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Zhoushan, formerly transliterated as Chusan, is a prefecture-level city in northeastern Zhejiang Province of China. The only prefecture-level city consisting solely of islands, it lies across the mouth of the Hangzhou Bay, and is separated from the mainland by a narrow body of water.

The archipelago was inhabited 6,000 years ago during the Neolithic by people of the Hemudu culture. During the Spring and Autumn Period, Zhoushan was called Yongdong, referring to its location east of the Yong River, and belonged to the State of Yue.

The fishermen and sailors who inhabited the islands often engaged in piracy and became recruits for uprisings against the central authorities. At the time of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, Zhoushan Islands served as the base for Sun En's rebellion. Sun En, an adherent of the Taoist sect Wudou Midao (Five Bushels of Rice), launched his rebellion around the year 400 and was defeated by Jin forces in 402.

In 863, the Japanese Buddhist monks Hui'e and Zhang-shi of Putuoshan, Zhoushan placed a statue of Guanyin at Chaoyin Cave  that would later become a popular tourist destination.

During the Ming dynasty, especially between the years 1530 and 1560, Japanese and Chinese pirates used Zhoushan as one of their principal bases from which they launched attacks as far as Nanjing; "the whole Chinese coast from northern Shandong to western Guangdong was ravaged to a distance of sixty miles inland."

After suppression of the pirates, Zhoushan became an important commercial entrepôt. Under the early Qing dynasty, it played a similar role to Amoy and Canton as a frequent port of call for Western traders. The restriction of all European trade to the port of Canton in 1760 forced Westerners to leave Zhoushan. One of the requests of Lord Macartney's embassy to emperor Qianlong in 1793 was an acquisition of "a small unfortified island near Zhoushan for the residence of English traders, storage of goods, and outfitting of ships." Emperor Qianlong denied this request together with all the rest.

British forces under Captain Charles Elliot seized Zhoushan in the summer of 1840 during the First Opium War and evacuated it in early 1841, after Elliot reached an agreement with Qishan, the governor general of Tianjin and grand secretary to emperor Daoguang, in exchange for cession of Hong Kong.At that time, Zhoushan was a well known port while Hong Kong was only a fishing village. The British Foreign Secretary Palmerston was famously livid when he learned that Elliot agreed to cession of Hong Kong ("a barren island with hardly a house on it") while giving up Zhoushan. Elliot was dismissed in April 1841 for his blunder. His replacement Sir Henry Pottinger led a British fleet that recaptured Zhoushan in late August 1841. The First Opium War ended with conclusion of the Treaty of Nanjing in which China opened up the cities of Canton, Fuzhou, Amoy, Ningbo, and Shanghai to residence by British subjects for the purpose of trade. As a result, Britain had no longer any use for Zhoushan but it kept the island until 1846 as a guarantee for the fulfilment of the stipulations of the treaty.

Zhoushan was also occupied by the British in 1860 (Second Opium War). In February 13, 1862, Wang Yijun of the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping attempted overtake Zhoushan from Qing forces, but died in the unsuccessful attempt.

Sun Yat-sen visited Zhoushan on August 25, 1916 and wrote Travelling to Putuo. On October 1, 1942, the Japanese Lisbon Maru transported 1,800 POW back to Tokyo, but Lisbon Maru sank after being hit by a torpedo near Qingbing Island. 384 of the British POW overboard were rescued by the fishermen of Dongji Township nearby.

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