A detailed understanding of long-term climatic and environmental change in southwestern China is hampered by a lack of long-term regional palaeorecords. Organic analysis (%TOC, %TN, C/N ratios and δ13C values) of a sediment sequence from Lake Shudu, Yunnan Province (ca. 22.6–10.5 cal ka BP) indicates generally low aquatic palaeoproductivity rates over millennial timescales in response to cold, dry climatic conditions. However, the record is punctuated by two marked phases of increased aquatic productivity from ca. 17.7 to 17.1 cal ka BP and from ca. 11.9 to 10.5 cal ka BP. We hypothesise that these shifts reflect a marked, stepwise lacustrine response to Asian summer monsoon strengthening during the last deglaciation.