P’u-t’o Shan, literally “Mount Potalaka,” was identified with Avalokite’svara’s mountain of Potalaka, which is often located in the south of India. The Chinese “Mount Potalaka” is a mountainous island of approximately 48 square miles situated over 62 miles east of the coast of Zhejiang province, covered with monasteries, cave temples, and shrines, and is one of the most important Buddhistic centers in China. Since this is a place where many visitors have sought and received visions of Kwan Yin, its patron Bodhisattva, over the millennia it has become the foremost site for Kwan Yin worship in China. The island harbors several Buddhist monasteries and landscape features connected with Buddhist mythology, all of which have undergone periods of prominence, disintegration, and restoration.
P’u-t’o Shan was a place of pilgrimage as early as the Sung dynasty (960–1279), and is believed to have been first established in 916. Its early sect was associated with Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy, an image of whom was brought there from T’ien-t’ai Shan, a centre of Buddhism on the adjacent mainland. In the 11th century a temple to the goddess was restored and considerably augmented; it became a major temple of Ch’an (Japanese Zen) Buddhism in 1131. The religious complex developed strong bonds with the major centers of Zen Buddhism in Japan due to considerable maritime interactions with that country. Evidence of these compelling links is demonstrated by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan’s employment of monks from P’u-t’o Shan as emissaries in his effort to conquer Japan in the late 13th century.
The area was extensively desecrated by the invasions of Japanese marauders during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and the temples deteriorated into a state of decay. However, in 1580 the monastic complex was renovated and it was granted Imperial protection during under the Ch’ing dynasty (1644–1911).