Yiwen LiAug 13, 2023
Networks of Faith and Profit
Monks, Merchants, and Exchanges Between China and Japan, 839-1403 CE
Cambridge University Press 2023
In her book, Networks of Faith and Profit: Monks, Merchants, and Exchanges Between China and Japan, 839-1403 CE (Cambridge UP, 2023), associate professor of history at City University of Hong Kong Yiwen Li studies the period when the tribute relationship between China and Japan was suspended. Although this official, diplomatic relationship ceased, Li reveals the related development of a vibrant religio-commercial network of Buddhist monks and merchants, who greatly facilitated both trade and Buddhist activity between China and Japan. Carefully analyzing a rich array of sources–both Chinese and Japanese–including Buddhist writings, letters, poems, legal records, archeological findings, and material culture, she recovers relationships vital to Sino-Japanese relations.
In this episode, Li shares how she first developed her research interests in Chinese and Japanese history. She then walks listeners through her book, considering major shifts in the network. She touches upon key figures and moments as monks shifted from practices and procedures developed during formal tribute missions to their collaborations with merchants, who helped transport them and material objects–both ritual and commercial–across the sea in exchange for access to their Buddhist networks and political connections. This network deepened over time, especially when Japanese authorities allowed Chinese merchants to permanently reside in Hakata, Japan, and they became important agents in the transmission of Zen Buddhism to Japan. Yiwen Li has crafted a solid, accessible history of maritime East Asia, shedding light on a private network that sustained Sino-Japanese commerce and religious exchange during a 600-year gap in formal tributary relations.
Laurie Dickmeyer is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University, where she teaches courses in Asian and US history. Her research concerns nineteenth century US-China relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.