The Curious Double-Life of Putuoshan as Monastic Centre and Commercial Emporium, 1600 to 1750

Dr Ryan Holroyd1

1Academia Sinica, Nangang, Taiwan

This presentation will examine the role of Putuoshan as a commercial centre in East Asia’s early modern maritime trading network. It will use the case of this island to demonstrate how Chinese government policies influenced the evolution of trade across Asia. Putuoshan is a verdant island off the coast of China’s Zhejiang province, and is primarily known as the site of several important Buddhist monasteries. Less well known is the fact that it was a common departure point for merchant vessels heading from China to Japan during the Kangxi period (1661 – 1722). The argument that my presentation will advance is that Putuoshan’s importance as a maritime centre was dependent on the warm relationship the island’s monasteries enjoyed with Qing officials in Zhejiang. Patronage from the officials encouraged the popularity of Putuoshan as a pilgrimage site and limited oversight of traffic in the island’s harbour. It was only during the Yongzheng emperor’s reign (1722 – 1735) that concerns about smuggling and emigration to Japan prompted stricter management of commerce, and consequently reduced Putuoshan’s role. The changing fortunes of the island will illustrate the ways that Qing government policies reshaped China’s commercial links to the rest of maritime Asia.


Dr Ryan Holroyd is a researcher focussed on the development of maritime connections across East and Southeast Asia in the early modern period. Ryan received a doctorate in history and Asian studies from the Pennsylvania State in 2018, and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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