History Forum No. 1 – Discovered and Forgotten: The Maldives in Imperial China


Prof. Yang Bin


16 Oct 2020


13:00 - 14:00




Small and remote, the Maldives did not enter the Chinese world until Wang Dayuan’s visit in 1330-31. Decades later, the Zheng He Voyages (1405-1433) followed to visit this island kingdom, and brought its tributary envoys to Beijing. Take the Maldives as a case, angle and approach, this talk on one hand examines the Chinese knowledge of the island kingdom by highlighting Chinese toponymy, local products including coconuts, coir ropes, dried fish, cowrie shells, and ambergris, ship without nails, and women, thus providing a valuable glimpse of medieval Maldives; on the other hand, the talk introduces the Sino-Maldivian interactions, both politically and economically. In conclusion, the Maldives symbolizes the heyday of the Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean and the Chinese understanding of this region, and this small kingdom indeed shaped imperial China to a surprising degree as illustrated by cowrie shells, the Maldivian tributes, and ambergris (including its absence) in the Chinese court. Nonetheless, the Chinese had showed little interest by the end of the sixteenth century. “Discovered” in the 1330s, the island kingdom would had been forgotten in post-1600 China.


All are welcome




Department of History
Tel: (853) 8822 8801 / 8822 8821
Email: fah.history@um.edu.mo