Bunei inherited the throne upon the death of his father, King Satto. His reign saw the continuation of many of the previous trends and developments; in particular, Bunei sought to continue to develop commercial ties between Ryûkyû and China. A special headquarters was built in Naha for Chinese envoys and similar missions, and a trading center was established nearby. In addition, the royal annals began to be compiled; the Rekidai Hoan (Treasury of Royal Succession) was first compiled in 1403.
This period saw a great proliferation of trade and cultural interaction between the three Okinawan kingdoms and other states in the region; sources seem to indicate, however, that only Chūzan successfully established relations with the Ashikaga shogunate of Japan in this period. An embassy was sent to Siam in 1409, and relations with kingdoms in Java and Sumatra remained strong, having been established some time earlier by traders. All three Okinawan kingdoms, Chûzan, Hokuzan, and Nanzan, sent emissaries to Korea in 1397, likely separately, and established strong friendly relations with the newly formed Joseon dynasty. From Korea, Chūzan saw a great influx of Buddhist ideas and objects, and it is believed that Shintô first entered Okinawa in a significant way at this time as well, from Japan.
Naha became the busiest port on the island at this time, bringing wealth and prestige to Chûzan over its neighboring kingdoms, and enhancing already heightened tensions. The lords of both Hokuzan and Nanzan died around the same time as Bunei's father Satto, and since China never recognized more than one king (or prince, in the Chinese view) of Okinawa, all three clamored to be officially invested by the Chinese Imperial Court as the sole ruler of all of Okinawa. However, due to the recent chaos in Nanjing, which was taken by force by Zhu Di, installing himself as the Yongle Emperor, Bunei's request lay unanswered for eleven years. A missive was finally sent in 1406; Bunei was formally invested by a mission led by Shí Zhōng (時中) in the same year that Ououso of Nanzan also received investiture.
Meanwhile, a local lord (anji) named Hashi led a small rebellion in 1402, and brought down the lord of Azato district, near the site of the Chûzan palace at Urasoe. It is not clear exactly what discussions took place inside the royal court, or what actions were considered, but nothing was done for five years. In 1406, less than one year after Bunei was officially recognized as king ("prince") of Chûzan by China, Hashi led a larger rebellion, ousting Bunei and establishing Shô Shishô, Hashi's father, as King of Chûzan. According to the Kyûyô - compiled in the 18th c. by officials in service to the Shô dynasty - Shô Shishô and Hashi had both enjoyed reputations in Sashiki as upright rulers, and Bunei meanwhile had cruelly ignored the suffering of the people; the true politics behind Hashi's overthrow of Bunei remain unclear. Gregory Smits suggests the Ming court may have influenced or engineered this change of rulership, whether because of distaste for Bunei or political preference for Shô Hashi, or because of a desire to end the pattern of multiple different Ryukyuan rulers vying for status as authorized tribute traders, replacing this with a single, unified, "kingdom" which would serve as the solitary recognized Ryukyuan diplomatic and trade partner. Though records do not indicate the details of Bunei's fate, it is likely that he either died at the hands of the rebels, or escaped to some distant island to live out the rest of his days in relative solitude.
|Reign as King of Chûzan
- Hamashita, Takeshi (2000). Okinawa Nyuumon. Tokyo: Chikumashobo.
- Kerr, George H. (2000). Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Boston: Tuttle Publishing.
- Yokoyama Manabu 横山学, Ryûkyû koku shisetsu torai no kenkyû 琉球国使節渡来の研究, Tokyo: Yoshikawa kôbunkan (1987), 36.
- Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 111.