Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Michael Vickery's Champa Revised (2003)

Vickery, Michael (2003) "Champa Revised," Working Paper 37, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2003), March 2005, [pdf]

No matter what region or time period one specializes in, it's worth reading this paper for methodological insights. The paper questions the commonly accepted notion that there was a unified Champa state, proposing instead that the classical history of Champa over-extrapolates.

The name Champa refers to the region along the central and southern Vietnamese coast in which the major population group, identifiable from the 5th century onward by their own architectural and epigraphic remains, was the linguistically Austronesian Cham. The Cham settled mainly in river port deltas, and developed a Hindu and Buddhist religious culture exemplified by impressive brick temples. At its greatest extent, between the 9th and 15th centuries, Champa stretched from Quảng Bình in the North to Phan Thiết and Biên Hòa in the South. As the title of this paper implies, I consider that the history of Champa, which, as a whole, has hardly been given critical study since Maspero's Le royaume de Champa of 1928, is in need of revision.

The important points which require revision are the following:

The origins of the Austronesian-speaking Cham who now live in Vietnam and Cambodia. There is now a consensus among specialists that the Cham arrived on the coast of the mainland from Nusantara, probably Borneo, in the last centuries B.C., although there is not yet agreement among archaeologists about the earliest settlement remains which may be attributable to them.

The Lin Yi problem. Was Lin Yi identical with Champa, from the beginning of records concerning it, or from a later date, or if not, what was it? I argue here that early Lin Yi, known from the 3rd century through Chinese histories, was not Champa.

Relations with Vietnam, in particular the notion that Champa, as well as Lin Yi, was always a victim of expansionism by its northern neighbor.

The narrative history of Champa as conceived by Maspero. Although Maspero's book received critical attention from soon after its publication, and more thoroughly later on by Rolf Stein, Maspero’s main conclusions passed literally into the famous synthesis by Coedès, and have continued to exert strong influence on further work.
There are three types of sources for Champa history (1) Physical remains--brick structures considered to be temples, associated sculpture, and materials obtained from archaeological excavation; (2) Inscriptions in Old Cham and Sanskrit; (3) References in Chinese and Vietnamese histories about relations between those countries and the various polities south of the Chinese provinces in what is now northern Vietnam, and after the late 10th century south of territory claimed by Vietnam.

It is argued here that the classical treatment of Champa begun in Maspero's Le royaume du Champa, and continued in Coedès' Les états hindouisés has been wrong on most of the points listed above. One of their serious mistakes was to take Chinese reports on Champa, usually written long after the events, as the best sources, and to ignore the local inscriptions which contradicted them. In the present paper I have tied to confront Maspero and those who have followed him with the evidence of the Champa, and also the Cambodian, inscriptions to try to reach more accurate conclusions.

Of course, there are large gaps in which there are no inscriptions, and we are forced to rely on Chinese and Vietnamese histories, for example, the period of the Mongol invasions of Vietnam and Champa, the 30-year war at the end of the 14th century when Champa nearly conquered Vietnam, and, of course, the later history of Champa after the end of their inscriptions in the early 15th century. Even here new work is needed by scholars competent in the languages and familiar with advances in Southeast Asian historiography.

Keywords: Champa; Cham; Vietnam; Lin Yi; Southeast Asian History; Maspero