The work consists of five volumes in total. The first volume covers the royal lineage of Shunten, the second the lines of Eiso and Satto, the third the line of Shô Hashi, the fourth that of Shô En, and the fifth the reign of Shô Sei. There is no discussion of the reign of Shô Shin; the reason for this is unknown.
Emulating the political culture of Chinese dynastic histories, the Chûzan seikan speaks often of the Mandate of Heaven, and represents the final rulers of fallen dynasties (such as Shô Toku, last ruler of the First Shô Dynasty) as violent and cruel, distracted by dalliances, or otherwise lacking in virtue. However, in many other respects, the Chûzan seikan emphasizes Ryûkyû's relationship to Japan over that with China. The text describes Okinawans as having come from Japan, and relates a narrative of Okinawan subordinate relations to Satsuma province going back many centuries, a fiction to which King Shô Nei was forced to agree roughly 40 years earlier, following Satsuma's invasion of the kingdom. This reflects the fact that, unlike some more Sinophilic administrators in the history of the kingdom, Shô Shôken frequently expressed concern with how Ryukyuan practices would look to Satsuma, which he saw as model for policy and practice.
The text devotes considerable space to elaboration of the story of 12th century samurai Minamoto no Tametomo being the father of the Okinawan king Shunten, thus linking the Ryukyuan royal family with the Japanese imperial line (via Tametomo, a member of the Seiwa Genji line of the Minamoto clan, which claimed descent from Emperor Seiwa), and also with the Tokugawa clan (who also claimed descent from the Seiwa Genji). Scholars today consider this story and link to the Minamoto a falsehood, but the tale was believed quite widely at the time, appearing in numerous Japanese works on Ryukyuan history, including Arai Hakuseki's Nantôshi. The Chûzan seikan is among the earliest works in which this story appears, but the actual origin of the story is unclear.
Advantageous during the early modern period in representing Ryûkyû in a pro-Japanese light to Japanese official audiences (such as Satsuma and shogunate officials), the Chûzan seikan was also deployed during the Meiji period in support of arguments for Okinawa prefecture's fundamental belonging to the Empire of Japan.
In 1701-1712, Sai Taku produced a Chinese language history entitled Chûzan seifu and based upon the Chûzan seikan; this was later heavily edited by Sai Taku's son Sai On, and served similar political/discursive purposes, but for official Chinese audiences.
- "Chûzan seikan," Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典, Ryukyu Shimpo, 1 March 2003.
- Gregory Smits, "Rethinking Ryukyu," International Journal of Okinawan Studies 6:1 (2015), 1.
- Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. pp51-62.