tuttle, 2000.