Culture: Sino-Japanese Wako
Setting: coastal raiding, Asian Pacific 15-17thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Lorge 2008 p78
"Before the Ming dynasty was even established, the Korean king sent an envoy to Zhu Yuanzhang to obtain help against Japanese pirates. What he asked for and received were guns, though they were only of limited help against the pirates. Wokou raids continued through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, ranging all the way from Southeast Asia to Korea. From the Chinese perspective, they only became a particularly serious problem in the mid-sixteenth century. Unlike the position of the sea lords described by Peter Shapinsky, who were sometimes called pirates and sometimes called loyal servants, the wokou fit the description of pirate quite closely. It is true that many of them were probably, like European and other merchants throughout history, pirates when an opportunity arose and peaceful traders when trade was more advantageous. But the Ming state was concerned to manage trade as it saw fit, and to suppress anyone who raided the coast."
* Ratti/Westbrook 1973 p151-153
"They were known as 'children (sons) of Japan' (wako; Wa being an ancient Chinese name for Japan), and they came mostly from the western provinces of Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku, where, 'as in Elizabethan England, the Japanese buccaneers were often financed by the leading families of the land, who were by no means averse to taking their share of the proceeds.'
"These pirates pushed their vessels all the way to the Philippines, Thailand, Java, and even India, where ... 'they were not suffered to land in any port ... with weapons, being accounted a people so desperate and daring that they are feared in all places where they come.' "Colonies of these wako were even found inland, in Nanking, and their virulent raids defied centuries of efforts by the Chinese and Japanese fleets to curb them .... Particularly active during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, they were practically eliminated by Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa dictators, who had issued a ban on any contact with the outside world. Enforcement of the ban, which forbade any Japanese either to leave the country or, once having left, to return to Japan (under threat of immediate execution), literally destroyed the bases of operation from which the wako had moved in their search for riches and to which they had returned with their spoils. However, before their centuries of activity had come to an end, they had become famous all over Asia for their 'fine fighting qualities and their utter disregard for death' -- qualities which the European powers, as they transferred their predatory quarrels to the Asiatic theater, cleverly exploited by hiring and using these pirates as mercenaries and soldiers of fortune. It is probably to combat the medieval wako that bujutsu owes the acquisition of alien methods of individual combat and their dissemination throughout pre-Tokugawa Japan. There is no doubt, in any case, that they fought extremely well even against overwhelming odds, regardless of numbers of men or quality of weapons arrayed against them. There is also no doubt that, notwithstanding their origins, they shared with the majority of their countrymen that martial characteristic of the Japanese clansman: the resignation to and expectation of death in the event of defeat." [citations omitted]
* FitzGerald 1972 p108
"Smuggling continued on an increasing scale, competition for the lucrative ten-year trade mission became more intense, and the reaction of the unsuccessful competitors more violent. In 1523 a major clash occurred in Ningbo city, caused by the open preference which the Chinese official in charge of trade, a Court eunuch, showed to one mission and the violent resistance of the mission which had been, in effect, unjustly rejected. The city was seriously damaged by fire and looting. The Court then decided that trade with Japan was merely an unnecessary source of trouble, and with bland indifference to realities and economic forces, imposed a total ban on all trade with that country 'now and forever'.
"The result was to make all trade illegal, and therefore to make smuggling, protected by piratical power, the only opening left to the traders of both countries. As the Ming government refused to see any connection between their own neglect of naval power and the rise of smuggling and piracy, they in effect left the field wide open to the latter. The evil became swiftly very serious. For more than forty years the coasts of China were harried by pirate smugglers, not only, or even it would seem mainly, Japanese, but combined forces of Japanese and Chinese from the coastal provinces. The latter in fact outnumbered the Japanese, but often seem to have enlisted in Japanese bands. They not only plundered and ravaged the coastal region, but often struck inland on prolonged forays in the manner of the Viking raids in north-western Europe. In some cases they had the co-operation of powerful local landlords, or of corrupt officials in the cities. The land forces of the government were either too weak, or too badly-led to hinder them. The final reaction of the Ming government was to order the evacuation of a wide coastal strip in the affected provinces, in which lawful citizens were forbidden to live except in garrisoned cities. This was intended to deny food and provisions to the pirates. It is possible that this costly and harsh measure was a contributory cause to the decline of piracy and smuggling after 1564, but it is at least equally probably that the changes occurring in those years in Japan were as important. The long period of anarchy in Japan was coming to an end, and the rule first of Oda Nobunaga, then Hideyoshi, and finally of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1568-1603) established an authoritarian central government in control of all parts of the country."
* Huang 1981 p164-165
"The invaders arrived on the Chinese coast in ships carrying about a hundred men each. Though small landing parties were reported, a major wave involved scores of such ships, and therefore several thousand men. At the high point of their marauding, the pirates were said to be able to set up an enclave of 20,000 men. Natives were either enticed or forced to join the ranks. But subsequently some of those captured were sold in Japan's slave market. The pirates maintained their mobility by seizing inland shipping. Their loot included not only valuables but also bulky cargo. At least one source indicates that they collected silk cocoons in quantity and assigned village women to work on them, thus showing themselves enterprising enough to enter the area of manufacture. When the ships could not be conveniently moored they were burned on beaches. In all events, the invaders made the systematic pillage of the coastal provinces a long-term project, and with the profits they reaped, wre ready to quarter in China for the winter. In the spring they would be relieved by new waves of invaders. There were also instances where the Japanese constructed their ships for the return voyage on Chinese shores."
* Turnbull/Hook 2007 p26
"Most of the wako on both scrolls [Riben kao and Wokou tujuan] are very lightly clad, which would have been the most suitable attire for rapid raiding where surprise and the efficacy of their swords would have provided the main means of operation. They have bare legs and feet, and wear white loincloths beneath their loose jackets, which are fastened at the breast using ties sewn into the seams. The wako captives on the Ningbo scroll have been stripped to their loincloths. Their arms are tied securely behind their backs using complex knots, and one felon sports a white flag flying from his bonds.
"Some wako have their jackets tied in at the waist with a belt. The jackets appear to be coarsely woven with simple dyed patterns, which may be the simple floral designs noted in some written sources. The 'baldness' referred to in the Ming accounts is depicted, and is accounted for by the Japanese fashion for shaving the front of the head and tying the remaining hair back in a pigtail. They all seem to have droopy moustaches and some form of beard, while their squat faces are deliberately painted to look repulsive."
* Huang 1981 p165
"The invincibility of the Japanese was based on the skillful handling of contact weapons and close teamwork within small units the size of platoons and squads. Infantry tactics, in fact, accounted for most of their field performance. The twin swords, in particular, were wielded with such dexterity that onlookers 'could see only the flash of the weapon, not the man.' Squad leaders gave commands with folding fans. Usually they directed the swordsmen to lift their weapons upward, and as soon as the attention of the enemy was distracted, they would signal the lowering of the blades, the sharpness of which exceeded anything of Chinese make. Since each swordsman in action could cover as large an area as eighteen feet in diameter, this skill gave the invaders an advantage in close combat."
* Turnbull/Hook 2007 p28
"The Tokyo version of the wako scroll clearly illustrates that during a pirate attack most wako carried just one weapon: a sword, a spear, a naginata, a bow or a gun. One pirate is carrying a Chinese-style trident, and one has a sword in each hand. The swords have all been drawn and no scabbards are visible, which implies that the scabbards were left on board ship for convenience in a rapid raid. No pirate weapon was more feared than the samurai sword. Zheng Sixiao noted that 'their swords are extremely sharp'. Huang Zhencheng (1287-1362) described the Japanese as 'a multitude of dancing butchers' knives that randomly appear and disappear' and as 'monsters that appear to be flying when they walk'. The depiction of Japanese weaponry on the Ningbo scroll is slightly different. The wako are shown wearing two swords, but thrust through the belt on opposite sides of the body, contrary to the usual Japanese style. Two wako are wielding one drawn sword in each hand."