The Ryukyu Annexation in Modern East Asian History

  • Author: Kyongwon Yoon, Haesoon Park (transl.)
  • Publication Date: October / 2019
  • Publisher: Zininzin
A study on the process of Japan’s Ryukyu Kingdom annexation that was proceeded amidst a reorganization of East Asian relations in late 19th century, The Ryukyu Annexation in Modern East Asian History – From Chinese world order to Japanese colonial empire –, has been translated and published. The 2014 monograph of Namihira Tsuneo, a political scientist from Okinawa and professor at Ryukyu University,『近代東アジア史のなかの琉球併合――中華世界秩序から植民地帝国日本へ』has been co-translated by Kyongwon Yoon, a research professor at Center for Cultural Unification Studies, and Haesoon Park, a professional translator. The large volume is the 7th book in the SNUAC Modern Asian History Series being planned and issued by SNU Asia Center. The Ryukyu Annexation in Modern East Asian History – From Chinese world order to Japanese colonial empire – deals with the history of the Ryukyu Islands from 1872 to 1879, which is called the ‘disposal of Ryukyu’ in mainstream Japanese history. It was a process of the Ryukyu Kingdom being integrated into the Japanese Imperialism after its long history of holding up as an independent kingdom. This book proceeds its examination based on two perspectives that are counterposed to the perspective of existing mainstream Japanese history. One is that it introduces an analytical perspective to understand the history of the ‘disposal of Ryukyu’ from the bottom, thus from the disposed or the annexed party.  Another is that it looks at the history of Ryukyu’s annexation not only as a part of Japanese history but also within the larger context of East Asian history. The book especially considers such perspective in comparison with the history of Joseon which led to the ‘Annexation of Korea’. By expanding the perspective of contemplation both microscopically and macroscopically, the book illuminates historical facts that have been overlooked so far and suggests incorrect interpretations to be fixed.

The book is a voluminous work of research, with the original being around 450 pages and the translation being around 500 pages. It consists of an introduction, five main chapters, and a supplementary chapter. The introduction overviews the issue and organization of the book, while the first chapter systematically describes the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Chapter 2 examines the process of King Sho Tai’s appointment and its historical meaning in the context of Ryukyu’s relationship with mainland Japan and the meaning of the central government’s policy of power centralization. Chapter 3 describes the political upheaval in relation to the advocacy of a punitive expedition to Korea and the process leading up to the military dispatch to Taiwan, and chapter 4 deals with the ‘disposal of Ryukyu’ completed in the context of the abolition of the han system. Chapter 5 interprets and evaluates the meaning of the Ryukyu annexation in modern East Asian history from the perspective of two annexations. In the supplementary chapter, the author introduces in detail Kishaba Choken, a figure that motivated the research on the Ryukyu annexation, and his work Ryukyu Kenbun-roku.

On October 31, there was an accident in which Shuri Castle, the castle of the Ryukyu Kingdom and a World Heritage site, was destroyed by fire. Both Okinawa and Korea share the historical sorrow of having been dispossessed of independent national sovereignty by imperialist Japan. In the process of a new Cold War world order being constructed in East Asia after WWII, Korea underwent the pains of division and Okinawa stays as a mere prefecture in Japan. The Ryukyu Annexation in Modern East Asian History – From Chinese world order to Japanese colonial empire – will become important evidence for learning a lesson in preparing for a new Pax Asiana, as it understands the mechanism of the East Asian order of the time being integrated into Japanese imperialism from a subordinate position, to criticize the suzerain state’s imperialist view of history.