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A talk by Noell Wilson, Associate Professor of History and International Studies, University of Mississippi
The most critical external threat to Japan during the early Tokugawa period (1603-1868) was not consistently potential Western military incursion, as is often argued. That peril in fact abated in the 1680s. By 1717, Chinese smuggling in the Genkai Sea so exacerbated Japan’s domestic fiscal crises that coastal defenders, originally posted to protect against Western attack, instead now mobilized firearms to repel illicit Qing traders who became the first foreigners killed by Japanese in national defense since the Portuguese executions of 1640. The most significant result of embracing naval tactics was not a military revolution, however, but rather the reexamination of how provincial magnates and the central Tokugawa shogunate partitioned control of maritime space. This talk explores how Chinese smugglers in eighteenth century Japan produced domestic debates over maritime sovereignty and what these encounters reveal about Japan’s relations with broader Asia during the middle (and underexamined) century of Tokugawa rule.