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Dissolving hegemony or changing trade pattern? Images of Srivijaya in the Chinese sources of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.


The history of Srivijaya has been one of the most controversial subjects in premodern Southeast Asian history. Among the crucial issues in relation to this subject are the timing and cause of its decline and, in particular, to what extent changes in trade patterns contributed to such a development. Recent scholarship, largely derived from new interpretations of the epigraphical and archaeological findings in Southeast Asia, has contributed much to advance our understanding of this ancient empire. Yet, information available in those sources is still far from adequate to make a conclusive historical judgment. It is thus imperative to re-examine Chinese accounts of Srivijaya in the light of this new scholarship.

This paper begins with a brief summary of recent discussions on the decline of Srivijaya in the eleventh century based on local epigraphical evidence, mainly drawn from work by O.W. Wolters and Kenneth Hall. This will be followed by a detailed examination of Chinese materials relevant to the issue. The conclusion will offer some suggestions of how to comprehend discrepancies among these sources.

The Srivijayan Hegemony and Its Decline in Southeast Asian Historiography

Scholars have established that Srivijaya should be identified with a prosperous Southeast Asian empire known as Shi-li-fo-shi in Tang sources, San-fo-qi in Song sources, and Zabaj or Sribuza in medieval Arabic records. It is believed to have been the dominant maritime power in insular Southeast Asia mentioned in a number of local inscriptions which are dated from the seventh to the twelfth centuries.(1) By the seventh century, it became a thalassocracy in the Straits of Malacca and Sunda, claiming suzerainty over many local Malay polities in both Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Strategically situated, it dominated the sea route between China and the Indian Ocean, and hence the lucrative international Nanhai trade.(2) Its capital was first located at Palembang, but might have moved elsewhere after the eleventh century.(3)

In terms of hegemony, the Srivijaya empire, or bhumi in Sanskrit, consisted of its ruling house or Maharaja residing in the kraton (palace) of Srivijaya (Palembang) and a number of vassals. These vassals can be further divided into two groups: those ruled by datus located along the upstream and downstream Musi River hinterland, and the peripheral ones at other river-mouth ports in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.(4) The Maharaja ruled the former group through a combination of spiritual and material bondage built upon allegiance to the king affirmed by religious oath-taking, and the redistribution of wealth and commodities derived from an international trade that was dominated by royalty. ln rerum, these vassals supported the Srivijayan kraton with exportable forest products, provision of food, and extra manpower for military purposes in times of crisis or conquest.(5) Force may have been a deterrent factor but was not frequently employed. On the contrary, the tributary submission by the peripheral vassals would rely more effectively on military strength, though control through cultural dominance and material benefit must also have been present.(6) Srivijayan naval supremacy is believed to have been established with support not only from the manpower obtained from the Musi River valley, but also from the sea nomads, or orang laut, living on the coast and the offshore islands of southeastern Sumatra. And in order to keep their service and to prevent them from reverting to piracy, it was necessary for the Srivijayan king to monopolize the profits from international trade in insular Southeast Asia so that sufficient wealth could be generated to sustain this system.(7)

The trade pattern, which played a decisive role in the Srivijayan hegemony, consisted of three layers: the principal entrepot of Srivijaya (Palembang); sub-regional entrepots; and other lesser ports serving as feeder points.(8) The regional entrepots included the Kra ports of Takuapa (probably early Kalah in Arabic sources), Chaiya (Pan Pan), Kedah (probably the earlier Jie-cha in Chinese records and the later Kalah in Arabic) on the western coast of the Peninsula; and the Sumatran ports of Jambi-Malayu, Lampung, Kota Cina, the Sungai Emas area in the Muda River Valley, Kampar, Barus and Lamuri. They were likely to have remained independently governed and to have continued taking part in international trade. Under Srivijayan hegemony, they had to pay regular tribute to the king and to refrain from making any challenge to the concentration of international trading activities in Palembang.

In short, the Srivijayan bhumi relied heavily on a domination of international trade that resulted from its control of the peripheral vassals; these in turn were subjugated by a Srivijayan navy that was maintained by the wealth derived from the international trade itself. In the light of such understanding, we can see that the Srivijayan order was highly interdependent, depending on the king's control over peripheral vassals, a strong navy, and a monopoly of international trade. Weakening any one of these three variables was likely to lead to a rapid decline of the rest and ultimately the dissolution of the entire bhumi.

The above outline sketches Srivijayan hegemony during the first millennium. It constitutes a basis for understanding the Srivijayan empire in the eleventh and the twelfth centuries when, according to an emerging view among scholars in the field, it entered a period of decline. The cause of the decline remains unclear. Did Srivijaya cease to dominate the Nanhai trade from the eleventh to the twelfth century? Did it lose control of the peripheral vassals, in particular those in the Malay Peninsula? Or did it lose its leading edge in naval power?

Based mainly upon epigraphical evidence, some Southeast Asian historians, like O.W. Wolters and Kenneth Hall, have postulated that the Srivijayan empire began to shrink as early as the eleventh century.(9) According to this interpretation, Srivijaya was dealt a devastating blow during the 1025 raid by the Chola king Rajendra from Coromandel coast in Southeastern India. According to the Tanjavur inscription, nearly all of the important kratons, including Palembang itself, were sacked,(10) Thereafter, the peripheral vassals in northern Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula became more actively engaged in international trade against their overlord's interest. For example, Kedah, Barus and Lamuri handled international trade independently by the end of the eleventh century.(11) The situation in the Kra Isthmus became acute with Khmer and Burmese expansion into this region, resulting in much closer commercial and cultural ties with the Mainland empires of Angkor, Pagan and the emerging Thai power.(12) On the eastern front, Srivijaya was from the early eleventh century losing ground to its eastern Javanese rival, the kingdom of She-po based in Kahuripari under the rule of king Airlangga, a change which involved not only political control over central Java but also the domination of the increasingly lucrative spice trade originating in the Moluccas.(13) Although Srivijaya remained a powerful centre in insular Southeast Asia through the eleventh century, its hegemony was beginning to decay, a process which may well have reached its culmination in the twelfth century.(14)

Against these regional political developments, Chinese merchants emerged as major players in international trade,(15) a change associated with rising demand for indigenous Southeast Asian produce as well as massive Chinese trade in export ceramics of medium to low quality with Southeast Asia, a significant portion of which were mass-produced in Southern Fujian from the mid-twelfth century.(16) Chinese merchants preferred a diffused pattern of trade which gave them direct access to forest products and allowed them to market ceramics directly in various localities in Southeast Asia instead of shipping them first to Srivijaya for redistribution. This new pattern of trade was no longer conducive to a regionally dominant entrepot such as Srivijaya-Palembang, and accelerated the dissolution of Srivijayan hegemony over insular Southeast Asia.(17)

The above view of a Srivijayan decay in the eleventh and the twelfth centuries seems plausible in general, but certain questions remain to be explained. For instance, while it may have been true that Srivijaya could no longer dominate international trade, the state still maintained an extremely lavish kraton that continued to impress foreign merchants as the Land of Gold.(18) Also, while Srivijaya may have been losing control over its peripheral vassals, it seems to have been able to maintain a superior navy, the major factor for the submission of these vassals in earlier centuries. How could it afford to maintain this mercenary navy and an extravagant kraton without domination of the Nanhai trade? Answers to these questions cannot be found in epigraphical evidence or Arabic materials, and must be sought in contemporary Chinese sources.

Chinese Images of Srivijaya in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

Two types of Chinese records are available on Srivijaya. The first deals with the tributary missions despatched to the Song courts. Wolters studied the standard Song sources and observed that the frequency pattern of such missions may well have been related to crises in Srivijaya, either domestic or international, and to the pursuit of commercial profit or of symbolic status by its rulers.(19) While this information about the empire's relationship with Song China is important,(20) it does not have much beating on the issue at hand. Biji jottings done by individual Song writers are more relevant here and provide data pertaining to Srivijayan hegemony from the eleventh to the thirteenth century.

Wolters was a pioneer in studying this material.(21) He identified two important jottings on Srivijaya and noted others in passing. There are "three accounts of San-fo-ch'i so far known in Sung pi-chi literature", according to Wolters,(22) and he gave full translations of two accounts, taken respectively from the Canton Stories (Pingzhou ketan), a book by Zhu Yu which was prefaced 1118-19 but recorded situations in c.1100, and the Ethnographic Survey of the Lingwai Region (Lingwai daida) written by Zhou Qufei around 1178. In order to understand how these materials bear on the issue of Srivijayan decline in the eleventh century, we have to re-examine the full texts first. As Wolters has already translated them into English, I simply quote the relevant parts except where I feel it is necessary to give my own translation; these passages appear in italics. From the Canton Stories comes the "earliest" account:

Every country in the southern ocean has its chief. San-fo-ch'i was named the greatest country. It possesses its own writing system and its people are well-versed with calculation. Some merchants say that they can even predict the eclipses of the sun and moon. But their writing system is unknown to the Chinese. The land has a great deal of sandalwood and frankincense that are to be traded to China. San-fo-ch'i ships send the frankincense to China, and the Chinese Maritime Trade Office at the port of call would handle such goods as a government monopoly and purchase the entire shipment after receiving a proportion of it as customs duty. In recent years San-fo-ch'i has established [its own] monopoly in sandalwood. The ruler orders merchants to sell it to him. The market value of the product [therefore] increases several times. The subjects of that country do not dare to sell it privately. This is an effective way of governance. The country is exactly [at the center of] the southern ocean. The Ta-shih [Arab] countries are far away to its west. Chinese going to Ta-shih reach San-fo-ch'i, repair their ships, and exchange goods. Merchants from distant places congregate there. This country is therefore considered to be the most prosperous one.(23)

The second account of Srivijaya in the Lingwai Region reads:

San-fo-ch'i is on an important thoroughfare in the southern ocean for all foreigners using the maritime route. To the east are Java and other counties. To the west are the Ta-shih [countries], Quilon, and other countries. Traders from all these countries must pass through this area to reach China. The country [of San-fo-ch'i] has no products, but its people are skillful in warfare and attack. They digest medicine in their bodies, and weapons cannot wound them. They attack on land and sea and are foremost in both [forms of warfare]. All the neighboring countries therefore submit [to San-fo-ch'i]. If foreign ships traveling through this region do not enter the country, [San-fo-ch'i] is bound to send out an expedition to destroy them. The country is therefore rich in rhinoceros [horn], ivory, jewels, and aromatics. The custom in this country is to fasten floating rafts in the water and live on them. Among its dependencies is Fo-lo-an, whose chief is chosen and appointed by San-fo-ch'i. Fo-lo-an produces incense much more powerful than any incense from the Lower Coast countries. It is excellent. There is a sacred Buddha image [in San-fo-ch'i], and the ruler visits it every year and bums incense.(24)

These passages show a change in Sumatran politics over a period of 75 years, and support Wolters' notion of a Srivijayan decay during the eleventh and the twelfth centuries partly as a result of the expansion of Chinese merchants into the Nanhai trade. He accepts the passages as reliable records of their respective times, that is, the 1100s and the 1170s. He notes that Zhu Yu "describes Jambi as a thriving and peaceful trading center", "a great country" which "prospered on account of its geographical position and entrepot function" and attracted "merchants from distant lands". It sent "western Asian frankincense" as a tributary item and was able to introduce a "monopoly in sandalwood" from Java and the Spice Islands. The picture offered by Zhou Qufei is far more gloomy. The empire by the 1170s "had no products of its own and relied on force to compel foreign ships to visit it". From these foreign ships, Wolters excluded the Chinese ones, for he thinks that these newcomer merchants from China were not likely to comply with the monopoly imposed by Srivijaya. The empire's wealth could, therefore, only justify placing it third among the foreign countries, behind Tashi and Java.(25)

To what extent do other sources support Wolters' notion? We should first consult the third Song account of Srivijaya mentioned by Wolters. It appeared in the famous Treatise on Foreign Lands (Zhufanzhi) written by Zhao Rugua in c.1225, about 50 years after Zhou's 1178 account. By this time we should expect to see further deterioration of the Srivijayan hegemony, but this is not the case. The following passages translated by Hirth and Rockhill deal with the issue of Srivijayan hegemony and are grouped not in accordance to the sequence in the original text, but in a way that is more convenient for discussion. The account starts by explaining:

San-fo-ts'i lies between Chon-la and Sho-p'o. Its rule extends over 15 chou (provinces or towns).

In the winter, with the monsoon, you sail a little more than a month and then come to Ling-ya-mon, where one-third of the passing merchants (put in) before entering this country (of San-fo-ts'i).

A large portion of the people of this country are surnamed "P'u".

On the material wealth of the Srivijayan kings:

The wall of the (capital) city is built of bricks, and measures several tens of li round.

When the king goes out he sits in a boat; his body has a man-pu wrapped around it. He is sheltered by a silk umbrella and guarded by men bearing golden lances.

The people either live scattered about outside the city, or on the water on rafts of boards covered over with reeds, and these are exempt from taxation.

There is (in San-fo-ts'i) a (kind of) Buddha (i.e., image) called "Hill of Gold and Silver" and it is cast in gold. Each succeeding king before ascending the throne has cast a golden image to represent his person, and they are most popular to make offerings of golden vessels to these images, and the golden images and golden vessels all bear inscriptions to caution future generations not to melt them down.

When any one in this country is dangerously ill he distributes his weight in silver among the poor of the land, and this is held to be a means of delaying death.

(The king) has a high cap (or hat) of gold, set with hundreds of jewels and very heavy. At great court ceremonies no one but the king is able to wear it; all other people are unable. When the throne becomes vacant all the king's sons are assembled, the cap is handed them and he who is able (to bear its weight) succeeds to the throne.

On the commercial practices of the country:

They have no stringed copper cash, but use chopped off lumps of silver in their business transactions.

Exclusive of the native products, which include tortoise-shell, camphor, the chon, su, and chan (varieties of gharu-wood), a coarse shou (variety of gharu-wood), lakawood, cloves, sandal-wood and cardamoms, there are also pearls, frankincense, rosewater, gardenia flowers, wu-na-ts'i (?), myrrh, aloes, asa-foetida, putchuk, liquid storax, elephants' tusks, coral-trees. cat-eyes, amber, foreign cotton stuffs and sword blades. All these (latter) are products of the Arab (Ta-shi) foreigners.

The foreign traders who gather together in this country give in exchange gold, silver, porcelain-ware, silk brocades, skeins of silk, silk gauzes, sugar, iron, samshu, rice, dried galangal, rhubarb and camphor.

And on Srivijaya's military strength and its effect on maritime trade:

They are skilled at fighting on land or water. When they are about to make war on another state they assemble and send forth such a force as the occasion demands. They (then) appoint chiefs and leaders, and all provide their own military equipment and the necessary provisions. In facing the enemy and braving death they have not their equal among other nations.

This country, lying in the ocean and controlling the straits through which the foreigners' sea and land traffic in either direction must pass, in olden times used an iron chain as a barrier to keep the pirates of other countries in check. It could be kept up or lowered by a cunning device. If a merchant ship arrived it was lowered. After a number of years of peace, during which there has been no use for it, it has been removed and (now) lies coiled up on the shore. The natives reverence it like a Buddha, and vessels coming there sacrifice to it. When rubbed with oil it shines like new. Crocodiles do not dare pass over it to do mischief.

If a merchant ship passes by without entering, their boats go forth to make a combined attack, and all are ready to die (in the attempt). This is the reason why this country is a great shipping center.(26)

Finally, Zhao's account gives a picture of the bhumi of Srivijaya in the form of a list of its dependencies which are tabulated with suggested identifications below:(27)


Apart from the three sources mentioned by Wolters, there is a fourth account of Srivijaya in a book entitled The Extended Encyclopedia (Shilin guangji) compiled by Chen Yuanjing around the mid-thirteenth century.(28) Although the earliest extant editions of this encyclopedia were all printed in Yuan times and contain information pertaining to that period, the section of "Notes on Island Barbarians" (daoizhi) where the following passage appears. Its date is indicated by the words "guochao Qingyuan er nian" (literally "the second year of the Qingyuan reign of this dynasty", referring to the Southern Song dynasty and the year 1196). I therefore take the entire section as an original product of the mid-thirteenth century, when Chen first compiled this book. In this section, there are a few sentences resembling passages in Zhao's account but the rest are fresh, and a remark under the heading of this section noted that its content agreed with records kept in the Maritime Affairs Office in Guangzhou. So there is reason to believe that it also represented the late Southern Song knowledge of Southeast Asia. On Srivijaya, it states:

To visit Srivijaya, one can set sail from Guangzhou to the direction of the south in winter. Carried by the north wind, [a ship] can arrive at Lingyamen in 15 days and stay there for another five days before entering Srivijaya. The country has city-walls built of timber. There is no particular produce locally. All natives have the surname "Pu". They are very skilled in warfare on land and in the seas. Before confronting the enemy, soldiers will take a drug which protects them from being hurt. Thus, they overpower other countries. [As a tradition,] every king will make a gold figure resembling himself after enthronement and keep it in a special room. Together will be a lot of gold vessels for ceremonies serving the gold image, which are strictly observed. Each gold vessel is inscribed with warnings to the descendants that from generation to generation it is strictly prohibited to melt down these vessels. Recently, one king found there were simply too many gold [vessels]. They could not he melted down due to the death penalty which would be incurred. Nor could the room be opened [in the near future] if gold vessels inside continued to pile up. All he could do at the end was to ship all these gold vessels to the sea and sink them....

The similarities between this account and that of the Foreign Lands is intriguing. Yet there are apparent variations unmistakably indicating their different sources of information.

Furthermore, we have an account of Srivijayan trade in frankincense from the Treatise on Southeast Asian aromatics (Nanfan xianglu) written by the Quanzhou prefect Ye Tinggui around 1151, which is also revealing. It states:

(Frankincense) is shipped to Srivijaya by the Arabs in exchange for other goods. Therefore, there is a high concentration of frankincense as a commodity in Srivijaya. Each year, Srivijaya despatches large vessels [shipping frankincense] to Guangzhou and Quanzhou. The officials serving at the offices of maritime affairs in these two ports will have their promotion prospects determined by the amount of frankincense [arriving at their jurisdictions]. There are thirteen grades of frankincense....(29)

This description equating the importance of Quanzhou and Guangzhou in the frankincense trade indicates strongly that it was depicting a current situation in the twelfth century. This Srivijayan trade pattern is further substantiated by an account of foreign countries having trade relations with Quanzhou, written in 1206 by Zhao Yanwei based on the archives of the Quanzhou Maritime Affairs Office. The text states:

Foreign countries whose ships frequent the office of maritime affairs in Quanzhou are as follows: Tashi (the Arab countries), Jialing, Mala, Xintiao (Sunda?), Ganpei (kampar?), and Srivijaya ship here the goods of pearl, ivory, rhinoceros horn, camphor, frankincense, gharuwood, jianxiang, coral, opaque glass, carnelian, tortoise-shell tortoise-tube, gardenia flower, rose-water, water ambergris, and so on. Those trading in Jinyanxiang (benzoin) include Zhenla which is also called Zhenlifu, Sanbo, Yuanyang, Dengliumei, Xipeng, Luohu (Lopburi?), Pagan. The one trading in camphor is Brunei. Java has plenty of medicines. Those trading with jiajian (?) include Champa, Muli, Mulijian, Bindanong, Huma, Badong, Xinzhouguo (Kelantan?). Those trading in putchuk are Foluoan (Beranang), Pengfeng (Pahang), Daluodi, Damoguo (Tambralinga?). Countries producing cotton cloth and cotton textiles are Bosilan, Mayi (Mait?), Sanyu, Pulihuan (Polillo?), Baipuerguo(Papua?). The country of Koryo produces ginseng, silver, copper, mercury, silk textiles, and so on. Basically most of these countries produce aromatics. Ships from the above countries usually return home by the south wind, except Koryo, whose ships have to take the north wind instead.... The countries described above are seldom mentioned in history books. Information on them is only collected in the office of maritime affairs.(30)

This account placed Srivijaya under the category of Arab countries which shared similar commodities like frankincense, as distinguished from other major Southeast Asian polities like Java, Champa and Zhenla.

Chinese images of Srivijaya in the twelfth century do not present it as a centre of trade in Southeast Asian local produce. According to Wolters, pine resin, benzoin, and camphor constituted the three major export items from Srivijaya to China.(31) It is true that under the chapter on Srivijaya in the Foreign Lands the native goods of that country included such aromatics as camphor, gharuwood, lakawood, cloves, and sandalwood. But in the sections on individual aromatics in the same source, only two varieties are said to have originated from Srivijaya - lakawood and benzoin. The rest are likely to have been available in Srivijaya after being shipped there from elsewhere, such as cloves from the Moluccas. Lakawood was inexpensive,(32) while benzoin does not seem to have been a major commodity compared to other Arabian goods, as seen in the above citations such as that of Zhao Yanwei. Although Ye Tinggui noted in Southeast Asian Aromatics that benzoin came from Srivijaya, he might have meant that it was shipped there from other parts of Southeast Asia. Ye, for instance, made it clear that the three major countries producing gharuwood were, in order of excellence, Zhenla, Champa, and Brunei, and he left out Srivijaya altogether,(33) although gharuwood was said by Zhao Rugua to have been available in Srivijaya, as mentioned above. As for camphor, the Foreign Lands explicitly remarked that it was not produced in Srivijaya but shipped there for transshipment to China.(34) Ye stated that camphor mainly came from Brunei, but was "also available in Srivijaya". In any event, it is apparent that the Chinese writers did not see Srivijaya as a prime centre of the camphor trade.(35)

Regardless of what the Chinese said about Srivijaya in the twelfth century, if these accounts were merely hearsay obtained from Chinese or foreign merchants who happened to have visited the maritime empire and therefore had obtained some knowledge of it, we should of course have reservations about their reliability. Yet, there is evidence that these Chinese materials include first-hand information provided by members of a Srivijayan community residing in Quahzhou in the middle of the twelfth century.

In 1935 Kuwabara Jitsuzo cited a passage from the Foreign Lands when discussing the issue of foreign settlements in Quanzhou; on the basis of that passage he inferred that an Arab merchant of Siraf origin living in the southern suburb of Quanzhou city had built a public cemetery to bury foreign travelers who died there.(36) I have questioned the appropriateness of relying on this citation,(37) in view of the fact that the original text from which the author of the Foreign Lands derived his account is available for consultation. Zhao Rugua stated that his account was based on "the true facts documented by Lin Zhiqi". This comment refers to an essay commemorating the establishment of a cemetery for foreigners who died in Quanzhou, which can be found in Lin's collected works.(38) Lin was superintendent of maritime affairs in Quanzhou, and Zhao's account clearly cannot be more reliable than his original source, which is in fact an eye-witness report; moreover, Lin knew the foreign merchant in question personally.(39) The exact date when Lin was appointed to the Quanzhou post is not known. He obtained a jinshi degree in 1151, and according to his biography in the Dynastic History of the Song (Song shi),(40) had held at least four other official posts before receiving the Quanzhou appointment. There is evidence that the post was occupied by other officials in 1155 and in 1163,(41) so it is possible that Lin held the position some time between these two years. According to the text below, he is most likely to have been there until the early 1160s. This interesting essay, which is the original source of the more widely known story recounted by Zhao Rugua, presents a rather different picture of Srivijaya:

Among the three prefectures dealing with the South Sea and responsible for taxing mercantile ships is Quanzhou prefecture. Among scores of countries which have trade connections with Quanzhou is Srivijaya. There are scores of rich merchants from Srivijaya who are living or were born in Quanzhou. Among them is a man called Shi Nowei. Shi is famous for his generosity among his fellow foreign residents in Quahzhou. The building of a cemetery is but one of his many generous deeds. This cemetery was first proposed by another foreigner named Pu Xiaxin, but the idea has been carried out and accomplished by Shi. The location of this cemetery is on the hillside to the east of the city. After clearing the wild weeds and rubble, many graves have been built. The cemetery is covered with a roof, enclosed by a wall, and safely locked. All foreign merchants who die in Quanzhou are to be buried here. The construction started in 1162 and was finished the year after. Such a benevolent deed releases all foreigners in this land from worry [concerning their own graves after death]; and enables the dead to be free of regrets. Such kindness will certainly promote overseas trade and encourage foreigners to come. It is much appreciated that Shi has carried it out. Therefore, I write this essay to commemorate the event so that [news of it] will be widely circulated overseas.

From this passage, some new understandings emerge. The conventional notion that the founder of the cemetery was an Arab from Siraf needs amendment. Instead, he was a Srivijayan, and his name was Shi Nowei, not Shi Nawei as stated in the Foreign Lands. The location of the cemetery was on a hill to the east of the city, not in a southeastern suburb. Finally, it is apparent that there were many Srivijayans living in Quanzhou. Most relevant to our discussion is that this community is very likely to have provided the firsthand information about their own country to their Chinese hosts, thereby lending authenticity to contemporary Chinese texts.

To sum up, from these Chinese sources we can make the following observations: (1) None of them was written prior to the twelfth century. (2) They are consistent with contemporary Arabic accounts of Srivijaya down to the early thirteenth century showing that it was still a very prosperous empire. (3) There was no sign of decline in international trade as far as Srivijaya was concerned as it was still able to maintain its primary source of revenue and income, despite possible changes in the pattern of trade. (4) It should be noted that the account in the Foreign Lands indicated clearly that the bulk of commodities Srivijaya shipped to Quanzhou in the early thirteenth century were of western Asian origin, meaning that it remained a dominant entrepot for the cross-ocean trade linking the Indian Ocean with the Pacific. (5) The Srivijayan navy was known for its strength and (6) The peripheral vassals seem to have maintained normal tributary submission to Srivijaya in the early thirteenth century. Most importantly, from Zhao Yanwei's account quoted above it is clear that these vassals were allowed to trade directly with Quahzhou and appeared as individual countries in the Maritime Affairs Office records, for example, Folo-an (Foluoan) and Pong-fong (Pengfeng). Both were distinguished from Srivijaya as countries that brought in only putchuk (muxiang) for exchange.(42)

It is of course necessary to be cautious about the reliability of these sources as they present information gathered according to Chinese interests, and often reproduce portions of earlier writings rather than reflecting contemporary conditions. Despite such shortcomings they are the best source of information about Srivijaya available today for the following reasons: (1) These sources relied on information available at the major Chinese ports of Guangzhou (for Zhu, Zhou and Chen) and Quahzhou (for Zhao), which lay at one end of the international sea route that passed through and was dominated by Srivijaya. (2) The information was derived from multiple sources. A major one was the official records collected in the Office of Maritime Affairs, which oversaw foreign trade and registered all incoming foreign ships and outgoing Chinese ships. For control purposes, it was their duty to compile information on all foreign countries which had trading relationships with China, especially major trading partners like Srivijaya. (3) Although there is overlapping data which probably reflects the reproduction of earlier accounts, these sources clearly contain information that is not repeated and is likely to have been newly added and (4) Such information was supplemented by oral and written accounts provided by both Chinese and foreign traders who either visited or came from foreign lands. It included the accounts from the Arab and Indian merchants whose oral traditions constitute the basis of medieval Arabic geographical writings on Southeast Asia. And more importantly, as discussed above there is evidence that a Srivijayan community existed in Quahzhou by the mid-twelfth century. That suggests that a Srivijayan account is very likely to have found its way into contemporary Chinese sources.

There is no serious contradiction between the twelfth-century Chinese image of Srivijaya and that derived from the local epigraphical evidence. Trade in insular Southeast Asia from the eleventh to the twelfth century was increasingly diffuse, with more traders and more countries becoming directly involved in the exchange of international commodities. The hegemony of Srivijaya nonetheless was sustained, and though it slowly embarked on an obscure course of decay, this decline did not manifest itself until late in the thirteenth century. Srivijaya continued to command tributary submission from its many former vassals;(43) it continued to dominate the international trade of commodities from the Indian Ocean, such as frankincense; and its navy remained a formidable power in the region. Wolters' notion that Srivijaya only threatened foreign mercantile ships other than Chinese vessels for not calling at their ports may be better understood in such a context, for only those from the Indian Ocean would carry the frankincense or other merchandise that Srivijaya needed, not those from China.(44) There is no reason why the Srivijayans would have hesitated to raid a Chinese ship had it carried Arabian commodities yet dared to forego Palembang or Jambi. Moreover, under such Srivijayan overlordship most subordinate countries in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula were given a free hand to participate in international trade, in particular those dealing with Southeast Asian local commodities, whether resins or spices, probably due to Srivijaya's concentration on Arabian goods. This practice had probably dated from before the eleventh century. The long-term decay of Srivijaya may then be a result of a shift from a transshipment orientation to an export orientation rather than the mass arrival of Chinese merchants. The new demand for Southeast Asian produce in the Indian Ocean and Chinese markets, and to a lesser degree the expansion of direct Chinese ceramics exports to various parts of insular Southeast Asia, caused the gradual decay of Srivijayan economic power, which was mainly built upon the transshipment trade.

From these Chinese images, we can also postulate the reason why so little physical evidence of Srivijaya remains in Palembang and its vicinity today. As seen above, the kraton was likely to have been built of timber and the people residing around it mainly lived on rafts. Both could be destroyed by invaders or later occupants of the land and in any case were made of non-durable materials. More importantly, there are simply too many stories about Srivijaya's richness in terms of precious metals like gold. It is not difficult to imagine that a kraton so famed for gold aroused enormous interest among its enemies and the pirates operating in this region. That may be a reason why few monuments remain, for if there were any made of gold, a preference detailed in the Chinese and Arab accounts, they would certainly have vanished long before the arrival of the Europeans.


This article has outlined what is known on the basis of local epigraphic data of Srivijayan hegemony from the tenth to the twelfth century, and has examined in detail Chinese images of this empire as recorded in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The results of this survey suggest that the Srivijaya empire maintained its overlordship over its peripheral vassals in Sumatra as well as the Malay Peninsula during this period. As a rule, it was possible for all these vassals to participate in international trade insofar as they did not challenge Srivijaya's monopoly of Indian Ocean commodities.

From the late eleventh century, a new pattern of trade emerged in insular Southeast Asia. Local products like resins and spices became increasingly in demand for markets in both the Indian Ocean and China. A parallel change was that coarser Chinese export ceramics produced in southern Fujian attracted more buyers among the smaller polities in Southeast Asia. These developments promoted more direct transactions between the international traders and the indigenous peoples around the region rather than through the elaborate distribution system of the Srivijaya kraton, although for a time the latter continued to prosper by monopolizing the transshipment of Indian Ocean commodities.

1 George Coedes, Sriwijaya: History, Religion and Language of an Early Malay Polity (Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1992); Paul Wheatley, The Golden Khersonese: Studies in the Historical Geography of the Malay Peninsula before A.D. 1500 (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1961); O.W. Wolters, "Studying Srivijaya", Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 52,2 (1979): 1-32; G.R. Tibbetts, A Study of the Arabic Texts Containing Material on Southeast Asia (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979). For a new reading of the local inscriptions, see Hermann Kulke, "'Kadatuan Srivijaya' - Empire or Kraton of Srivijaya? A Reassessment of the Epigraphical Evidence", Bulletin de l'Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient 80,1 (1993): 161-80. For a discussion of the diverse usage and derivations of these Chinese and Arabic terminology, see Tibbetts, Arabic Texts, pp. 100-118.

2 Coedes, Sriwijaya; Wolters, "Studying Srivijaya"; Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Bin Nik Abd. Rahman, "The Kingdom of Srivijaya as Socio-political and Cultural Entity", in The Southeast Asian Port and Polity, ed. J. Kathirithamby-Wells and J. Villiers (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990), pp. 61-82; Nicholas Tarling, ed., Cambridge History of Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), vol. 1. On the importance of foreign trade in the rise of Srivijaya, see O.W. Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce: A Study of the Origins of Srivijaya (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967).

3 O.W. Wolters, "A Note on the Capital of Srivijaya during the eleventh century", Artibus Asiae, supp. 23,1 (1969): 225-39: Pierre-Yves Manguin, "Palembang and Sriwijaya: An Early Malay Harbour-city Reconsidered", Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 66,1 (1993): 23-46.

4 Tarling, Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, 1, p. 200.

5 Ibid., p. 201.

6 Ibid., 1, pp. 201-202.

7 Ibid., p. 202; Shuhaimi, "Kingdom of Srivijaya", pp. 65-66.

8 Shuhaimi, "Kingdom of Srivijaya", pp. 67-73.

9 Tarling, Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, 1, pp. 207-208.

10 For the content of this important inscription, see Nilakanta Sastri, History of Sri Vijaya (Madras: University of Madras, 1949), pp. 79-85.

11 Kenneth Hall, Maritime Trade and State Development in Early Southeast Asia (Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 1985), pp. 195-99.

12 Kenneth Hall and John Whitmore, "Southeast Asian Trade and the Isthmian Struggle, 10001200 A.D.", in K. Hall and J. Whitmore, eds., Explorations in Early Southeast Asian History: The Origins of Southeast Asian Statecraft (Ann Arbor: Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 11, University of Michigan, 1976), pp. 306-313; Hall, Maritime Trade, pp. 197-202.

13 Tarling, Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, 1, pp. 207-215. For a recent study of the clove trade in Java, see Roderich Ptak, "China and the Trade in Cloves, circa 960-1435", Journal of the American Oriental Society 113,1 (1993): 1-13.

14 Hall, Maritime Trade, pp. 209-214; Shuhaimi, "Kingdom of Srivijaya", pp. 78-79.

15 Wolters, The Fall of Srivijaya in Malay History (London: Lund Humpries, 1970), p. 42; Hall, Maritime Trade, pp. 193-97. Wolters recently revised his view that Chinese had begun to frequent Southeast Asia 200 years before 1100. See O.W. Wolters, "Restudying Some Chinese Writings on Sriwijaya", Indonesia 42 (1986): 35-37. While there is no doubt that Chinese merchants, especially from Fujian, did venture to Southeast Asia from the middle of the tenth century, I still hold that such undertakings did not develop into an established practice until around or shortly after the middle of the eleventh century. Detailed discussion will be provided in So Kee-long, Prosperity, Institutions, and Rationality in Maritime China: The Regional Pattern of South Fukien, 946-1368, ch. 2, forthcoming.

16 There is an extensive literature on the Chinese export ceramics in Southeast Asia during this period. For instance, see Aurora Roxas-Lim, The Evidence of Ceramics as an Aid in Understanding the Pattern of Trade in the Philippines and Southeast Asia (Bangkok: Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, 1987), pp. 6-10. For the uses of Chinese ceramics in different localities in Southeast Asia, see Sumarah Adhytman, Antique Ceramics Found in Indonesia, Various Uses and Origins (Jakarta: Ceramic Society of Indonesia, 1990), pp. 18-22, 34-48. For a general account of the export ceramics industry in southern Fujian, see So Kee-long, "The Trade Ceramics Industry in South Fukien during the Sung", Journal of Sung & Yuan Studies 24 (1994): 1-19.

17 Hall, Maritime Trade, pp. 209-214.

18 Tibbetts, Arabic Texts, pp. 43-54, 100-128. See in particular those

passages on Srivijaya by 'Aja'ib al-Hind (c.1000), Mukhtasar al-'Aja'ib (c.1000), Biruni (973-1048), Marwazi (c.1120), Idrisi (d.1165), Ibn Sa'id (d.1274).

19 Wolters, "Capital of Srivijaya", pp. 235-36.

20 Lin Tianwei has compiled a comprehensive, though not necessarily complete, list of tributary missions from Srivijaya to the Song court. See Lin Tianwei, Songdai xiangyao maoyi shigao (Hongkong: Zhongguo xueshe, 1960), pp. 174-212. Lin's list is more comprehensive than Wolters' but I still failed to find much information relevant to the internal situation of Srivijayan politics. Such a relationship can always be expected in foreign policy theoretically. To clearly establish a correlation in a constant pattern, e.g., more frequent missions reflect crisis, would be more difficult.

21 O.W. Wolters, "A Few and Miscellaneous pi-chi Jottings on Early Indonesia", Indonesia 36 (1983): 49-65. Earlier attempts in this regard may be traced back to W.P. Groeneveldt's Historical Notes on Indonesia and Malaya Compiled from Chinese Sources (originally published in the Verhandelingen van her Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen 39, in 1880; reprinted in Jakarta by C.V. Bhratara, 1960). These are, however, no longer of much use.

22 Wolters, "pi-chi Jottings", p. 56.

23 Ibid., p. 55. Words and phrases in brackets are from H. Hirth and W.W. Rockhill, Chau Jukua: His Work on the Chinese and Arab Trade in the twelfth and thirteenth Centuries, entitled Chufan-chih (St. Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1911), p. 64, n.7. Passages in italic are my own translations. For the original text, see Zhu Yu, Pingzhou ketan (SKQS ed.), 2: 5a/b.

24 This is Wolters' translation. See his "pi-chi Jottings", p. 56. Zhou Qufei, Lingwai daida (SKQS ed.) 2: 13a/b.

25 Wolters, "pi-chi Jottings", pp. 56-57.

26 Hirth and Rockhill, Chau Ju-kua, pp. 60-62.

27 Ibid., p. 62. See also Zhao Rugua, Zhufanzhi jiaozhu, ann. by Feng Zhengjun (Taibei: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1970), pp. 15-17.

28 Chen Yuanjing, Shilin guangji (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990), 8:48a. For a discussion about the author and the date of publication of the book, see the foreword written by Wu Daojing for the 1963 Zhonghua shuju edition. Morita Kenji gives a detailed examination of the extant Yuan, Ming and Japanese editions of this work in his "Jirin koki no shohanbon ni tsuite", in Sodai no chishikijin, ed. Soshi kenkyu kai (Tokyo: Kyuko shoin, 1993), pp. 287-316.

29 Ye Tinggui, Nanfan xianglu, quoted in Chen Jing, Xinzuan xiangpu (Shiyuan congshu ed.), 1: 9b. See also Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce, p. 107. For Ye's compilation of this treatise, see Wada Hisanori, "Nanban koroku to shohanshi to no kankei", Ocha no mizu joshidaigaku jinbun kagaku kiyo 15 (1962): 133-51.

30 Zhao Yanwei, Yunlu manchao (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1996), 5, p. 88.

31 Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce, pp. 95-127.

32 Paul Wheatley, "Geographical Notes on Some Commodities involved in Sung Maritime Trade", Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 32,2 (1959): 119.

33 Ye Tinggui, Nanfan xianglu, quoted in Chen Jing, Xinzuan xiangpu, 1: 4b.

34 Hirth and Rockhill, Chao Ju-kua, pp. 61, 193-97, 201, and 211.

35 Ye Tinggui, Nanfan xianglu, quoted in Chen Jing, Xinzuan xiangpu, 1: 3b. For a general account of camphor being imported into China, see Han Wai Toon, "Notes on Bornean Camphor Imported into China", trans. So Kee-long, Brunei Museum Journal 6,1 (1985): 1-31.

36 Kuwabara Jitsuzo, Hojuko no jiseki (Tokyo: Kazama Shobo, 1935), pp. 52-53. For the original text, see Zhufan zhi jiaozhu, p. 49.

37 So Kee-long, "Economic Developments of South Fukien, 964-1276" (Ph.D. dissertation, Australian National University, 1982), pp. 133-34.

38 Lin Zhiqi, Zhuozhai wenji (SKQS ed.), 15: 12a/b. Partially cited in Li Donghua, 1986, 170, but just to demonstrate that there were many foreign residents in Quanzhou. See also Hugh Clark, Community, Trade, and Networks: Southern Fujian Province from the Third to the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 127-29 and n. 37.

39 Hugh Clark has argued that the later account of Zhao should override that of Lin, an argument I do not accept. See his "Muslims and Hindus in the Culture and Morphology of Quanzhou from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Century", Journal of World History 6,1 (1995): 54-63.

40 To To, Song shi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1977), 433: 12861.

41 Song huiyao jigao, fanyi, 4: 75a. Fujian tongzhi, 1867, 90: 14b.

42 Zhao Yanwei, Yunlu manchao, 5: 88. For putchuk, see Wheatley, "Geographical Notes", p. 62.

43 In contrast, by the early fourteenth century, most became dependencies of Danmaling (Tambralinga) instead. See Guangzhoushi difangzhi bianzuan weiyuanhui ed., Yuan Dade Nanhai zhi canben (Guangzhou: Renmin chubenshe, 1991), p. 46. The section on foreign countries given in this Yuan gazetteer of Guangzhou noted 11 major polities under whose jurisdictions certain numbers of dependent countries are listed. These polities and their respective numbers of dependencies (in brackets) are given as the following: (1) Vietnam [2]; (2) Champa [7]; (3) Chenla [5]; (4) Siam [1]; (5) Danmaling (Tambralinga?) [12, including Foluoan and Pengfeng]; (6) Srivijaya [17]; (7) Brunel [19]; (8) Dangzhongbuluoguo (?) [25]; (9) Java [16]; (10) Nanpi/Mabaer (Malabar?) [5]; and (11) Dagulin (Quilon?) [33].

44 An intriguing example of similar selective raids on mercantile ships in the Straits of Malacca by the local pirates, i.e., targeting only those from the Indian Ocean, can be found in the early 14th century. See Wang Dayuan, ann. by Su Jiqing, Daoyi zhilue jiaoshi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981), p. 214. I am indebted to John Miksic for calling my attention to this case.
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Author:Kee-Long, So
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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