“Countries for Commercial Relations” (Tsusho-no-Kuni): The Tokugawa Struggle to Control the Chinese in Japan

Apr 12, 2017, 4:30 pm4:30 pm
202 Jones
Event Description

The purpose of my talk is to describe how the Tokugawa government managed to succeed in its effort to control Chinese inhabitants in the Japanese archipelago between 1600 to 1685.  

When the shogunate failed to open a diplomatic channel with Ming China around 1610, it decided to issue red-seal passes (shuinjo, 朱印状) to merchants to control existing trade. These accompanied “state letters” (kokusho, 国書) sent to authorities in Southeast Asia. In the 1620s and 1630s, the shogunate erected an anti-Christian policy in tandem with and as part of its process of forming “Tokugawa subjects” in Japan. In these circumstances, the Chinese diaspora posed something of a problem because the Tokugawa government had not maintained direct relations with the Ming government. The shogunate categorized Chinese domiciled in Japan as Tokugawa subjects just like Japanese people. At the same time, it ordered Chinese who were not permanent residents of Japan to leave the country and prohibited them from returning to live. The Tokugawa did allow Chinese merchants, including those from Southeast Asia, to visit Nagasaki to trade on the condition that they obeyed the anti-Christian policy. Their status as what I call “pseudo-subjects” applied also to the officials of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compognie (VOC).

Coincidentally, the shogunate banned Japanese junks from going abroad and it stopped issuing red-seal passes in 1635. It allowed merchants in Southeast Asian junks to trade, classifying them as “Chinese” regardless of their actual ethnicity. The status of pseudo-subjects, or “correspondence-less relations,” proved easier not only for the Japanese authorities but also for foreign traders. After the Ming–Qing transition, the rebel Zheng family in Taiwan sent letters to the Tokugawa shogun. At this stage, the shogunate was still considering whether the authority behind the Chinese coming to Japan was held by the Qing court or the Zheng family. After the Qing court defeated the Zheng family, the Tokugawa government issued passes for entering the Nagasaki port based on a series of “New Trading Regulations” (Shotoku Shinrei, 正徳新例). When the Tokugawa government recognized acceptance of the passes by the Qing court, the foreign policy of the shogunate was codified until the end of the Edo period.

When the shogunate tried to explain its foreign policy in the nineteenth century, it categorized Korea and Ryukyu as “Countries for Diplomatic Relations” (Tsushin-no-Kuni, 通信之国), and China and the Netherlands as “Countries for Commercial Relations” (Tsusho-no-Kuni, 通商之国).

*Image scanned from Nagasaki Tokanzu Shusei (ed. Oba Osamu) published by Kaisai University, 2003.
The Original image is fromIshizaki Yushi (artist), "Tokanzu Emaki" (1801) kept by the Nagasaki prefecture.