Trade & Diplomacy



- Theme Three -

Relations with China



China was the dominant diplomatic power in East and Southeast Asia for centuries.  While the details for Angkor are sparse, we know that post-Angkor Cambodia operated within the broader context of an international environment dominated by what is often called the Chinese tributary system, a network of diplomatic connections that bound the Chinese emperor and state to diverse polities across Asia. In the premodern period, a strong relationship with China was an important calculus in the foreign policy of Southeast Asian states as China’s status as the centre of power in the region could be leveraged to gain a political or economic advantage over competing kingdoms. Read the following excerpts from Zhou Daguan’s A Record of Cambodia and the Ming Shi-lu (The Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty) and try to answer the following questions.


- Reading -

Excerpts from Zhou Daguan's A Record of Cambodia: The Land and Its People

General Preface

The great Mandate of Heaven that the sacred dynasty has received includes everywhere within the four seas. Marshal Sodu set up a province in Champa, and sent out a general and a senior commander, who went there together. In the end they were seized and did not return. In the sixth month of the year youwei in the Yuanzhen reign period (1295), the sacred Son of Heaven dispatched an envoy with an imperial edict, and ordered me to accompany him.

In the second month of the following year, the year bingshen in the Yuanzhen reign period (1296), we left Mingzhou, and on the twentieth day of that month we set sail from the harbor at Wenzhou. On the fifteenth day of the third month we reached Champa, having been set back by adverse winds mid-journey. We arrived in Cambodia in the autumn, at the beginning of the seventh month.

We duly secured the submission of local officials.

Entries from Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu: An Open Access Resource, translated by Geoff Wade (Singapore: Asia Research Institute and the Singapore E-Press, National University of Singapore).

Read the article provided and answer the following questions:

Hong-wu: Year 4, Month 11, Day 7 (14 December 1371):

"The minister Nai Yi-ji-lang and others who had been sent by Hu-er-na, the Ba-shan prince/king (巴山王) of the country of Cambodia, presented a memorial and offered local products as tribute in felicitation on the coming New Year's Day. The calendar Da Tong Li as well as patterned fine silks interwoven with gold thread were conferred upon the prince/king. The envoys who came were all presented with silk gauzes and patterned fine silks, as appropriate."

Hong-wu: Year 16, Month 4, Day 22 (24 May 1383):

"Envoys were sent to confer tally-slip books (勘合文冊) on the various countries of Siam, Champa and Cambodia. These were sent in order that when Chinese envoys arrived at these countries in future, the country could verify their status by fitting their tally-slip together with that of the envoy. If the tallies did not match, the envoy would be spurious and they were then to arrest him and inform."

Hong-wu: Year 21, Month 9, Day 15 (15 October 1388):

"The minister Nai Mao-li and others, who had been sent by the country of Cambodia, offered tribute of 28 elephants, 34 elephant handlers and 45 fan slaves to express gratitude for Imperial kindness in conferring a seal. It was Imperially commanded that clothing and paper money, as appropriate, be conferred upon the envoy and the officials."

Yong-le: Year 3, Month 7, Day 18 (12 August 1405):

"The Usher Wang Zi was sent to offer sacrifices for Can-lie Po Pi-ya, the deceased king of Cambodia. It was also ordered that the Supervising Censor Bi Jin and the eunuch official Wang Cong take an Imperial proclamation enfeoffing Can-lie Zhao Ping-ya, the eldest son of the deceased king of the country of Cambodia, as king of the country of Cambodia, and to confer paper money, silks and other goods upon him. They were also to escort the envoy Nai Mei home."

Yong-le: Year 12, Month 3, Day 11 (1 April 1414):

"The Chief Steward Zhu Yuan and others were sent as envoys to the country of Cambodia. Previously, the persons sent by Cambodia to offer tribute had said that their country had been repeatedly attacked by Champa. The envoys then long remained in the capital. At this time, the Emperor sent Yuan and others to escort the envoys home and to confer variegated silks upon Can-lie Zhao Ping-ya, the king of the country of Cambodia. Separate orders of warning were sent to Zhan-ba Di-lai, the king of the country of Champa, advising that he should concern himself with his own affairs and act in accordance with principles, while paying attention to the protection of his own territory and the maintenance of friendly relations with his neighbours."

- Questions -

  1. Consider the language used in Zhou Daguan’s writing and in the excerpts from the annals of the Ming Dynasty. How did the imperial court conceive of China’s position in the international community of states?

  2. What kinds of tribute did Cambodia send to China? How did the Chinese respond to these tributes?

  3. Think about the tally-slip books mentioned in the entry from Hongwu Year 16, Month 4, Day 22. Why do you think the Chinese imperial court wanted to keep such detailed records? What does this suggest about the tributary system?

  4. What do you think is the significance of the conferral of a calendar by the imperial court onto the Cambodian king?

  5. What benefits did being part of the Chinese tributary system confer on smaller states like Cambodia?



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