By K.L. Tam, Hong Kong

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This is a political map, made in 1879 and published in 1880, in Japan, 70cm x 90cm. Let’s start by looking at the political landscape of the 1880s. This was one of the most turbulent times in modern history. Two continents were in big trouble. In Africa, European powers were scrambling to slice up countries as their own territory. In about ten years, there was no place south of the Sahara Desert that could claim to be independent from European powers.

Many thousands of miles to the East, China was equally in big trouble. In these tumultuous years, China had signed numerous treaties, ceding territories and giving up its sovereignty to many vassal states. It was only able to cling to a status of pseudo-independence without many sovereign rights, such as customs and border control.

The prime focus of this map is on the sovereignty of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was abruptly seized by Japan and renamed Okinawa Ken in 1879. Two thirds of the Ryukyu chain of islands are painted in red, which is the same color of Japan proper. This map, in fact, is one of the earliest maps that show those islands named as Okinawa. The background is complex. Here is the history in chronological order:

1.1368, the Kingdom of Ryukyu was accepted as a tributary state of Ming China. Chinese ambassadors visited Ryukyu to inaugurate their new King when the old one passed away.

2.1609, Lord Satsuma of Kyushu sent a contingent of soldiers to subdue Ryukyu, which at that time only had a population of about 200,000 who were scattered around many small islands. Satsuma’s motive was to utilize Ryukyu’s relationship with China to advance trade. When Chinese ambassadors were in Ryukyu, Satsuma’s men would stay away.

3.Failures in two Opium Wars greatly weakened the Qing’s prestige among East Asian countries.

4.In 1854, American Admiral Perry signed a commercial treaty with Japan. In 1867, Meiji Restoration. Japan embarked on a course of modernization.

5.Japan began propagating the myth that the first king of Ryukyu was a Japanese sailor whose vessel drifted to Naha and became its King.

6.1871, a group of Ryukyu sailors was blown by strong winds southward to Taiwan, where they were mistreated and some killed by local tribes. Japan sent a relief force to Taiwan. The Qing army intervened. The war ended with the Qing agreeing to pay reparations to Japan. Japan withdrew their army, but claimed the Qing’s payment of reparation amounted to acceptance of Japan’s sovereignty over Ryukyu.

7.1878, Japan’s parliament issued a statement called the “Ryukyu Settlement.”

8.1879, the Japanese army was dispatched to Naha and kidnapped the Ryukyu King, then brought him to Tokyo. He was then forced to sign documents agreeing to transfer the Kingdom to the rule of Japan. The Qing protested. At this time, the retired President of America, Ulysses Simpson Grant, was visiting Beijing. Li Hongzhang, then in charge of foreign affairs, sought his help to mediate the matter. Grant advocated a scheme to divide the Ryukyu chain of islands into three parts: the northern islands would go to Japan; the central part of the chain, including Naha, would be allowed to remain independent; and the southern islands, off the east coast of Taiwan, called Miyakojima in Japanese or Gongku Islands in Chinese, would go to Qing China. Both the Qing court and the Japanese ambassador in Beijing accepted the proposal. After the ambassador reported back to Tokyo, Japan asked for some clauses in the Sino-Japanese Friendship Treaty 1871 to be amended.

9.Li Hongzhang was busy with the Russians who were trying to slice off part of Xinjiang at this time. The Qing did not respond to the amendment request. After a protracted period, the Japanese ambassador was recalled to Tokyo. The Grant scheme of settlement was never ratified.

10.This map encapsulated the time 1879 and 1880 when Japan was at that time prepared to take over two thirds of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The red color was used to identify the northern and central part of the islands as part of mainland Japan, which was also painted red. The southern islands were uncolored.

Other political messages: Japan was emboldened by its economic progress and was preparing for territorial expansion. This map shows some hints of the territories that Japan had its eyes on. Taiwan was elevated by the Qing government to the status of a province in 1871, but this was not marked on this map. On all Qing maps, the northeast of China was administered by the three provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin. For the rest of the region, Qing maps would just mark them as Mongolia. This map is one of the earliest to label the aforesaid three provinces under the name “Manchu.” British maps picked up this point and henceforth used the term Manchu or Manchuria. This was the precursor to the eventual Manzhouguo that was set up by Japan in the same region in 1932.

Cartography: Considering cartographic techniques, this map is superior to the Qing maps of the time. It must have used a British map as its base material. The longitude grid shows the prime meridian as a line passing through Tokyo. From that line counting westward, the grid shows 5 degrees west and 10 degrees west and so on as the longitude readings of the map. This practice is likely modelled after the Kangxi map, which has the prime meridian passing through Beijing.

Points of interest: In 1859/1860 during the 2nd Opium War, the Summer Palace of the Qing Court was ransacked and almost completely burnt down by the Anglo-French troops who looted much of the valuables in the imperial vaults. Since then, the Summer Palace was not shown in Chinese or European maps of Peking/Beijing. The place was finished, and forgotten. This Japan map of Qing China unexpectedly still placed the Summer Palace to the northwest of the City of Peking. Interesting to behold.

The small Diaoyu group of islands, to the northern shore of Taiwan, is not shown in this map. This is good proof that Diaoyu group is not part of Ryukyu Chain of islands, as Japan at one time claimed they are. Diaoyu and Ryukyu were both occupied by American forces as they moved north from the Philippines at the closing stage of WWII. After Japan’s surrender, Americans treated Diaoyu as part of Okinawa. In Article 3 of the San Francisco Treaty 1951, it was stated “Japan will concur in any proposal of the US to the UN to place under its trusteeship system, with the US as the sole administering authority, Nansei Shoto south of 29 deg north latitude (including Ryukyu Islands and the Daito islands), Nanpo Shoto south of Sofu Gan (incl Bonin Islands, Rosario Island and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and Marcus Island. Pending the making of such a proposal and affirmative action thereon, the US will have the right to exercise any powers of administration, legislations and jurisdiction over the territory inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters”. The Diaoyu Islands do not belong to any of the abovementioned island groups but was still placed under U.S. control nevertheless. Furthermore, there appeared to be no application for trusteeship administration of these islands by the US to the U.N. since 1951.

In 1971, the US transferred the right of administration of these islands, including the Diaoyu, against strong objections from Taiwan and China, to Japan. It must be noted that China and Taiwan were not invited to attend the San Francisco Peace Conference and China had made clear statements that they do not accept the legality of the Peace Treaty. China’s present position is that China had never authorized the US transfer of the Diaoyu to Japan. Chinese Coast Guards therefore patrolled the Diaoyu waters on a regular basis, against the protests of Japan. Off the East Coast of Korea Peninsula, there is a small island straddling around latitude 37 degree north, and marked quite unclearly Matsushima (松島). The name of this island has been altered and changed many times by two contending powers, Korea and Japan. In 1880 (this map), it is called Matsushima by Japan but the name was later changed to Takeshima during and after the RussoJapanese War in 1900. In the same way as Japan claimed Diaoyu after the Sino-Japanese war 1895, Japan claimed Takeshima(Matsushima) after victory over Russia in 1900. The island is a rich fishing ground, hosting also a huge population of ocean seals. Japanese fishermen harvested the seals for their fur. Their reproductive organs were made into sex stimulants Seal’s pills (海狗丸), that also found a huge market in China. The seal population has been completely wiped out and the ingredients for Seal’s pills are now from North America.

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