Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
923 of 1105



RIU KIU. The demands of practical politics in Asia are compelling the issue of a problem that has, especially since the opening of this century, been awaiting solution. The extension of European interests in the far east has had the tendency, not only to force China to define her relations with the nations of the west, but also with those on or near her borders. For many centuries the centre of culture to more than half of the largest, the most populous and the most varied continent of earth, China, has divided the world into two portions: the middle (China), and the foreign (all other nations). The outlying people were "barbarians," and all holding relations with her were reckoned as tributaries or vassals. The investiture bestowed upon each, and the actual reception, by the Chinese "Son of Heaven," of gifts which were considered as marks of homage from almost every country, from the Caspian sea to Japan, and from the Malay archipelago to the frozen tundras of Siberia, are recorded in the Chinese court annals. Even the embassies from Rome, India, Venice, and the modern kingdoms of Europe, were registered as "tribute bearers." China's form of the doctrine of the "Divine Right" to rule all nations, is expressed in the title of her emperors, Whang-Ti, Heavenly Dynasty, or Theocratic emperor. Western governments in Christendom have compelled a change in diplomatic language as regards themselves, but the tone of oriental mock-courtesy or real loyalty to the Chinese emperor is still very abject, however independent such countries as Annam or Corea may in actuality be. Almost alone of China's neighbors, Japan has asserted and maintained absolute political independence, though Siam is rapidly following her example. China, now pressed on all sides by European enterprise and ambition, finds that she must maintain her old claims, or suffer the presence of frontagers who, instead of manifesting the demeanor of childlike suppliants, bear the attitude of jealous defiance. Since she lost, by the diplomacy of Ignatieff in 1860, the Amoor region and maritime provinces touching the Pacific and Corea—a territory as large as France—she has firmly resisted all further encroachments. Wresting Ili from Russia, she further manifested her policy by warning off the Japanese from Formosa in 1876, by demanding Riu Kiu from Japan by garrisoning Seoul with her soldiery after the Corean uprising in July, 1880, by military defense of her frontier against suspected Russian aggression, and by informing France of her determination to defend her vassal Tonquin against invasion, annexation or protectorate. The problem is further complicated, not only in the case of Riu Kiu, but in that of others, as in the Indo-Chinese peninsula, by the fact that these petty kingdoms have for centuries rendered homage and paid tribute to two countries: to the nearest and less powerful, and to supreme China—to the distant "Son of Heaven" and "Lord of Ten Thousand Chariots" in Peking. So long as the ordinary conditions of Asiatic statecraft were unvexed with modern and western ideas, this state of things could go on undisturbed. The entrance of Russians, French and British on the scene as neighbors, and extra-territorial residents, has complicated the problem.


—Of Riu Kiu (Sleepy Dragon), a group of thirty-seven sugar and rice producing islands stretching like a long rope (okinawa) from Satsuma to Formosa, with a population of over 166,000 souls, we may say that it needs a Solomon to pronounce upon its parentage. Like a babe between two maternal claimants, it is in danger of the sword and of division. The Riu Kiu people are, in origin, language and dynasty, true Japanese, but being powerless between the two great rival empires, Japan and China, they have endeavored to keep the friendship of both by tribute and acknowledgment of submission to either. Thirty-six Chinese families from Fu-kien settled in the islands in A. D. 1372, and encouraged trade, friendship and relations of culture and submission to the Chinese court, which were not interrupted by the Japanese. Before this time and afterward, however, Riu Kiu was a feudal dependency of Satsuma, and was so dealt with by the Japanese shoguns, and the junk-load of gifts sent annually to China was permitted as merely "an exchange of neighborly courtesies." On account of their evident reluctance to fill their quota of war material, ordered by Hidéyoshi when about to invade Corea in 1592, the prince of Satsuma, in 1609, after the Corean war and civil trouble in Japan were over, made an expedition to Riu Kiu, and completely subdued the principality, sent the king Shonei as prisoner to Yedo, and after a thorough reformation of administration in the islands, the daimios of Satsuma were confirmed in their possession of Riu Kiu, keeping Shonei as hostage for three years, while the laws and customs of his dominions were being assimilated to those of Japan. Upon his accession to office, each prince of Riu Kiu took an oath of allegiance to the daimio of Satsuma, and Japan treated Riu Kiu as an integral portion of the empire. In time of famine, food was sent to relieve the starving, and indemnity was exacted from the Formosan pirates for depredations upon Riu Kiu sailors. Commodore M. C. Perry, in 1853, acted upon the principle that Riu Kiu was a dependency of Japan, and though modifying his view after a stay of some months in China, he finally made an agreement with the regent of Riu Kiu, which, however, contained no statement of the political status of the island kingdom. In 1872, after the abolition of feudalism in Japan, Riu Kiu was made a province (han), and the chief, Sho-tai, a governor (han-wo). In 1874, Riu Kiu was brought directly under control of the home department, and the custom of sending presents or tribute to China was forbidden. In the diplomatic correspondence between Peking and Tokio, relative to the Formosan affair in 1874, China distinctly recognized the Riu Kiuans (who had been killed by the Formosan savages) as Japanese subjects. The Chinese envoys to Japan in 1878 protested against the Japanese occupation of Riu Kiu and their interdict on tribute to China, demanding that the old status quo of the islands should be restored. Terashima, the mikado's minister (and now envoy at Washington), objecting to their offensive language, cut off further negotiation. On April 4, 1879, the Riu Kiu han (province) was abolished, and the okinawa ken (prefecture) established, while Sho-tai, the chief, was ordered to reside, like the former daimios, or feudal chiefs now retired, in Tokio. The discussion was now opened at Peking, but with little progress, until, in 1879, Prince Kung referred the matter to Gen. U. S. Grant, then visiting China and about to go to Japan. After his arrival in Tokio, and consideration of the evidence on both sides, Gen. Grant advised the withdrawal of previous dispatches and the appointment of plenipotentiary commissioners to settle the difficulty. The commission began its sittings in Peking, Aug. 15, 1880, and the negotiations continued during three months. On Oct. 21 the drafts of the treaty which was expected to end the controversy were ready for signature. It provided that the boundary line between the two empires should be drawn at about the twenty-fifth parallel of north latitude; that Yayé-yama and Miako islands should belong to China, but all northward should belong to Japan. The treaty, as agreed upon by the high commissioners, was to be signed within ten days; but after sixteen days had elapsed, the Tsung-li Yamen notified Mr. Shishido, the mikado's envoy, that by imperial order the treaty was to be submitted to the northern and southern superintendents of trade, and others, for consideration and further report. This amazing violation, by the Peking government, of the principles of international law and common courtesy, in remanding the solemn decisions of a plenipotentiary commission—to which, on the recommendation of an eminent American citizen, Japan had, in good faith and covenant with China, submitted her case—to other parties, is thus adjudged by the Hon. J. B. Angell, minister of the United States to China: "Even if they [the Chinese] have justice on their side, in opposing the seizure of the islands by Japan, they could not well contrive a better way to alienate the sympathy of all civilized nations from them in the assertion of their rights than by the course which, if we accept the statement of Mr. Shishido, they have now seen fit to take in their negotiations with Japan." On Jan. 20, 1881, nearly five months after the commission had finished its labors, and after repeated remonstrances, Mr. Shishido, the mikado's commissioner, left Peking, since which time the Japanese government have steadily refused to reopen the question with China. Whether by war, by diplomacy, or by arbitration, the solution of the long-standing problem of China's claim to sovereignty over pupil or neighbor nations seems probable, and may take place before the end of this century. Neither Japan, with her new sense of nationality, nor European nations in this age of liberty, are inclined to respect a claim that seems more antiquated and anachronistic as such a figment as the holy Roman empire and such a doctrine as the divine right of kings to reign settle below the world's horizon.


—LITERATURE. M. C. Perry's The Japan Expedition; Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. i.; files of The Japan Mail and Japan Gazette; The Chrysanthemum (Yokohama) of March, 1883; Diplomatic correspondence of the United States, 1881, 1882.


923 of 1105

Return to top