Ethnic groups of the geographical region of Manchuria can be understood in relation to their cultural, demographic, and linguistic differences and similarities; historical formation; and modern status. Manchuria is a macroscopic entity, Greater Manchuria, which comprises areas administered by China (the People’s Republic of China) and Russia (the Russian Federation) as well as, until recently, by Japan. Geographically Manchuria is closely associated with the maritime dimension formed by the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Islands as well as the island of Sakhalin.
Peter D. Shapinsky
Historians translate a variety of terms from 13th- through 17th-century Japan, China, Korea, and Europe as “Japanese pirates” (e.g., Jp. kaizoku, Kr. waegu, Ch. wokou). These constructs reflected the needs of regimes and travelers dealing with a maritime world over which they had little direct control, and often denoted bands of seafarers who based themselves in maritime regions beyond and between the reach of land-based political centers. Seafarers rarely used the terms to refer to themselves.
Japanese pirates opportunistically traded, raided, and transmitted culture in periods when and places where the influence of central governments attenuated. However, some innovated forms of maritime lordship that enabled them to establish dominance over sea-lanes and territories at the heart of the Japanese archipelago. Pirates developed expertise in navigation and naval warfare that helped them acquire patrons, who provided access to networks of diplomacy and trade. In the 16th century, some Japanese pirates forged multiethnic crews that seized control of the maritime networks linking East and Southeast Asia.
Labels for Japanese pirates also operated as ethnographical, geographical, and historical symbols. Traumatic assaults by waves of Japanese pirates who massacred and enslaved local populations were indelibly etched into the collective memories of Koryŏ–Chosŏn Korea and Ming–Qing China. By contrast, in early modern Japan the eradication of piracy enabled the state to extend its maritime sovereignty as well as to then commemorate pirates as ethnocentric symbols of Japanese warrior prowess.
Scholars often regard the Qing-Korean relationship as the most representative instance of the so-called tributary system, the Sino-centric hierarchical world order in early modern East Asia. It was also the most stable one, established in 1637 and ending as late as 1895 after the Qing’s total defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War. Precisely because this bilateral relationship was so typical and so stable, it was also unique in many ways. Although the Manchu regime largely inherited Ming China’s institutions in dealing with Korea (and, later, with other foreign states), this legacy revealed new meanings in the context of the Manchu conquest of China. As the Qing’s first and last subordinate state in the region, Chosŏn Korea served as both an ideological and a practical model in shaping the Qing’s geopolitical construction.
Beginning and ending with military clashes, the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchical relationship from the early 17th to the late 19th centuries was nourished and solidified by more peaceful interactions. Generally conducted under the Confucian zongfan (宗藩) principles, these interactions included rituals, diplomatic missions, trade, negotiations, cross-border jurisdiction, and cultural exchanges. Far from being imposed unilaterally by the Qing, the bilateral relationship was mutually constructed in a long process in which the Korean government and literati played a proactive role. During this time, the Korean attitude toward the Qing underwent a gradual change, from hostility to nuanced acceptance. In the late 19th century the two countries tried but failed to adjust their relationship in order to survive the geopolitical threat from industrialized, colonial powers. The collapse of the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchy eventually led to the rise of new national identities in both China and the Korean Peninsula in the 20th century.