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The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

In second year of Jiajing of Ming Dynasty (1523), in order to compete for legal right to pay tribute to Ming Dynasty, Japanese daimyo Hosokawa and Ouchi clashed in Ningbo, Zhejiang and caused serious massacres. Among them, Ouchi Zong led burning, killing, and looting along road, and Ming Dynasty officers Liu Jin and Zhang Tong, who were ordered to pursue, were killed in this battle. This incident is called "Tribute Battle". The battle for tribute had a huge impact on China. After that, Ming dynasty introduced a "marine ban", abolished shibushi in Zhejiang and Fujian, and outright banned tribute trade with Japan. However, maritime ban exacerbated invasion of pirates and "Japanese pirates" on southeast coast, which for Ming dynasty could be regarded as practice of "drinking poison to quench your thirst."

1. Relations between Early Ming Dynasty and Japan

During Ming Dynasty, tribute trade between China and neighboring countries reached its peak. The so-called tribute trade means that China considers itself "kingdom of heaven", treats small neighboring countries as "barbarians" and calls foreigners who come to China to trade "tribute", and also pays high incomes. The emperor of Ming dynasty hoped to use this "thin return and thick exchange" method to treat all peoples with tenderness and create a scene in which all peoples would be judged. In fact, this kind of tribute trading was mainly supported by national power and treasury of Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty did not get much real benefit from it, but instead caused treasury to become empty and finances to make ends meet.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Tribute fleet

However, for other small countries, paying tribute is a huge profit. For example, at that time, Japanese knives were sold in Japan for only 1,000 ren, but after they came to pay their respects to Ming Dynasty, Ming Dynasty officials bought them for price of 5,000 wines. Therefore, countries of East Asia and Southeast Asia at that time struggled to trade with Ming Dynasty. For example, Ryukyu Kingdom "often pays and pays three tributes at age of one year. Although Celestial Dynasty is tired of it, it cannot do it.” In addition, many tribute groups were envoys from foreign countries, but in fact there were a large number of businessmen among them, and they came to pay tribute only for sake of profit. For example, at end of Ming Dynasty, after Portugal monopolized trade in Indian Ocean, it carried on tribute trade with Ming Dynasty under banner of some small Southeast Asian countries. Under such circumstances, Ming government also felt that it lacked financial resources, so it negotiated amount of tribute to other countries. To distinguish between foreign official missions and private businessmen, Ming dynasty also tightened tribute payment procedures.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Zheng He's Journey

In early days of Ming Dynasty, remaining forces of Zhang Shicheng and Fang Guozhen retreated to sea, colluded with "Japanese pirates" and constantly attacked China's long coastline. In order to deal with these mobile rogues at sea, Zhu Yuanzhang asked Japan to pay tribute and cooperate with Ming Dynasty to exterminate these Japanese pirates and pirates. For this reason, Zhu Yuanzhang sent ambassadors to Japan many times, but Japan only expressed its readiness to fight Japanese pirates together, but never paid tribute. The position of Japan greatly disappointed Zhu Yuanzhang, so he continued to repeat the "sea embargo" and clearly stipulated that trade with Japan was prohibited.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Japanese Pirate Area

After accession to throne of Ming Chengzu Zhu Di, situation in China and Japan has undergone tremendous changes. In China, Ming Chengzu seized throne in a rebellion. To show his legitimacy, Ming Chengzu hoped to loosen maritime ban, "attract absolute power" and allow all nations to come to court to establish prestige. In Japan in 1401, General Yoshimitsu Ashikaga of Muromachi Shogunate ended split between Northern and Southern Dynasties and completed unification of Japan. However, after a long period of war, Japan's economy was sluggish and its finances were depleted. Given reasons for show, Japan hopes to trade tribute with Ming Dynasty to restore economic development and enrich national treasury. Of course, if you want to trade tribute with Ming Dynasty, you must make some sacrifices in front of and pay tribute to Ming Dynasty. Japan soon presented a credential to Ming Dynasty stating: “Since founding of Japan, she has always been employed by state. Fortunately, country is in country, and there is no danger in country. respects ancient laws and regulations and makes fat and rich. Zu Atong is good." This is Japan's first expression of Ming Dynasty.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Zhu Di

2. Sino-Japanese trade under cooperation system

In 1403, Ming Chengzu sent Zuo Tongzheng Zhao Juren and Zhang Hong on foot to Japan, and two countries began a formal exchange of tribute. In September of that year, Japan sent envoys to pay their respects to Ming Dynasty. According to Ming Dynasty tribute rules, "every fan entering China is not allowed to privately carry weapons, knives and like to people." However, Shibo unit in Ningbo found knives brought by Japan. Li Zhigang, minister of Ministry of Rites, thought it should be confiscated and sent to capital, but Ming Chengzu believed that “foreign barbarians came to China to pay tribute and traveled thousands of miles; duties are a matter of human affection.” so why should they ban all arrests?” He then ordered government to buy Japanese goods, including weapons, at high prices.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade


In October 1403, Japanese envoy Keimi and his detachment arrived in Nanjing and established rules for trade with Ming Dynasty. It is stipulated that Japan pays tribute once every ten years, number of people is limited to 200 people, ships cannot exceed 2 feet, and weapons cannot be carried. To distinguish between private traders, pirate ships, and official ships, China and Japan established a system of survey and cooperation in 1406. The so-called Kanhae means that Ming Dynasty officially issued Japan's trade documents and had to revise them. The Ming Dynasty issued a total of 100 Chinese characters and 100 Japanese documents in Japan, including 2 volumes. Chinese and Japanese officials each kept a copy of book. During tribute collection period, Japanese navy transported it along with ship, checked it when it arrived in Fujian, and checked it again when it arrived in Ningbo.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

After Sino-Japanese joint trading system was established, tributary trade between two countries became frequent. Japan "donated" horses, sulfur, sumac, agate, screens, Japanese fans and Japanese sword armor to China, and Ming dynasty held large-scale "awards", and value of awards far exceeded cost of tribute. value. For example, in fifth year of Yongle reign, when Japanese came to pay tribute, they received "forty ingots of a thousand taels of silver and fifteen thousand copper coins." For newly unified Japan, tribute would no doubt bring a huge economic boost to Japan. Therefore, after establishment of two-party tribute system, scale of Japan's visit to North Korea quickly exceeded limit agreed by both sides, and Ming Chengzu also hoped that Japan would cooperate in fight against Japanese pirates.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

From 1411 to 1433, Japanese tribute was temporarily suspended. In 1433, Japan resumed tribute trade and scale continued to expand. From reign of Xuande to reign of Zhengde, Japan visited DPRK eight times, and scale continued to expand. In 1453, number of ships of Japanese mission reached 10, and number reached 1200, which was much higher than established scale. And rewards received by Japan this time were also amazing: in addition to a large amount of silk, they also received more than 210,000 taels. This number of awards became a serious economic burden for Ming Dynasty. Trade between Japan and Ming often brought in four to five times reward, further spurring Japan's enthusiasm for paying tribute. Japanese envoys often use method of "leaving with a profit in past so that they come in multiples" and make a fortune on this.

Third, emergence of a tribute battle

After middle of 15th century, situation in Japan and China changed dramatically again. In China, after Tumu Change of Fortress in 1449, Ming dynasty began to decline. Japan was re-partitioned in 1467 and entered "Sengoku period". During Warring States period, Japanese daimyō were divided and power of shogunate existed only in name. At this time, trading rights of Japanese shogunate to Ming dynasty also passed into hands of these daimyo. Since trade with Ming dynasty can bring rich profits, Japanese daimyo often compete for their documents of inspection and cooperation.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Japanese separatist regime

After third joint trade between Japan and Ming Dynasty, Japan's trading rights to Ming tributary were controlled by powerful Ouchi and Hosokawa families, and two families also rejected each other. In 1464, ships of Ouchi and Hosokawa participated in tribute to shogunate. The following year, when ship of shogunate passed through island of Kyushu, its cargo and newly proclaimed Kanghe during Chenhua period of Ming Dynasty were robbed by Ouchi family. In 1493, when Japan was paying tribute to Ming Dynasty, Ouchi clan and Hosokawa clan disputed need for a joint survey and finally decided to break rules and send two fleets there. Hosokawa's fleet used old research and cooperation released in Jingtai period, while Ōuchi fleet used new research and cooperation released in Chenghua period and brought latest research and cooperation in Hongzhi period. In 1509, Ouchi and Hosokawa sent a joint Ming fleet, but Ouchi sent two ships and Hosokawa had one, which greatly upset Hosokawa. Therefore, Hosokawa family sent another exile, Song Suqing, to Japan to bring Ming Hongzhi period Kanghe as tribute. During this tribute, Japanese envoys returned Jingtai and Chenghua era intelligence records to Ming dynasty and returned to China with 100 Zhengde period intelligence records and records. However, on way home, he was robbed again by Ouchi family.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Until now, Japan's Ming tribute trade rights have been monopolized by Ouchi clan. In second year of Jiajing (1523), Japanese Ouchi family sent three envoys to pay their respects to Ming dynasty. The Hosokawa family forced shogunate to reconnoiter him in Hongzhi and sent Wangan Ruizo and Sun Suqing there. Since then, ships of two sides have arrived in Ningbo one after another. During inspection and inspection, Shi Ship Administration found that there were old ones and new ones, so two sides had a dispute. But Song Suqing secretly bribed eunuch Ryan to enter port for inspection. Thereafter, Shibo unit entertained two groups of embassies in guest hall, with Hosokawa mission as chief and Ouchi mission as second. This arrangement caused discontent of Ouchi clan, and its leader Zongshi Kendao took out weapons from arsenal, attacked guest hall, and Wang Gan Ruizuo was killed. After that, Zong Sheqiandao burned down guest hall again and pursued Song Suqing all way to Yuyao. Back in Ningbo, Zong She Qiandao burned, killed and robbed all way. When they arrived in Ningbo urban area, they ransacked city area again, seized a boat, and fled into ocean. Beiwa commander Liu Jin and Qianhu Zhang Niai, who were chasing him, were killed in battle. This is famous "Battle for Tribute".

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Battle of Memory

After tribute battle, Song Suqing and Wangang Ruizo were arrested by Wuzhu, a Ming inspector, and Liangyao, a guard eunuch. In addition, boat of Zongshi Qiandao fleet was blown to North Korea, and North Korean defenders captured 33 members, including Lin Wang and Gu Duoluo, alive and handed them over to Ming Dynasty. Later, both sides went to court to uncover issue of order of sending tribute and authenticity of amulet, after which Song Suqing was sentenced to death.

Fourth, impact of tribute battle

After battle with tribute, tribute trade between Ming dynasty and Japan began to end. In 1539, Ōuchi family could not lose benefits of tribute market and sent envoys to pay tribute, and Ming dynasty also allowed tribute to be paid on behalf of Japanese pirates. However, because old Hongzhi research and collaboration was still in hands of Hosokawa family, Japan could not get new Jiajing research and collaboration. At same time, Ming dynasty reiterated that Japanese tribute period is once every ten years, number of people should not exceed 300, and number of ships should not exceed 3. In 23rd year of Jiajing (1544), Japan paid tribute again but Ming dynasty rejected it. In twenty-sixth year of Jiajing (1547), Japanese Ouchi family sent 600 men and four ships to Zhoushan to demand tribute. The Ministry of Rites considered that time had not yet come, so it was rejected. The fleet then stayed in port of Ningbo for two years and carried out some smuggling operations. When it came time to pay tribute, no more than 50 people paid tribute. In same year, Japanese ships returned to China and no longer sent envoys to pay tribute to Ming Dynasty. Tribute trade between China and Japan was suspended.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Destroy pirates

After tribute battle, Ming government became wary of tribute trade and began to strictly enforce maritime ban. In third year of Jiajing reign, it was stipulated that those who "privately buy forbidden goods on behalf of Fanya" or "those who make illegal maritime transactions and sell Fanya privately" or "smuggling more than a thousand katti sumu pepper" should be severely punished. In fourth year of Jiajing reign, it was stipulated that all ships with two masts were to be detained, whether they carried foreign goods or not. In eighth year of Jiajing, it was stipulated that all large ships should be reported to government for demolition, and those who violated them would be punished together." This was strictest during Jiajing period. appeared after that only restored situation to Jiajing. In Longqing switchover, trade with Japan was also prohibited.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade


Official trade channels have been discontinued and private trade has always been banned, resulting in an increase in smuggling. For example, during Jiajing period, merchants "privately built large two-masted ships, carried banned weapons widely, and bought exotic goods" and conducted private trade with foreign countries. In Jiajing's 26th year, more than 1,000 private entrepreneurs from Fujian Province who went to Japan to trade were hit by a typhoon, and more than 1,000 people fled to North Korea. Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang have become most prosperous smuggling areas, although government has repeatedly imposed bans, guided by interests, these businessmen are still at risk.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade


Many coastal people went to sea to trade and gradually turned into pirates. The late Ming Dynasty was also era when largest number of pirates were recorded in Chinese history, and they were referred to as "Japanese Pirates" in official Ming Dynasty documents. In fact, many of these "Japanese pirates" are Chinese. These "Japanese pirates" operated in waters between China and Japan, monopolizing private trade between China and Japan, so they were rich and even wealthy. At end of Ming Dynasty, strength of pirate group led by Zheng Zhilong reached its peak, and it could already compete with Spain and Netherlands for strongholds in Far East and establish bases of its own. However, Ming government insisted on using maritime prohibitions to fight pirates, and end result was that stricter maritime prohibitions, more pirates there would be.

The Tribute Battle for Right to Trade with China: Reflecting Essence of Ming Tribute Trade

Zheng's sphere of influence

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