Early Relations between China and Japan

China and Japan, the two old countries in the East Asia, sometimes were hand-in-hand friends and sometimes were absolutely irreconcilable enemies. In the friendly years, the people from the two nations often agreeably talked about the long history of the two nations’ friendship. In the hostile years, the people from the two nations were often involved in furious conflicts around the war history. Conflicts often cause extremism, and the exchanges of thoughts always promote common understanding. Why do Chinese people and Japanese people have so complex feelings for each other? The underlying reason is that, the relations between China and Japan have existed for thousands of years, and the very long complicated history formed the complex feelings. Now, let’s look back on the history of the early relations between China and Japan.

Almost all of the official historical works of ancient China have records about Japan. In the books written before the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 907) of China, the Japanese people is named "倭" which now is pronounced "Wo" in Chinese and “Wa” in Japanese. According to the dictionary "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" written in the early days of the second century, the Chinese character "倭" originally meaned obedience, and it was once written and pronounced as "委".

According to a book “Lun Heng” (論衡) written by Wang Chong (王充, who lived in the first century AD.) in the Eastern Han Dynasty of China, the Wa people gave presents to Zhou Cheng-King (周成王), the second king of the Western Zhou Dynasty, who was reigning in the 11th century BC. If this record is true, it shows China and Japan had contact three thousand years ago.

“The Classic about Mountains and Foreign Lands” (山海經), a mythological geographical book written probably in the Warring-States Period of China, had such a record, “Wa belongs to the Yan (燕) State.” The Yan State was a northeast feudal country in the Zhou Dynasty, and its territory included the major part of modern-day Hebei Province and a part of modern-day Liaoning Province. Why did the book have such a record? Perhaps at that time some tribes of Wa sent messengers to pay tribute to the Yan State, and declared that they were willing to be the dependencies of the Yan State.

The reliable history about ancient Japan was recorded in a famous historical work “the History of Han” (漢書) written by Ban Gu (班固, AD 32 – 92) in the Eastern Han Dynasty. The book detailedly records the history of the Western Han Dynasty. In this book, a chapter “Geography” (地理志) records, “In the Lelang Sea (樂浪海), there is a people known as Wa. They had more than one hundred countries. Every year they came to offer tribute.” The modern-day Sea of Japan was called the Lelang Sea at that time. In 108 BC, Han Wu-Emperor (漢武帝) sent two armies to attack Joseon (朝鮮, an ancient country in modern-day North Korea) by sea and over land simultaneously. After occupying Joseon, the emperor established four Jun (“Jun”[郡] was the name of medium administrative regions) in Joseon. Lelang Jun (樂浪郡) was one of the four regions. The modern-day Sea of Japan was near Lelang Jun, so the sea was named “the Lelang Sea” at that time. “Lelang” was a romantic name literally, and it means happy waves. From the Western Han Dynasty to the Eastern Jin (東晉) Dynasty, the officials from China had managed the north of the Korean Peninsula for about five hundred years. Cultural and technological achievements were transmitted from China to the land.

“The History of the Later Han” (後漢書), a historical book written by Fan Ye (范曄, AD 398 – 445) in the Song Dynasty (AD 420 – 479) of the Southern Dynasties (AD 420 – 589) of China, records the details about the customs and manners of the Wa people. Fan Ye mentioned that there were many persons of longevity in the Wa people. This historical book records that, the Yamato (邪馬臺, "Yamatai" in Chinese) State was one of the countries founded by the Wa, and the supreme king of the Wa lived in this state. In AD 57, the Wanu (倭奴) State, also called the Nu (奴) State of the Wa, which was a southern Japanese country in modern-day Fukuoka (福岡), sent envoys to offer tribute to Han Guangwu-Emperor (漢光武帝), the first emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Han Guangwu-Emperor gave a seal to the king of Wanu. The seal was unearthed in Sikanosima (志賀島), Japan in 1784. The seal is golden and has such inscriptions: “The King of the Wanu State of Han.” The title is “漢委奴國王” (Here “委” is used as “倭”) in Chinese. The title shows that the Han emperor regarded the Wanu State as a tributary country. In AD 107, Suisyou (帥升), the king of the Wa, offered one hundred and sixty persons as tribute to the Han Dynasty. In the times of Han Huan-Emperor (漢桓帝, who was reigning from AD 147 to 167) and Han Ling-Emperor (漢靈帝, who was reigning from AD 168 to 189), there were long-term wars between the countries of the Wa for the supreme throne. Finally, Himiko (卑彌呼), a single woman who could enchant others by witchcraft, was supported to be the supreme king of the Wa people.

“The History of the Three Countries” (三國志), a historical book written by Chen Shou (陳壽, AD 233 – 297) in the Western Jin (西晉, AD 265 – 316) Dynasty of China, records the detailed geography and customs of the Wa people. In AD 238, Himiko, the supreme woman-king of the Wa, who lived in the Yamato State, sent her ministers Nashime (難升米) and Tushi Gori (都市牛利) to pay tribute to the Wei (魏) Empire, the strongest country in the Three-Empires Period (AD 220 – 265) of China. Wei Ming-Emperor (魏明帝), the second emperor of the Wei Empire, praised the loyalty and piety of Himiko and gave her a title “the Wei’s Friend and the Wa’s King” (親魏倭王) and a golden seal with a purple ribbon. Nashime and Tushi Gori each got a title and a silver seal with a cyan ribbon. The emperor gave many presents to Himiko, and told her that these presents showed the empire was much concerned about her.

In AD 240, Cao Fang (曹芳), who just now ascended to the throne of the Wei Empire, sent envoys to visit the Yamato State and give Himiko a new seal and presents. Himiko felt very excited, and sent envoys to express her profound gratitude to the emperor. In 243, Himiko sent eight ministers to pay tribute to the Wei Empire. The eight ministers were given titles and seals by the emperor of Wei. In 245, the emperor of Wei bestowed a yellow ritual streamer on Nashime. In 247, there were armed conflicts between the Yamato State and the Kunu (狗奴) State, because Pimikuku (卑彌弓呼), the king of the Kunu State, were not willing to obey Himiko. Himiko sent envoys to complain to the Wei Empire about the attack of Pimikuku. The emperor of Wei then sent envoys to the Yamato State for mediating between Yamato and Kunu. At that time, Himiko was very old and seriously ill. Later, she died, and a man became the king. The people of the Yamato State didn't obey him, and there was a serious unrest in the state. Iyo (壹与, written as ”壱与” in Japanese language), a girl from the clan of Himiko, was supported to be a king at the age of 13, and then the situation in the Yamato State became stable. Iyo sent twenty ministers to escort Chinese envoys home and offer her tribute to the emperor of Wei.

“The History of Jin” (晉書), a historical book written by Fang Xuanling (房玄龄, 579 – 648) and his colleagues in the Tang Dynasty, gives important information about the origin of the Japanese people: “The Wa people said that they were the offspring of Taibo (太伯).” The name “Taibo” is pointed to Wu Taibo (吴太伯). Wu Taibo lived in the last days of the Shang (the 16th century BC – the 11th century BC) Dynasty. He was the eldest son of Zhou Tai-King (周太王), and his younger brother was named Jili (季歴). Jili was the father of Zhou Wen-King (周文王) and the grandfather of Zhou Wu-King (周武王). Zhou Tai-King thought highly of Jili, and hoped to give the throne to him. Wu Tai-bo understood his father’s mind, so he left the Zhou Kingdom. He went to the far south, and founded the Wu (吴) State. The Wu State was annexed by the Yue (越) State in 473 BC. Chen Shou and Fan Ye once said that some customs of the Wa people were similar to ancient Wu State. Perhaps the Wa people was partly related to the people of ancient Wu State at least in culture. In the period of Tokugawa Shogunate (德川幕府, or called 江戶幕府), some Japanese scholars such as Kumazawa Banzan (熊沢蕃山) and Yamaga Sokou (山鹿素行) denied the traditional viewpoint that the Japanese people was from ancient Wu State, and they said, “The viewpoint seems not to be fabricated by Chinese, and it must be from the frivolous Japanese who wanted to ingratiate themselves with that nation. Such kind of Japanese not only existed in ancient times but also live in modern days.”

The book “the History of Jin” records that, in the early days of the Western Jin Dynasty, the king of the Wa people sent envoys to pay tribute to the Jin (晉) Empire. This king was supposed to be the woman king Iyo in her thirties. After that time, there were no messages about the woman king Iyo any longer. Perhaps her country was annexed by a newly rising country. In AD 413, the Wa (倭) State paid tribute to the Jin Dynasty. It seems that the Wa State had taken the place of the Yamato State. According to a historical book “the History of Liang” (梁書), the Wa’s king at that time was named San (讃).

“The History of Song” (宋書), written by Shen Yue (沈約) in the Liang (梁, AD 502 – 557) Dynasty of China, is a historical work about the Song (宋, AD 420-479) Dynasty of the Southern Dynasties. The book records the detailed contact between the Song Dynasty and the five kings of the Wa State.

In AD 421, San, the king of the Wa State, sent envoys to offer tribute to the Song Dynasty. Song Wu-Emperor (宋武帝), the first emperor of Song, praised the sincerity of San. In 425, San sent envoys to pay tribute to Song Wen-Emperor (宋文帝), the second emperor of Song.

After the death of San, his younger brother Chin (珍) ascended to the throne. Chin sent envoys to pay tribute to the Song Dynasty, and called himself as “Shichijie (使持節); the Military Governor (都督諸軍事) of the six states including Wa, Paekche (百濟), Silla (新罗), Imna (任那), Jinhan (秦韩) and Mohan (慕韩); the Great General of Steadying the East (安東大將軍); the King of the Wa State (倭國王)”. “Shichijie” was a privileged title. If a governor got this title, he would have authority to inflict death on any officer with a middle rank or an inferior rank. Paekche, Silla, Jinhan and Mohan were the countries founded by the Korean people, and they kept good relations with the Song Dynasty. Imna was a dependency of the Wa State in the south of the Korean Peninsula. Chin asked Song Wen-Emperor to give the titles what he called himself to him. Song Wen-Emperor probably became aware of Chin’s ambition, so he only gave him two titles “the General of Steadying the East” (安東將軍) and “the King of the Wa State”. Chin asked Song Wen-Emperor to give his thirteen ministers the titles of “General” (將軍), and the emperor agreed.

In 443, Sai (済), the new king of the Wa State, sent envoys to offer tribute to the Song Dynasty, and got the two titles “the General of Steadying the East” and “the King of the Wa State”. In 450, the Song Empire levied a large-scale war against the Northern Wei (北魏) Empire which was founded by a nomadic ethnic group named Sienpi (鮮卑). Finally the Song Empire was tragically defeated and lost heavily. The influence of the Song Dynasty was weakened seriously. In 451, Sai sent envoys to pay tribute to the Song Dynasty. Song Wen-Emperor should feel touched, and he added the titles “Shichijie” and “the Military Governor of the six states including Wa, Silla, Imna, Kara (加罗, a Korean country), Jinhan and Mohan” to Sai, and gave titles to twenty-three ministers of Sai.

After the death of Sai, his heir Ko (興) sent envoys to offer tribute to the Song Dynasty. In 462, Song Xiaowu-Emperor (宋孝武帝), the third son of Song Wen-Emperor, praised the loyalty of Ko, and gave him the two titles “the General of Steadying the East, and the King of the Wa State”.

After the death of Ko, his younger brother Bu (武) ascended to the throne. Bu was very ambitious, and called himself as “Shichijie; the Military Governor of the seven states including Wa, Paekche, Silla, Imna, Kara, Jinhan and Mohan; the Great General of Steadying the East; the King of the Wa State”. In 478, Bu sent envoys to take his letter to Song Shun-Emperor (宋順帝), the grandson of Song Wen-Emperor and the son of Song Ming-Emperor (宋明帝). In this letter, Bu described the achievements that his country had subjugated 216 countries in modern-day Japanese islands. And he complained to Song Shun-Emperor, that Koguryo (句骊, a strong Korean country) often obstructed his envoys who were sent to China, and the kings of Koguryo tried to annex his colony. Bu asked the emperor for military assistance. But at that time, the Song Dynasty was resisting the invaders from the Northern Wei Empire, so it was impossible to give military assistance to a remote foreign country. The Song Dynasty even wanted to get military assistance from foreign countries. The Song Dynasty was now very weak and the territory was seriously reduced. But, in the heart of Bu, the Song Dynasty was still an orthodox empire with a great civilization, so he thirsted for the titles which were conferred by the Song Dynasty. Bu believed that, if he got the titles, he would have authority to subjugate Korean countries. The emperor of Song now didn't mind the titles what Bu wanted to get, because he also couldn't control the Korean countries. So the emperor generously gave Bu the titles “Shichijie; the Military Governor of the six states including Wa, Silla, Imna, Kara, Jinhan and Mohan; the Great General of Steadying the East; the King of the Wa State”.

“The History of the Southern Qi” (南齊書), written by Xiao Zixian (蕭子顯, AD 487 – 537), and “the History of Liang”, written by Yao Cha (姚察, AD 533 – 606) and his son Yao Silian (姚思廉, AD 557 – 637), have very simple records about the relations between China and Japan. In 479, Qi Gao-Emperor (齊高帝, who was reigning from AD 479 to 482), the first emperor of the Southern Qi (南齊, AD 479 – 502) Dynasty, ascended the throne, and accepted the tribute of the Wa State. The emperor felt glad, and gave the Wa’s king Bu the titles “Shichijie; the Military Governor of the six states including Wa, Silla, Imna, Kara, Jinhan and Mohan; the Great General of Steadying the East”. But Bu was not contented, and he called himself as “the Great General of Holding the East” (鎮東大将軍). In 502, Liang Wu-Emperor (梁武帝, who was reigning from 502 to 549), the first emperor of the Liang Dynasty, ascended the throne. Bu paid tribute to the emperor, and Liang Wu-Emperor gave him a title “the General of Subduing the East” (征東将軍).

In 589, the Chen (陳, AD 557 – 589) Dynasty, the last one of the Southern Dynasties, was annexed by the Sui Empire, a newly rising dynasty. In 592, a woman king named Suiko (推古) ascended the throne of the Wa State, and she let her nephew Shotoku Taishi (聖德太子) assist her to manage her country. The Wa people now named themselves “Yamato” and named their country “Nippon” (日本) which means “the place where the sun comes from”. Since then, what the Japanese people wanted was not to follow China, but to become a great country as China. A new chapter of the relations between China and Japan was opened.

Oriental Style
Since February 6th, 2006
Copyright © Yike Jiang