Kumemura Village, or Kuninda, has been known as the community of Chinese immigrants with a more than five-hundred year background of scholar-bureaucrat aristocracy in Lewchew, or Ryukyu. They supposedly originated from a group of 36 families from the Southern Chinese Min (閩) ethnic group since 1392. Although much research has been conducted on the subject matter throughout the years, there is almost no scholar who would tackle it on the concept of a “Chinatown.” There are basically two reasons to account for such tendency in academics. Firstly, unlike most Chinese immigrant groups in other parts of the world, the 36 Min Families who had moved to Lewchew did not leave the country of their own accord, for neither private nor economic reasons, but in fact, were ordered by Emperor Hongwu to emigrate for political reasons. Furthermore, Kuninda-chu, the descendants of 36 Min Families, have almost, in the same way as other Okinawa people regard them over the years, never seen themselves as “overseas Chinese.”
However, this paper argues that there are still plenty of similarities between Kuninda-chu and other overseas Chinese in the world. The two main points for this paper are: firstly, Kuninda-chu relied excessively on the Chinese World Order and tributary system for its maintenance, so its survival rested primarily on the existence of this political structure, and was eventually disintegrated upon the collapse of the system. Secondly, Chinese culture was largely brought by Kuninda-chu to Ryukyu during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but it is still kept alive and observed in Okinawa society to this day and in stark contrast with the Yamaonchu, the Japanese in the mainland of Japan, it directly helped shaping and forming the Okinawa people’s self-identity as Uchinan-chu.
Truly, Kuninda no longer exists in the Okinawa society today, but Kuninda-chu’s descendants have been upholding their unique ethic image through various traditional activities organized by different groups, Kume-Sosekai notwithstanding. Moreover, Kuninda-chu is also one of the earliest overseas Chinese groups who had assimilated successfully into the local Okinawa community. It is clear that Kuninda is one of the most paramount alternative cases for the studies of overseas Chinese.