Sino-Japanese relations in the 17th and 18th Centuries: Some New Perspectives

IOWC Visiting Lecturer: Angela Schottenhammer

Thursday September 4th, 2008, 5-7pm

Leacock Building, Room 232

Sino-Japanese relations experienced great qualitative changes during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. By the reign period of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723–1735) one can even partly speak of a reversal of the former master-vassal relationship, which existed during the Ming period; whereas during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Japan was the vassal who had to obey strict regulations in China and who accepted the formal subordination under the Chinese tribute system, the new Tokugawa rulers, starting with the time of Ieyasu (1542–1616; r. 1603–1616), were no longer willing to restore the former vassal-tribute relations with China - although officially the East Asian political order, with China at the centre, was reinforced. Japan intended to create her own trade regulations, showing her independence and authority vis-a-vis China. By the early seventeenth century the Chinese in Japan were increasingly put under political control and found themselves very much restricted in their mobility, as the Japanese had formerly been in China.

On the other hand, we have evidence that two Manchu emperors, the Kangxi (r. 1662–1722) and the Yongzheng Emperor, both sent "secret agents" to Japan to inquire about decreasing silver and copper import quota respectively. Japan's control of the China trade and some corresponding new policies and regulations clearly caused high Chinese officials and the two emperors to react. But eventually none of these "secret missions" had any further reaching consequences as far as China's diplomacy towards her neighbour, "the tiny dwarf" Japan, was concerned. The paper intends to look behind the scenes and provide an overview on the causes and changes in Sino-Japanese relations and seeks to provide an answer for why, from the Chinese perspective, these missions remained without consequences.

Reception to Follow.


Since 2002, Dr. Schottenhammer has been Professor of Chinese History at the Department for Asian Studies, Munich University; beginning in 2006, she became head of the Sinology Department in Marburg University, Germany. She is Project Supervisor of The East Asian Mediterranean c. 1500–1850, an international research project sponsored by the VW–Foundation (05/2002–04/2008).