Organized Panel Session
In the sixteenth century, coastal Chinese were active participants in thriving East Asian trade despite the Ming court’s ban on private maritime activities. Illicit traders militarized themselves and terrorized seacoasts in China, which was described as a foreign attack of “Japanese pirates (wokou).” The lower Yangzi delta was a major point of contact with the outside world, while at the same time suffering from wokou violence due to its flourishing regional economy. This paper examines miscellaneous notes (biji) in the sixteenth and seventeenth century written by native elites of the lower Yangzi delta in order to reveal how their encounters with and memory of illicit traders shaped their view of wokou. This paper focuses on three aspects: first, despite their knowledge that wokou consisted mostly of ethnic Chinese, these accounts continued to utilize a traditional narrative of savage-like Japanese in order to distinguish us-group from pirate-traders as cultural others. Second, the accounts of local elites represent their efforts to gain more detailed and accurate information about the outside world, such as recent political events of Japan, types of weaponry and tactics of wokou. Third, contrary to the view that Chinese were uninterested in maritime cultures, these native elites showed a respect toward the skills required for maritime navigation and even claimed to exploit these skills in pacifying wokou. In summary, this paper analyzes how the expanding East Asian maritime trade affected local knowledge of and attitudes toward pirate traders.