top of page

One Second to Okinawa, Ryukyu People’s Stories at Heping Island’s Exhibition

Do you know the history of Ryukyu?



Guess what? The history of Ryukyu is like this!

Okinawa Used to be the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Ryukyu, the old name of Okinawa Prefecture in Japan, also known as the Ryukyu Islands, is located between China, Taiwan and Japan. Ryukyu has been a long tribute to the Chinese regime and deeply influenced by its culture, such as the custom of rowing the dragon boat. The Ryukyu Kingdom was established in the 15th century. Due to its superior location, prosperous trade and wealth of business, this led to the Japanese islands powerful forces and repeated aggression.

In the 17th century, Satsuma occupied the Ryukyu, and the Ryukyu Kingdom was incorporated into Satsuma's governance. At the same time, the Ryukyu Kingdom continued to pay homage to China.

In the middle of the 19th century, Japan unilaterally announced that the Ryukyu Kingdom was included in their territory map. The Ryukyu Kingdom asked the Qing Dynasty in China for their help. However, the Qing Dynasty was also worried about its own internal and external problems. It only could be proposed to divide the Ryukyu into three parts: the north Japan, the mid Ryukyu, and the south China, called "Ryukyu Three-part Plan".

Ryukyu did not accept it. The agreement broke down, causing Japan to invade the Ryukyu, and move his king to Tokyo in 1872. It caused the Ryukyu Kingdom not to have a king and the Ryukyu Kingdom changed to Okinawa Prefecture.

In the past, the Ryukyu Kingdom relied on its geographical location as an international business hub. Ships come from China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Because of the geographical location and the proximity of the Ryukyu, trade and exchanges with the people are closer between Taiwan and Ryukyu.

Ryukyu People in Heping Island

When Taiwan entered the Japanese era, Japanese people immigrated to Taiwan. Due to the economy and not well constructed transportation, most of the Ryukyu people chose to immigrate to Taiwan to start a new life. Perhaps because of the similar geographical landscape, and engagement in fishing, Heping Island was the first choice for the Ryukyu people to settle in Taiwan.

In the Japanese era, the largest Ryukyu settlement in Taiwan was in on Heping Island. On Heping Island, there was a Ryukyu Community  (now within the Taiwan Shipping Company). In 1935 (10th year of Showa, Japan), there were about 450 people in on Heping Island.

"Yi Ben Chi" is a great fishing technique used by the Ryukyu people. They dive with a fish dart that is about 60 cm to catch the fish. The "Spear Swordfish" technique of the Taiwanese has evolved from the great fishing technology of the Ryukyu people. Heping Island and Ryukyu people’s main economy is fishing. Due to the exchange of offshore fishing technology, the offshore fishery technology of Heping Island has been great affected by the Ryukyu people.

Heping Island is rich in agar, and Japanese people call it Kanten, which is the raw material for Kanten jelly. It is an important cash crop. The "Ryukyu Woman" who collected the agar lived on Heping Island and supported the economic income of the Ryukyu’s fishermen. During the Japanese era, there was a surge of people collecting agar, which prompted the government to formulate rules to restrain the people and maintain the ecology.

The collection of agars, which is under control, is still an important economic crop. Taiwan Kanten Company was established in 1943, which was the first food processing industry in Taiwan.

The deep friendship between Taiwanese and Ryukyu people

Building a friendly relationship

When the Ryukyu people first met Taiwanese people, there was a conflict because of cultural differences and the struggle for resources and living space. In 1921 (10th year of Taisho, Japan), there was a large-scale bloodshed. Because the temperature was so hot and the water was dry, the Taiwanese children went to the Ryukyu tribe to get some water and were beaten by the Ryukyu people. The Taiwanese were so angry that about 200 people fought. Cultural differences were also conflicting points. For example, the Ryukyu tattoo culture, which is unique to Ryukyu people,was discriminated by the Taiwanese.

Fortunately, daily contact, coupled with the local people who were interested in hosting the Dragon Boat Racing and other social activities together, the Taiwanese and the Ryukyu people on Heping Island gradually established a friendly relationship.

Under the Japanese era, the social class of Taiwanese and Ryukyu people were lower than that of Japanese mainlanders. For example, when the newspaper advertised job openings, they would also add the rule“ excluded: the Taiwanese and the Ryukyu”. It showed the social atmosphere at the time; the Ryukyu people and the Taiwanese were excluded from the society.

Because of the similar social class, the Ryukyu people and the Taiwanese had a common feeling. Among them, the fishermen in the Jiu-Gao area of ​​Okinawa Prefecture had a better friendship with the Taiwanese. Some Taiwanese even could understand the incomprehensible Okinawa dialect.

Social class similarity establishes friendship

Where did the Ryukyu people go after the

World War II?

After World War 2, there were two options for the Ryukyu people in Taiwan: stay in Taiwan or repatriated back to Okinawa. The repatriation of the Ryukyu people was in stages and there were about three phases of repatriation. Some Ryukyu technicians were retained, but the fishermen who went back and forth privately between the two places and the Ryukyu people who lived with the Taiwanese were not included. Because of this situation, we can still find the descendants of the Ryukyu people nowadays, and the culture of Ryukyu continues to affect the lives of Heping Island’s people.

Ryukyu fishermen's Monument

Taiwanese and Ryukyu people have had close contact. Ryukyu people in Taiwan have suffered from shipwrecks when fishing, but also have been bombed by US troops, or died as a result of the February 28th incident. Therefore, there is a symbol of "the Ryukyu fishermen's spiritual monument" on the Heping Island.

The deep friendship between Taiwanese and Ryukyu people

The Ryukyu people and the Taiwanese are were both under Japanese rule. They were also regarded as "secondary citizens". Similar social class made the Ryukyu people and the Taiwanese have a basis for mutual understanding. After resolving their conflict, it they developed a stronger friendship.

Then, what would Heping Island look like with two different cultures mixing under the same colonial rule? Observe it. What kind of culture on Heping Island might have been affected by the Ryukyu people? What do you think the local characteristics of Heping Island are?

bottom of page