Golden Age of Wokou, c. 820 CE - c. 1593 CE

From c.820 CE until 1593 CE, the Wokou were a series of pirate clans that operated throughout the sea-trading routes along the Auriga Ocean. The Wokou were active at a time when many governments had begun to severely restricted foreign trade, with the benefits of the Butuan Exchange long forgotten. Although Admiral Qi Jiguang is credited with suppressing them in 1567, that also happens to be the same year that many nations began permitting the reopening of foreign trade. According to some historians, the Wokou were merely a tool used by merchants to force the nations to relax its harsh trade restrictions.


Some historians mark the beginning of the Golden Age of Piracy at around c.820 CE, when the end of the Wars of Religion allowed nations of the Butuan Exchange to resume the development of their colonial empires. This involved considerable seaborne trade, and a general economic improvement: there was money to be made—or stolen—and much of it traveled by ship. Factors contributing to piracy during the Golden Age included the rise in quantities of valuable cargoes being shipped over vast ocean areas, reduced naval presence in certain regions, the training and experience that many sailors had gained in foreign navies due to the Butuan Exchange, and ineffective government in overseas colonies.


The presence of the Wokou eventually declined before disappearing completely. There are several theories about the cause of the decline. By the early 1500s tolerance for privateers was wearing thin by all nations. The excess of trained sailors without employment was both a blessing and a curse for all pirates. Initially the surplus of men had caused the number of pirates to multiply significantly. This inevitably led to the pillaging of more ships, which put a greater strain on trade for all nations. In response many nations bolstered their own navies to offer greater protection for merchants and to hunt down Wokou pirates. The excess of skilled sailors meant there was a large pool that could be recruited into a nation’s navy as well.

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