Right: A part of China’s scroll is pictured, with Wako pirates, left, and the Ming Dynasty navy, right, caught in battle.
The Heritage of Japan Blog reports today on the discovery in China of a scroll depicting the Ming navy fighting wakô (倭寇), or “Japanese pirates”. Up until now, a scroll in Japan was the only one known to depict the wakô, apparently. I am surprised to learn this, since the wakô were such a major influence in Sino-Japanese relations in the 14th-17th centuries.
Though called wakô, that is, “Japanese pirates,” it is widely accepted in scholarship today (at least in English-language scholarship) that in the 16th century most such pirate bands were led by or chiefly composed of Chinese, not Japanese. Yet, the Ming Court was insistent that not only were these pirates Japanese, but that they were under the control and the command of Japan, as though Japan was coordinating pirate attacks on China. Now, I could get into a whole thing about how there was no unified “Japan” at that time, but in any case, the Ming Court went so far as to cut off all trade with Japan until the pirate problem was dealt with.
According to the Mainichi News article about the scrolls, the two depict very nearly the same scene, and infrared scanning has revealed painted-over dates on both scrolls. The two are dated a year apart, the new-found Chinese scroll being marked with a date corresponding to 1558 on the Western calendar, the Japanese scroll being labeled one year earlier in the same Imperial era, though neither are believed to have been painted at that time; both are believed to have been originally produced in China some time in the 17th century.
The Japanese scroll, not normally visible to the public, will be put on display alongside a reproduction of the newfound Chinese scroll, at the Historiographical Institute at the University of Tokyo, on November 12-13. A joint research meeting between researchers from both countries will take place at that time.
Images can be found at either link.