Article by Emanuel Giordano

Continuation of PART 5
Continuing on our path, we will now face the diplomatic mission following that of 1756. In 1794 King Sho Boku died, who was succeeded by his young nephew Sho On (1784-1802) the following year. The latter reigned briefly, as he died at the young age of 18 (19 by the Japanese count). His official coronation took place in 1800, thanks to the mission led by sapposhi 趙文楷 Zhao Wenkai / Chou Bunkai (1760-1804) and by his deputy, 李鼎元 Li Dingyuan / Ri Teigen (1750-1805), with whom they were 502 Chinese. Due to the death of Emperor 乾隆帝 Qianlong on February 7, 1799, and due to the riots that broke out during the previous coronation mission, there were several changes to the ritual. Members of the Chinese embassy were forbidden to trade with Okinawans by order of the sapposhi, and the seven traditional banquets, which were normally held to celebrate and entertain Chinese envoys, were not held. Furthermore, the envoys refused the king's gift of 10,000 ounces of silver. Measures were then taken to prevent the outbreak of unrest between the Chinese and Okinawans, in order to avoid a repetition of the sad episode that occurred during the previous coronation. The mission, however, had a sad ending. On the return voyage, the ships faced both an attack by pirates and a huge storm. Both the sapposhi and his deputy managed to return to China safely, but the experience had a major impact on Zhao Wenkai, who weakened and died four years later.
During the reign of Sho On, the National Academy (国学 Kokugaku) of the Ryukyu Kingdom was founded, which was based on the model of the Chinese one (in Beijing). It was the highest educational institution in the kingdom during the 19th century. Founded in 1796 (according to other sources in 1798) and only named National Academy in 1801, the school was mainly run by scholars from Kume-mura. In 1837 the sanctuary of Confucius was founded next to the academy, according to the Chinese tradition Zuo miao you xue [the temple (Confucian) on the left, the academy on the right].
Zhao Wenkai [(字介山) letter jieshan, (號逸書) yishu number, native of (景宁乡) Jingning] was a zhuangyuan of the Qing dynasty (清朝狀元), that is, the scholar who had passed with the highest score the Confucian civil service examinations (科舉) in 1796. He probably wrote several works, but the only one that has survived is a collection of poems, entitled Shi bai shan fang shi cun (石柏山房詩存). We also know that the Chinese emperor Jiaqing (1760-1820), successor and son of the previous emperor Qianlong, described him as a capable and healthy officer. According to other sources, Zhao Wenkai died in 1808, which is eight years after the trip.
His deputy, Li Dingyuan [(字味堂) letter weitang, (號墨莊) mozhuang number, a native of (綿州) Mianzhou], was originally from Sichuan. Having successfully passed the top-level Confucian civil service exam in 1778, he earned a jinshi (a kind of high school diploma) and a post at the Central Secretariat (Neige zhongshu 内閣中書). During his tenure in the Ryukyu he engaged in different types of activities. Among his various engagements, on 19 september 1800 he visited the gardens known as Ie-dunchi (in Shuri), accompanied by 伊江親方朝慶 Ie Ueekata Chokei (also known as 伊江親方朝睦 Ie Ueekata Choboku, or 向天迪 Sho Tenteki), one of the three Sanshikan (三司官), that is, the three top officials of the kingdom. Also during his time in the Ryukyu, he received several gifts for his mother's birthday from Okinawan officials. This thing left him pleasantly surprised, as he couldn't figure out how they got this information. He then accepted these private gifts with great gratitude and joy. Just like for Zhao Wenkai, Li Dingyuan also left us a collection of poems, which is called Shi zhu zhai ji 師竹斎集. He also compiled a six-volume work on Ryukyu (使琉球記 Shi liuqiu ji), and a four-volume work on a journey to the west (再遊記 Zai you ji).

Zhao Wenkai

The Sanshikan (also known as 法司 Hoshi, 世司部 Yoasutabe, or Council of Three) was born in 1556 as a council of the three regents who ruled in place of the very young mute king 尚元 Sho Gen (1528-1572), and was dissolved together with the Kingdom of the Ryukyu in 1879. The king died in 1572, but in the meantime the council became a very powerful and influential institution, so much so that it was not dissolved, and became part of the government of the Ryukyu kingdom. An example is given by the "Articles signed by the King's Counselors", which bound the royal government in loyalty and servitude to the daimyo (lord) of Satsuma (today's Kagoshima Prefecture), and which explicitly forbade the king to "entrust the conduct of public affairs in the islands to any person outside the Sanshikan". This council became more and more powerful than the Sessei (chief royal counselor), and members were selected from among the ueekata. Among the requisites were having gained experience in traveling to China and Japan, possessing excellent calligraphy and poetry skills, and possessing a high level in the study of Confucianism. Being that being on the council meant having reached the highest career level for the members of the academic aristocracy (the academic aristocracy of the Ryukyu kingdom consisted of four groups of families, who claimed elite pedigree as well as high level of education and culture, which held the official positions of the government), the members were related to the royal family, with the exception of very rare exceptions such as 鄭迵 Tei Do (Jana Ueekata Rizan) and 金国鼎 Kin Kokutei (Gushichan Ueekata Noan), the which were part of the academic aristocracy of Kume-mura.


  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)