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Sai On

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Stele dedicated to Sai On, at the Shiseibyô in Kumemura.
  • Born: 1682/9/25
  • Died: 1761/12/29
  • Other Names: 具志頭文若 (Gushichan Bunjaku)
  • Japanese/Chinese: (Sai On / Cai Wen)

Sai On was a Ryukyuan scholar-aristocrat, and among the most prominent and influential government administrators in the history of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. While serving as a member of the Sanshikan, Sai On implemented numerous policies and reforms, and composed a number of influential treatises on subjects including the Confucian philosophies of governance, and forestry and agricultural policy.

As was typical for members of the Ryukyuan court aristocracy, he was known by several names. Sai On was his Chinese-style name, and Bunjaku his Japanese-style name, while Gushichan ueekata was his aristocratic title. He is known today chiefly as Sai On, but also as Gushichan Bunjaku.

Life and Career

Sai On was born in Kumemura, the son of scholar-bureaucrat Sai Taku (蔡鐸) and his wife Magozei (真呉瑞), and claimed descent from the original 36 Min families said to have come to Ryûkyû from China and founded Kume in 1392. Sai On was granted the title of Gushichan ueekata 具志頭親方, and in 1708 served as an interpreter on a mission to Fuzhou, where he then remained (at the Ryûkyû-kan) and studied for two years.

He became the chief tutor (kokushi) to the Crown Prince in 1711, and remained his tutor and advisor when the prince succeeded to the throne as King Shô Kei the following year. He was therefore granted a residence in Shuri Akahira. He was named to the Sanshikan in 1728, and when his eldest son Yoku married a daughter of King Shô Kei the following year, he was granted an additional residence, over 600 tsubo in area, at the same location. He would remain a member of the Sanshikan, and top-ranking Minister of State, for twenty-five years, until his resignation in 1753.

Sai On's Sai On jijoden (蔡温自叙伝) is believed to be the only autobiography written during the time of the Ryûkyû Kingdom.[1] A number of his other writings survive today, and continue to be considered important treatises on a variety of subjects, including Confucian philosophy and forestry management.

During World War II, Sai On's Shuri Akahira residence was commandeered for use by the Imperial Japanese military, which used it to quarter soldiers, as well as sending sections of the stonework away to help build airfields. The road was widened in the post-war period, destroying further a portion of the property, but some remains of the well and stone wall can still be seen today.

References

  • "Sai On." Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten 朝日日本歴史人物事典. Asahi Shimbun-sha.
  • "Sai On." Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典. Ryukyu Shimpo, 1 March 2003.
  • Plaque on-site at the former site of Sai On's mansion at Shuri Akahira-chô 1-45.
  1. Ch'en, Ta-Tuan. "Investiture of Liu-Ch'iu Kings in the Ch'ing Period." in Fairbank, John King (ed.) The Chinese World Order. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968. pp150-151.

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