Ryukyuan students in China

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  • Japanese: 官生 (kanshou), 勤学 (kingaku)

Over the course of the history of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, a small number of Ryukyuan students from aristocratic and royal families were sent to study Confucian political philosophy, law, astronomy, calendrics, history, and the Confucian classics at the National Academy (Guozijuan).[1] These students, officially welcomed by the Chinese court, and funded by the Ryukyuan court, were known as kanshô ("official students"). They may have been the only foreign students at the Academy, other than some rare cases of Russians being permitted to study there.[2] Meanwhile, a number of other Ryukyuan scholar-aristocrats, traveling to Fuzhou as part of ships' crews, were encouraged to learn as much as they could about China during their time there. This system of sending students, funded and supported by the Ryukyuan court but with no recognition or authorization from the Chinese to be studying in China, was known as kingaku ("work-study"). While their counterparts in Beijing chiefly studied the Confucian classics and other formal subjects, these kingaku students were more likely to return to Ryûkyû with knowledge and skills in feng shui, herbal medicine, calendrics, painting, music, interpretation/translation, and the like, picked up in somewhat less formal educational environments.

The first Ryukyuan students to travel to China as official kanshô students did so in 1392. Three of them were named Nishimi, Eiji, and Kohama.[3]

When the system began, it was only the children of kings and anji (high-ranking local/regional nobles), i.e. the community of Shuri, the royal capital, who were able to study in Beijing; however, from the reign of Shô Shin (r. 1477-1526) onwards, children of scholar-aristocrat families from Kumemura began to be sent as well. For a time, it became standard for three students from Shuri, and three from Kumemura, to be sent at a time.[4] Selections were determined by some mechanism within the royal court, but individuals could also petition the court that they be considered for selection.[5]

In addition to simply receiving these young men as students in the National Academy, the Ming or Qing court typically also bestowed upon the students considerable gifts of formal robes, court caps, shoes, etc.[3]

Over the course of a 476 year period, from 1392 until 1868, with a hiatus of several decades between 1579 and the resumption of missions after the 1644 fall of the Ming Dynasty, roughly 100 Ryukyuan students studied at the Guozijuan. A much larger number of Ryukyuan students engaged in study at the two Ryûkyû-kan, in Fuzhou and in Kagoshima.


  • "Kanshô," Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典, Ryukyu Shimpo, 1 March 2003.
  • Akamine Mamoru, Lina Terrell (trans.), Robert Huey (ed.), The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia, University of Hawaii Press (2017), 94-95.
  1. At the beginning of this period, the Academy was located in the capital of Nanjing, but after the Yongle Emperor moved the capital to Beijing c. 1402-1421, the Academy was moved as well.
  2. Akamine, 94.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tomiyama Kazuyuki, Ryûkyû ôkoku no gaikô to ôken, Yoshikawa kôbunkan (2004), 41.
  4. In 1802, eight students - four from Kumemura, and four from Shuri - traveled to Beijing, where they were then resident for seven years. After this, the pattern returned to previous practices. Ono Masako, Tomita Chinatsu, Kanna Keiko, Taguchi Megumi, "Shiryô shôkai Kishi Akimasa bunko Satsuyû kikô," Shiryôhenshûshitsu kiyô 31 (2006), 241.
  5. Liao Zhenpei 廖真珮, "Ryûkyû kyûtei ni okeru Chûgoku kei ongaku no ensô to denshô" 琉球宮廷における中国系音楽の演奏と伝承, in Uzagaku no fukugen ni mukete 御座楽の復元に向けて, Naha, Okinawa: Uzagaku fukugen ensô kenkyûkai 御座楽復元演奏研究会 (2007), 110.