Cutting Dwarf Pirates Down to Size: Amphibious Warfare In 16th-Century East Asia

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date







The 16th century was the golden age of piracy in East Asia. Raiders known pejoratively as wokou in China, wako in Japan and waegu in Korea raided the coasts of all three lands with reckless abandon. Helped by governmental lassitude in China and a lack of a central political authority in Japan, these international pirates enjoyed their greatest success in the middle of the century, after which time tactical and organisational improvements in China, the restoration of political order in Japan and the lifting of Ming China’s formal ban on overseas trade all conspired to bring an end to widespread piratical activity. Utilising a variety of primary and secondary sources, this paper examines the nature of amphibious warfare in 16th-century East Asia, focusing particularly on strategy and tactics while also considering the developments that led to the end of widespread piracy in East Asia towards the end of the century. In particular it discusses the tactical innovations pioneered by the famous Ming general Qi Jiguang (1528–88), whose methods became the blueprint for anti-pirate defence throughout East Asia. The chapter’s conclusion discusses the social, economic and political ramifications of piracy within the larger context of late 16th-century East Asia, including how the experiences of the Chinese and Koreans in the middle of the century shaped their tactical responses to the Japanese invasion of the Asian mainland at the end of the century.

Publication Title

The Maritime Defence of China

First Page


Last Page