Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics

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University of Hawaii Press, 1999 - History - 213 pages
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Between 1609 and 1879, the geographical, political, and ideological status of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (modern Okinawa) was characterized by its ambiguity. It was subordinate to its larger neighbors, China and Japan, yet an integral part of neither. In this innovative and provocative study, Gregory Smits explores early-modern perceptions of Ryukyu and their effect on its political culture and institutions. He describes the major historical circumstances that informed early-modern discourses of Ryukyuan identity and examines the strategies used by leading intellectual and political figures to fashion, promote, and implement their visions of Ryukyu.
Visions of Ryukyu advances a new interpretation of Ryukyuan history. Rather than regarding early-modern Ryukyu as an appendage of China or Japan, it places the kingdom at the center, highlighting Ryukyuan subjectivity and agency and giving historical depth to modern and contemporary debates on Okinawan identity.

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A valuable book for anyone interested in looking at how Ryukyu perceived itself and constructed its identity whilst caught between China and Japan. An engaging writer, Smits recognizes the need to complicate Ryukyu's history by placing more power in the Ryukyuans themselves, rather than simplifying their subjugation to one nation or the other. Highly recommend it to anyone interested in Ryukyu/Okinawan studies or East Asian history as a whole. 


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About the author (1999)

Gregory Smits is assistant professor of East Asian history at Pennsylvania State University.

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