Wokou (Chinese: 倭寇; pinyin: Wōkòu; Japanese: わこう Wakō, Wako, したがう; Yamatoada; Korean: 왜구 Waegu, "Oaegu"), which literally translates as "Japanese pirates" in English, were pirates of varying origins who raided the coastlines of China and Korea from the 13th century onwards. Originally, the Wokou were mainly soldiers, ronin, merchants and smugglers from Japan; however in later centuries most of the pirates actually originated in China.
The early phase of Wokou activity began in the 13th century and extended to the second half of the 14th century. Pirates from Japan focused their raids on the Korean peninsula and spread across the Yellow Sea to China. Ming China implemented a policy to forbid civil trade with Japan while maintaining governmental trade, known as Haijin. The Ming court believed that limiting non-government trade would in turn expel the Wokou. Instead, it forced many Chinese merchants to trade with Japan illegally to protect their own interests. This led to the second major phase of Wokou activity which occurred in the early to mid-16th century, where Japanese pirates colluded with their Chinese counterparts and expanded their forces. During this period the composition and leadership of the Wokou changed significantly to include greater numbers of Chinese. At their height in the 1550s, the Wōkòu operated throughout the seas of East Asia, even sailing up large river systems such as the Yangtze.
The term Wokou is a combination of "Wō" (倭) referring to Japanese, and "kòu" (寇), meaning "bandit". The earliest textual reference to the term "Wokou" as a Japanese invader comes from the Korean Gwanggaeto Stele erected in 414. In modern times, the term Wokou has been used in China and Korea as a derogatory term for Japanese invaders.
Read more about Wokou: Constituents, Former Wokou Raids, Later Wokou Raids, Decline of The Wokou, Controversy Regarding Wokou Imitators, Notable Individuals