Archive for Zhou Daguan

Zhou Daguan: ‘The Customs of Cambodia’

Posted in Books, Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , on March 1, 2014 by Thim Kwai

The only written report we have nowadays about the medieval Angkor empire is coming from a remarkable young Chinese man who lived some 700 years ago, in the same time as the famous Westerner Marco Polo. It’s Zhou Daguan (also: Chou Ta-Kuan), who was a member of a diplomatic mission to Angkor Thom in the years 1296/97 CE. Within fifteen years after he went back to China he wrote a report from his memories, which is titled ‘The Customs of Cambodia’ (Chinese: Zhenla fengtu ji).

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Zhou Daguan by Asienreisender

Zhou Daguan (1266 – 1346 CE)

In 1296 CE the Angkorean empire was past it’s peak. After Sukothai’s rise in the west, and particularly the emerging empire of Ayutthaya after 1251 CE, the Siamese fought the Khmer more and more back to the east. The old Khmer arch enemies, the Chams, took their part in attacking Angkor from the northeast. That must have been very bloody wars. In the long run they led to the complete decline of Angkor. A final death push came in 1431 CE, when Siamese troops conquered and sacked Angkor Thom.

The edition of ‘The Customs of Cambodia’ on which this article is based on is the 1992 one of the Siam Society in Bangkok. It is a secondary translation into English from an originally 1902 translation by Paul Pelliot from Chinese into French. Meanwhile there is a new translation done by Peter Harris, who worked it directly from the original Chinese into English. It’s certainly a professional challenge to translate a medieval Chinese script into a language of our times.

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This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Zhou Daguan’. Read here the whole article on Zhou Daguan.

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The Empire of Angkor

Posted in Countries, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The medieval empire of Angkor was the most significant state and civilization in Southeast Asia until today. It was remarkable above all for it’s architecture, represented in numerous monuments, and it’s cultural long-term influence in Southeast Asia until today.

But it was not only extraordinary for Southeast Asia. Angkor stands the comparison with the other great empires of world’s history. Angkor city was a huge, sophisticated urban center and is seen by historians as the greatest pre-modern city in history. It was home for up to a million people in it’s best times. A huge transport and irrigation infrastructure was part of it. The construction of Angkor Wat, the state temple, was a gigantic performance. The whole organization of the building site was a major challenge. It included the gain of the huge amount of stone materials from the Kulen quarries, the transport of all the many tons of stone over a distance of 40km to the building site, the workmanship into all the absolute precisely fitting single pieces, the procession of the materials surface into all the brilliant carvings. The building time of gigantic Angkor Wat lasted below 40 years. It is the largest religious building in the world. Compared with the European cathedrals it was built in a fraction of the time. Only the cathedral in Salisbury in England had such a short building time, but is a much smaller building. The construction of other cathedrals took normally between 200 and 300 years. The grand dome in Cologne in Germany was built in a timespan exceeding 650 years. In fact it’s still not completed. Well, in fact Angkor Wat isn’t fully completed either…

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This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘The Empire of Angkor’. Read here the whole article on The Empire of Angkor.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Angkor Thom and Bayon by Asienreisender

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Sights with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The first half of the 13th century might mark the zenith of the Angkorean empire. The capital of Angkor with the new centerpiece Angkor Thom reached a size bigger than all the European cities of the time, including London, Paris and even Rome. One has to mention here (again) that Angkor was still much bigger than the inner core, Angkor Thom, which was reserved for the king, the high priests, the new state temple (the Bayon) and for great representative events on the ‘Victory Road’ near the Terrace of the Elephants. Around this centerpiece the mass of Angkor’s population lived, the peasants, the craftsmen, more priests and the majority of the men who formed the army. Most of these people lived in the typical Southeast Asian shacks and stilt huts of the simple people, built of wood and bamboo, with grass or leaves forming the roofs. These buildings weren’t sustainable and therefore disappeared traceless over the time, eaten up by the tropical nature.

Representative Angkor Thom therefore was (and is) an area of three kilometers in both length and width. It’s four sides are aligned to the points of the compass. It was surrounded by an eight meters high wall made of laterite stone, of which was outside a 100 meters wide water trench digged out. At the inner side of the wall soil was accumulated to enforce the walls and enable soldiers from inside to reach the top of the walls. It’s still possible to climb up to the top of the wall and walk along on it.

Inside there is a road net, which is connected to the outer area by five city gates. Basically there are two roads crossing the area and meeting in the center point, at the Bayon’s position. From the Bayon these roads lead into the four compass directions to four of the gates. A fifth gate is placed north of the east gate. It’s called the ‘Victory Gate’ and it’s road, the ‘Victory Road’, is leading straight to the royal palace. Best known is Angkor Thom’s south gate, the one which leads to the road to nearby Angkor Wat (just 1,700m away).

The gates of the city wall are all very representative and show a giant head with four faces showing in all directions on the top of a towerlike construction (called ‘gopuram’). Their height is 22m, the gate opening is 7m high and 3.50m wide, and therefore high enough to move through it on the back of an elephant. The city gates are made of sandstone and can cope in their quality with the ancient buildings of the old greek. In their original state they have been probably equipped with two heavy wooden doors and a massive bar to close the doors from inside.

When approaching one of the gates from outside, one has to cross a wide naga bridge, which leads over the outer moat. On the right and left sides of the bridges are 54 gods and daemons placed, who carry two nagas.

The most important state buildings were concentrated inside the city walls of Angkor Thom. In the northwestern part was the king’s palace, together with a temple pyramide called Phimeanakas. This construction was then extended by the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leprosy King and the great (victory) square, alltogether a great areal for military parades or presenting great representative games and shows.

Also remarkable are the mountainlike temple Baphuon and the two buildigs called northern and southern Khleang, who were kind of halls. Opposite to the Terrace of the Elephants are two ponds and twelve towers called Prasat Suor Prat. In the geometical center of the whole square-shaped arrangement of Angkor Thom is the famous and most outstanding Bayon placed.

Besides, ancient Angkor was famous for it’s sophisticated canal system. A number of canals led through Angkor Thom. They partially served as a transport system, partially they were used as a freshwater source, as well as a bathroom and, not to forget, for wastewater disposal. The water flowed from the northeast to the southwest, drained eventually to the western baray (a rectangle-shaped, artificial lake) outside Angkor Thom. Probably the water was taken out of the Siem Reap River, using the natural gradient of the land towards the Tonle Sap Lake.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Angkor Thom’. Read here the whole article on Angkor Thom.

Keep yourself up-to-date

Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender