Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Enigma of Lin Daoqian: Piracy and Popular Culture among the Maritime Chinese Diaspora

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Harding, Mezzanine Level

During the late sixteenth century, the pirate Lin Daoqian terrorized the coastline of Fujian and Guangdong. However, his whereabouts after his ultimate defeat at the hands of the Ming navy remains a mystery. According to legends and stories that later circulated widely among overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, he sought refuge at one of its ports. Some purport that he set up a base in the mountains of Taiwan, while others believe that he became a weapons expert forging cannon for the Queen of Pattani, in southern Thailand, and converted to Islam. Another account has him fleeing to Borneo, where he and his band of pirates set up an independent regime. Besides the most famous shrine related to him in Pattani, more have been located in Lin’s native Chenghai, Guangdong Province, and Singkawang, in Indonesian Borneo. Not far away from the latter location, a tomb attributed to his name has even purported to have been discovered on a remote mountain. 


This paper does not try to ascertain the veracity of Lin Daoqian’s whereabouts. Instead, it examines the contested legacy of his exploits in China and Southeast Asia. As it argues, his enigmatic past, and the legends revolving around him, became an instrument for the perpetuation of Chinese communities outside China. Moreover, despite the Chinese state’s own aversion to piracy on its shores, Lin Daoqian’s prestigious position in Southeast Asian popular culture serve to bolster the Sinocentric tributary order in maritime East Asia by enhancing diplomatic ties with native rulers.

Xing Hang

Brandeis University, Massachusetts

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