Wang Zhi

Wang Zhi (汪直) was a Chinese pirate
and trader of the 16th century, one of
the chief named and known figures
among the wokou ("Japanese" pirates)
prevalent at the time. It is said he was
aboard the Portuguese ship of Fernão
Mendes Pinto when it landed on Tane-
gashima, off the coast of Japan in 1543,
marking the first contact between
Europe and Japan.

By the 1550s the Chinese merchant
Wang Zhi had organized a large trading
consortium and commanded a well-
armed fleet with sailors and soldiers to
protect it. Between 1539 and 1552 he cooperated with local military intendants on several occasions, expecting relaxation of the ban on overseas trade. When the ban was instead tightened in 1551, Wang began organising large attacks on official establishments, granaries, county and district treasuries, and incidentally on the surrounding countryside, which was thoroughly pillaged. Brigandage along the coast of Zhejiang became so widespread and common that towns and villages had to erect palisades for security.

In the spring of 1552 raiding parties of several hundred people attacked all along the coast of Zhejiang. In the summer of 1553 Wang Zhi assembled a large fleet of hundreds of ships to raid the coast of Zhejiang from Taizhou north. Several garrisons were briefly taken, and several district seats were besieged. Early in 1554 fortified bases were established along the coast of Zhejiang from which larger raiding parties set out on long inland campaigns. By 1555 they were approaching the great cities of the Yangzi Delta, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Nanjing. Wokou raiders had established fortified bases in various towns and forts on the coast of Zhejiang and garrisoned them with a combined force of 20,000 men.

The two Chinese commanders most famous in resisting the Wokou were Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou. Both men were from coastal provinces and had good knowledge of naval warfare. Qi organised a force of some 4000, known as the "Qi Family Army", made up mostly of farmers and miners. He won a succession of victories in 1555 in defending Taizhou. Yu Dayou's first significant victory was in 1553, when his marines stormed the island of Putuoshan and expelled the Wokou camp there. Two years later, he killed some two thousand Wokou north of Jiaxing, winning the greatest victory in the Wokou wars.



A Chinese junk in Japan, at the beginning of the Sakoku period (1644-1648 woodblock print) - Click To Enlarge