In the late sixteenth century, thriving private maritime trade brought forth maritime trouble to the late Ming state. In times of rampant “Japanese” piracy and Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea, Chinese literati composed unofficial histories and vernacular fiction on China’s foreign relations. Among them, Yan Congjian 嚴從簡 wrote Shuyu zhouzi lu 殊域周咨錄 (Records of Surrounding Strange Realms) (1574), He Qiaoyuan 何喬遠 compiled Wang Xiangji 王享記 (Records of the Emperors’ Tributes) (1597–1620), Luo Yuejiong 羅曰褧 penned Xianbin lu 咸賓錄 (Records of Tributary Guests) (1597), and Luo Maodeng 羅懋登 composed a vernacular novel Sanbao taijian xiyangji tongsu yanyi 三寶太監西洋記通俗演義 (Vernacular Romance of Eunuch Sanbao’s Voyages on the Indian Ocean) (1598). This article examines how the imminent maritime realities reminded the late Ming authors of one cross-border war and two genocides in Java and Sanfoqi during Yuan and early and mid-Ming times. These transgressions that violated Chinese official tributary order became memorable and made Sino-Java relations a definite point of comparison for the late Ming maritime piracy problems. This article argues that the cultural memory of Sino-Java military and diplomatic exchange enabled the authors to lament and condemn the executed pirates Wang Zhi and Chen Zuyi. The four authors imbue their narratives with personal anxieties and nationalistic sentiments. While the historical narratives tend to moralize and idealize China’s tributary world order, the vernacular fiction paints a more realistic picture of the late Ming state by involving heterogeneous voices of the “other.” Collectively, the four narratives represent various images of the Ming Empire, revealing the authors’ deep apprehension of the Mings’ identity, their political criticism of the state, and their divergent and even self-conflicted views toward maritime commerce, immigrants, and people of different races.

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