Article by Emanuel Giordano
Relations between China and Okinawa began in 1372, when King Satto of Chuzan (1320-1395), one of the three kingdoms of Okinawa, met with Chinese envoys. Chinese envoys arrived in Chuzan in 1372, demanding the admission of Chinese cultural supremacy and for Okinawa to send representatives to Nanjing. Satto complied with these requests without hesitation, as this would have granted him the formal license to trade with the most powerful nation in the entire region. He sent his younger brother Taiki to Nanjing in 1374, as the head of a mission to formally submit to China, thus initiating tributary and commercial relations.
The Chinese investiture ceremony in Shuri Castle, as depicted in a 1788 hand painting by Yamaguchi Suio. Sakamaki-Hawley Collection, University of Hawaii Library.
Emperor Hongwu (i.e. the first emperor of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang) received the embassy of the kingdom of Chuzan, accepted their gifts and in turn sent various gifts to Okinawa, including a royal seal which served as a symbol of investiture. A Chinese official accompanied the return mission by representing the Chinese Imperial Court, and officially confirming Satto as King of Okinawa, thereby legitimizing the claims of the kingdom of Chuzan over those of Nanzan and Hokuzan, although these kingdoms had not yet been conquered. Although Okinawa was never invaded, or annexed to China, this custom of investiture of the king of the Ryukyu by the Chinese court would continue, just like the tributary relations, until the Ryukyu Kingdom was dismantled five centuries later.