Satto is generally believed to have been a king of Chûzan, one of three kingdoms which formerly existed on the island of Okinawa. His reign was marked by the expansion and development of Chûzan's trade relations with other states, and the beginning of Okinawa's tributary relations with Ming Dynasty China, a relationship which would continue for roughly five hundred years, almost until the fall of the Qing Dynasty.
Governor of the Urasoe district which surrounded and included Chûzan's capital, Satto seized the throne for himself upon the death of King Seii in 1354 or 1355. His own line, or dynasty, however, would not last past his son, Bunei, who would be ousted in 1406.
Chinese envoys arrived in Chûzan in 1372, requesting admission of Chinese cultural supremacy and that Okinawa send representatives to Nanjing. Satto complied with these requests without hesitation, as this would grant him formal license to trade with the most powerful nation in the region. He sent his younger brother Taiki to Nanjing in 1374, as the leader of a mission to formally submit to China, entering into tributary and trade relations. The Hongwu Emperor entertained the Ryukyuan mission, accepted their gifts, and sent them back with various gifts from China, including a royal seal which served as a symbol of investiture. A Chinese official accompanied the returning mission, and represented the Imperial Court in officially confirming Satto as king of Okinawa. Though Okinawa would never come to be conquered or annexed by China, this custom of investiture, of formally confirming the king in the eyes of the Chinese court, would continue as part of tributary relations until the dismantling of the Ryûkyû Kingdom five centuries later. There would be at least nine tributary missions to China over the next twenty years, three of them led by Taiki.
Diplomatic and trade relations were also established with a number of other states during Satto's reign, including the kingdoms of Korea and Ayutthaya (Siam). Trade was conducted with these kingdoms, and with China and Japan, via a number of small islands which served as way-stations. Tanegashima, for example, was used as a transfer and supply point for traders bound for Japan's main islands and the Inland Sea. Miyakojima and the Yaeyama Islands, small islands to the south of Okinawa in the Ryûkyû island chain, were among those which sent tribute to Chûzan.
Satto also established the Chinese immigrant community of Kumemura in 1392, a short distance from the capital at Shuri. These Chinese would, over the ensuing decades and centuries, intermarry with the local Ryukyuans; Kumemura would grow to become a center of Chinese studies, and its Chinese inhabitants and their descendants would serve the kingdom as diplomats and interpreters, and in other related roles.
Another important development introduced by Satto was the creation of the post of Ô-shô (王相), or King's Assistant. Though direct monarchical rule would remain important and powerful in Okinawa for at least a few generations, this marked the beginnings of the creation of a bureaucracy which would gradually come to replace the king's direct rule, drafting and implementing policy in his name.
Satto died in 1395, and was succeeded by his son Bunei. Missions were sent to Nanjing to announce the king's death, and to formally request investiture for his successor. The "Mirror of Chûzan," a history of Ryukyu written by Shô Shôken in the 1650s, cites Satto's death as an example of tentô (天道), a concept closely related to the Confucian Mandate of Heaven. Though he describes Satto as a good king overall, Shô accuses him of giving in to luxurious temptations and of losing the proper degree of humility; thus, Shô explains, Satto was guided by tentô to touch a venomous snake in his sleep and to be killed.
Noting considerable ambiguities and contradictions in the few records pertaining to King Satto, some scholars have suggested that Chinese references to "Satto" 察度・査都 or "Shôsatto" (ostensibly, the king of Nanzan c. 1380s-90s) might not in fact be references to the personal names of distinct, specific, individuals, but rather to a more generic Ryukyuan noble title, sato 里 or satunushi 里主・里之子. They note that the Korean term sado 使道 also refers to local magistrates or locally powerful families or individuals. If Chinese references to "Satto" or "Shôsatto" do not in fact refer to specific named figures but rather to a myriad of different, overlapping figures ambiguously identified only by their title/rank, sato or satonushi, then we may have to admit no particular record of actions, identities, or whereabouts can be reliably pinned to any one named individual, but rather could refer to any number of different individuals.
|Reign as King of Chûzan
- Relations are believed to have been first established with Goryeo in 1389, which fell three years later and was replaced by Joseon, though relations were for the most part undisrupted.
- This represents the Okinawan reading of the characters; the same term is read as tendô in Japanese, and as tian-dao in Chinese pinyin.
- Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 82-83.
- Kerr, George H. (2000). Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Boston: Tuttle Publishing.
- Smits, Gregory (1999). "Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics." Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.