In 1296 AD, Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan visited Angkor-capital of Cambodia’s powerful Khmer Empire-as a member of a diplomatic mission sent by Emperor Temur Khan. Today, Zhou’s written record of his residency is the only surviving eyewitness account of that extraordinary and mysterious time and place.
Zhou shared intriguing aspects of the country’s complex society, blended with subtle details of its customs, religion, flora and fauna. Today, his words offer the most credible glimpse of Cambodian life at the end of the 13th century. This illustrated color edition offers an original translation of one of the earliest records of Zhou’s voyage.
Based on their personal knowledge of Chinese and Cambodian culture, language and geography, Solang and Beling Uk’s insights clarify linguistic puzzles that have been unresolved for centuries. For the first time, unidentified places, titles, plants, animals and other details come to life, giving readers a more accurate vision of the ancient Khmer Empire through Zhou Daguan’s eyes.
Renowned author Amir D. Aczel contributed the foreword. An early translation of Zhou’s text led him to Cambodia, resulting in his best-selling book “Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers.”
Your knowledge of the geography of Cambodia and its culture, and mastery of the ancient Chinese language, are great assets when compared to other translators. You have created a work of historical significance that will be useful to those who are interested in XIII° century Cambodia, especially we Cambodians of the present and future generations. On their behalf, I thank you.
A most impressive translation of Zhou Daguan. I find your footnotes and comments a huge improvement compared to other versions.
As recounted in my book, “Finding Zero,” I set out to Cambodia knowing I would follow the footsteps of an unusual fellow traveler from 13th century China: Zhou Daguan. This is why it is such a pleasure to endorse this new translation by Solang and Beling Uk, which for generations to come will serve as a valuable tool for scholars of Cambodia, as well as an entertaining guide for all visitors to the renowned ancient city of Angkor.
About the original author:
Born in China circa 1266 AD, Zhou Daguan was a 30-year-old adventurer who accompanied an official Chinese diplomatic mission to Zhenla, as the Chinese called the capital of the Khmer Empire. His written record of that kingdom in 1296 AD–regarded as the earliest available–hints that he lived with a Khmer family during his stay. After returning to China, contact between the two kingdoms ceased for 29 years until Cambodia send a new diplomatic delegation to China in 1329.
Publisher: DatASIA, Inc.
Date of Publishing: March 21, 2016
Wild Cambodia Travel Tips from 700-year-old Chinese Explorer
A new travel guide helps tourists experience Angkor—the magnificent jungle capital of ancient Cambodia—as it was 700 years ago. In 1296 AD, Chinese explorer Zhou Daguan wrote an eyewitness account of the wealthy city, and now a new translation reveals that visitors can still see what he saw…if they know where to look!
Hidden in the jungles of Cambodia, Angkor was the wealthy capital of the Khmer Empire when it dominated Southeast Asia from the 8th to the 13th centuries. Today, hundreds of ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples still attract adventurous pilgrims seeking to rediscover the secrets of this lost kingdom. Surprisingly, the best and most unlikely guide may be a 700-year-old Chinese traveler whose notes reveal myriad travel tips and observations that remain unchanged through the centuries.
Our story began in 1296 AD when adventurer Zhou Daguan spent a year in Angkor as part of a diplomatic mission sent by Chinese Emperor Temür Khan. Zhou diligently recorded intriguing—sometimes bizarre—aspects of the country’s complex society and royal court, with subtle details of the kingdom’s customs, religion, flora and fauna. For example, the opening of his account of a royal procession:
“During my stay of over a year, I have seen this king go out four or five times. Every time he goes out, there are horse-mounted troops in front, and flag carriers, drummers and musicians at the rear. There are three to five hundred palace women wearing floral patterned dresses, with flowers inserted in their hair buns, and they carry huge candles and form their own group. The candles are lit even in bright daylight.”
Zhou carefully divided his records into forty topics as follows: The City Perimeter; Palace and Housing; Clothing and Jewelry; Officials; The Three Religions; The People; Women Giving Birth; Maidens; Slaves; Language; Wild Men; Writing; New Year and Calendar Order; Disputes and Litigation; Illnesses and Skin Diseases; Death; Cultivation; Mountains and Rivers; Produce; Trade; Desirable Chinese Goods; Plants and Trees; Flying Birds; Walking Animals; Vegetables; Fish and Dragons; Fermenting Alcohol; Salt, Vinegar, Soy Paste and Qu; Silkworms and Mulberry Trees; Utensils; Carts and Palanquins; Boats and Oars; Provinces; Villages; Collecting Gall Bladders; An Extraordinary Story; Bathing; Immigration; The Army; and finally The King’s Movements Out and Into the Palace.
A little more than a century after his visit the empire collapsed for unknown reasons that scholars still debate. Today, Zhou’s words are the only surviving eyewitness account of Cambodian life at its dazzling peak in the final years of the mysterious 13th century.
Fast forward to the 21st century when retired Cambodian scientist Solang Uk and his Chinese-born micro-biologist wife Beling began a multi-year project translating one of the earliest copies of Zhou’s account into English. With a personal knowledge of Chinese and Cambodian culture, language and geography, their new translation clarifies hundreds of puzzles relating to each of Zhou’s forty topics that had previously been unresolved for centuries.
Their project achieved perfection when renowned author and mathematician Amir D. Aczel agreed to contribute a foreword to their book. Like the translators, Aczel also followed the ancient traveler’s footsteps pursuing his lifetime goal of discovering who invented the abstract concept of “zero.” Aczel found his answer in Cambodia, as revealed in his best-selling book “Finding Zero.”
Their new edition of “Customs of Cambodia–Zhou Daguan” from DatAsia Press is now available. It includes more than 100 full-color illustrations and fascinating annotations relevant for all modern visitors to Cambodia. For the first time, unidentified places, titles, plants, animals and other details come to life, giving readers the most accurate vision of the ancient Khmer Empire through the ancient eyes of Zhou Daguan.
DatAsia Press specializes in publishing exceptional fiction and non-fiction books relating to the history, art, literature and culture of Southeast Asia—Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. DatAsia books are available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble for worldwide delivery.