Organized Panel Session
This study investigates the growth of private activities in Ming China and Chosŏn Korea’s northern littoral in the sixteenth century, as well as the tension on the two land-based authorities’ discernment, categorization, and regulation of maritime illicitness. This analysis attempts to foreground the dynamics of Northeast Asia, which was not isolated but formed an integral part of the revived East Asian maritime economies in this period. It also aims to reveal the limits to state powers’ encompassing maritime agencies. Three themes frame this study. It first displays how Chinese-Korean maritime space was reconnected by evaders, castaways, and pirates, who challenged the Ming and Chosŏn central governance and local stability. It then examines the obstacles in Chosŏn’s effective border control by looking at the plight in its differentiating and coping with “water thieves”, who were conceptualized by Chosŏn as Chinese and Korean violent smugglers other than “Japanese pirates”; finally, this study examines the Ming state’s failed attempt to legitimate and assimilate maritime migrants. This resulted from Ming’s dilemma of maintaining a fragile balance between transforming them into governable resources and constraining them from a fuller development. The regional tension between the Shandong and Liaodong peninsulas that created an ambiguous space in between, both geographically and administratively, also restricted the maritime expansion of the Ming state power.