Mongol Group c4

Marco Polo’s Description in The Book of India




The kingdom of Champa was a collection of multiple independent and Indianized policies within the Lesser India. Such location was important as it linked China and other parts of the world, enabling international ships in great amounts to aggregate at Champa ports. Mongol Empire necessitated Champa to link Mongol with the Middle East and Europe. With this geographical advantage, Champa could feed their living by trading and exporting goods based on seaborne trades with neighboring countries and islands. But it also caused Champa to be targeted by Kubilai Khan which triggered three wars between the two empires.




Trades and Wars of the Kingdom of Champa

As India was divided into Lesser India, Great India, and Middle India (Polo, p.143), attention should be paid to the kingdom of Champa, which was a collection of multiple independent and Indianized policies within Lesser India(Polo, p.147) and consisted of five small kingdoms: Indrapura, Amaravati, Vi Java, Kauthara, and Panduranga(Lien, p.27). Its name Champa was derived from the Sanskrit[19] word Campaka, referring to a species of flowering tree known for its fragrant flowers (“Champa,” n.d.). Champa is a fragrant flower, meaning that the kingdom was blessed with natural resources and a geographic location on which its people could thrive almost entirely.The kingdom of Champa was located in the coastal lowlands, surrounded by the South China Sea and the Indian Sea in present Central Vietnam (Polo, p.192). This location was critical as it linked China and other parts of the world, enabling international ships to aggregate at Cham ports in great amounts (Lien, p.26). Most importantly, the Mongol Empire necessitated it to link Mongol with the Middle East and Europe (Lien, p.25). In addition to enjoying the access to the goods given by nature such as aloes wood and elephants within their interior upriver highlands (Polo, p.147), people of Champa could feed their living by trading and exporting goods via seaborne trades with neighbor countries and islands. Throughout their trading history, the transaction with the Song Dynasty in the second half of the 12th century is particularly worth-noticing (Wicks, p.215). This was a case in point which illustrated the powerful trade business of Champa. The travel of a Chinese merchant named Yuanmao from Quanzhou was considered as the incentive of the trade between Champa and China; his ability to read barbarian books was appreciated by the king of Champa; then he got married to one of the Cham princesses and stayed in Champa for ten years; afterwards, he returned to China with a bridal trousseau, the value of which equaled to million strings of cash (Wicks, p.218). By the 13th century, according to Chinese records, the trade between the Song Dynasty and Champa reached a climax, as a result of frequent commercial interactions mainly for food goods, such as wine and rice (Wicks, p.218). In this regard, it is necessary to discuss the trade of rice in detail. As described by Sharma in “Rice: Origin, Antiquity, and History”, there was a severe drought in the Yangtze and Huai river valley areas in present Zhejiang province of China in 1012; the emperor Zhenzong[20], after knowing that rice in Champa could mature early and was rarely influenced by the photoperiod, imported large amounts of Champa rice and its seeds, resulting in the increase of attention to Champa (p.14). Champa’s long and frequent trade, as well as the considerable income Cham people thereby obtained, also promoted their development and cultural exchanges with other races and cultures. Their society and culture were heavily influenced by their near-by islands and countries, such as Java.

Nevertheless, trading brought not only benefits to Champa. Cham people were not content with mere sea transactions, but also developed sea looting activities to acquire additional benefits. Moving further 1,500miles in the southern direction was Java Island in a large scale; similar to Champa, Java was also known for its wealthy natural resources, especially spices which aroused fierce competition among merchants (Polo, p.149). Alerted by the flourishing trading between Champa and the Song Dynasty, the nearby Java community was afraid of losing their pirate business and triggered an attack against Champa between AD 774 and 787 (Toyo Bunko, p.6).

The kingdom belonged to Cham People, the ancestors of Vietnamese and Cambodians in present-day Southeast Asia. They had their own language, namely Cham language, a branch within the Austronesian family (Thurgood, p.32). However, their religious beliefs were not indigenous, but imported mainly through trading and a war. They were greatly influenced by the Indian culture. As early as the fourth century AD, the Indian culture spread into the kingdom Champa after India won the war against their neighbor Funan Kingdom[21], which facilitated the interactions between citizens in the two kingdoms and the trade with South Asian merchants (“Champa”,n.d.). Later around the ninth century, with the arrival of Muslim merchants from Arab, Islam flowed into the Cham society (Skutsch, p.276). Mahayanna Buddhism was also popular in the ninth and tenth century; although Hinduism was the state religion during the time of Champa, Islam possesses a dominating position among the descendants of Champa at present (Sen, p.55).

Wars are pivotal for learning the kingdom of Champa. Among them, the most important ones are the attacks from the Yuan Emperor Kubilai Khan. There were complex reasons for the will of Kubilai to gain Champa. While the Mongol was still endeavoring on conquering the Song Dynasty, Kubilai saw Champa as a great location to create the easiest and fastest route to enter the southern Song. For ensuring the success in crossing Champa, Kubilai wrote Champa a letter with a request for tributes, thereby to know whether Champa had a conforming attitude. But after the end of the Song Dynasty in 1279, signaled by the fall of Hangzhou, the southern capital of the Song Dynasty (Morgan, p.106), Kubilai assaulted Japan with the purpose of obtaining its richness. Champa, again, became a great foothold for the Mongol to fight against Japan. According to the Yuan Khanate and India, during 1278 and 1279, Kubilai again designated its embassy Sogetu to persuade Champa to surrender. Similarly, Yang Tingbi was assigned to persuade Kollam[22] (Sen, p.306). Finally, the Mongol made the initiative of linking the Mongol Empire with the Middle East and the Europe through Champa for the development of maritime trade (Lien, P.25). The first two initiatives did not harm Champa to a great extent, but the third one did. The Mongol’s failure to conquer Japan both in 1274 and 1281 became the blasting fuse for the chain of wars between Champa and the Mongo (Lien, p.1). From then on, Kubilai decided to divide his army, with a part of them assigned to attack along the South Asia Sea (Lien, p.1). Although Champa finally surrendered in 1287 (Lien, p.42), it was not an easy process for the Mongol Empire to succeed in the conquest. Starting from 1258, the empire initiated three assaults in total, each in a ferocious extent causing the Mongol to assume tremendous losses.

The initiatives of Kubilai on conquering Champa showed his ambition and his empire’s army forces which signified the Mongol and later Da Yuan in Marco Polo’s view. Before launching the attacks, Kubilai still intended to make sure whether Champa wanted a launching. For Da Yuan, the vassal was a business partner and a complete submission. For Champa, however, it just wanted to maintain a partnership with Da Yuan. That was the reason why they had regularly sent tributes to Kubilai, such as elephants, as an expression of goodwill. Between 1276 and 1282(Lien, Page 29), the conflict between Dayuan and Champa was gradually intensified. Eventually, in 1283(Lien, Page 25), the first war between Champa and Da Yuan broke out. Before reaching the land of Champa, the Yuan army firstly fought against merchant teams from Champa, along with dozens of elephants. It was a hard task for Yuan, but they finally arrived at the land. They quickly captured the capital of Champa with their talents in land fight. However, General Sodu, the leader of Yuan in the war, was repeatedly lured into jungles and was ambushed by Champa. This brought great losses to Sodu’s army. The Champa force fled to the Darlak plateau, where it was difficult for Yuan to defend due to the complex terrain. In addition, the tribes surrounding the plateau maintained friendly and cooperative relations with Champa, putting Da Yuan at a disadvantage. Besides, Champa did not forget to enlist support from neighboring countries, such as Dai Viet. Sodu, meanwhile, had to rely on its own military building-up. At that time, a new conscription was required to replenish the force. Approaching the eventual success of the organization, a mutiny took place: many soldiers fled on the halfway. Sodu then had to farm the local land to support his army. As a result, it took Sodu more time to conquer Champa. In such a situation, he could only seek another way: Entering into Champa’s defense area from Dai Viet. The Yuan army attemping to go through Dai Viet was led by another leader, Alihaya. It was interesting, however, that although Dai Viet clashed with Champa as early as 1471 (Purdon, p.202), the king Tran Nhan Tong[23] still refused the Da Yuan troop to enter Dai Viet for invading Champa (Lien, pp.30-33).

Therefore, the second phase of the war began. However, the center of the battle had shifted to Dai Viet. It should be noted that Da Yuan at this time was full of internal worries, because people in China did not consistently accept the unification of China. Tran, for his part, still held out against Da Yuan, not only for Champa, but also for Dai Viet’s independence and freedom (he knew very well what it meant to allow Kubilai to enter his own country). Hence, Tran and Dai Viet made comprehensive preparations for closing in upon their enemy. The war began in January 1285, after Da Yuan completed the organization of their troop to fight with Dai Viet (Lien, pp.33-34).

However, after realizing their weak defense ability against the Yuan Dynasty during the multi-day war, many people of Dai Viet started to surrender one after another. Tran Nhan Tong never stopped the Yuan Dynasty from continuing its crusade to the North. Till the summer of Dai Viet, a turning point came in the fortune of the war. The Yuan army could not adapt to the hot and humid weather. Especially, the arrival of floods caused illness and death among many Yuan soldiers. In the year that followed, on June 24, 1285, Tran scored a huge victory at Ham Tu Port along Red River. Notably, Sodu was also killed in this battle and the old troop of the Song dynasty took part in this battle wearing the uniform of their old dynasty[24]. Thang Long, the capital of Dai Viet, was recaptured. Led by Prince Togan, who was involved in the second attack, the remaining Yuan troop retreated from Da Yuan, and Champa was thus able to avoid the invasion of Da Yuan temporarily(Lien, pp.33-40).

Yuan did not give up, however, but launched a third attack in 1287. Earlier during the second war, Tran Ich Tac, a prince of Dai Viet, subordinated to Kubilai Khan. He was later appointed as the King of Annam and commissioned by Kubilai Khan to take part in the plan for the third attack. Again, Tran Nhan Tong was warned and threatened by Kubilai Khan’s emissaries, but he did not respond and only sent more tributaries to the Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan paid more attention to naval warfare this time. He prepared sufficient warships and grain reserves. Moreover, all the Dai Viet nobles who were subordinate to Kubilai Khan were given corresponding titles. This time, the army of the Yuan dynasty was led by Omar and Togan. After Omar won the battle between Van Don and Dai Viet, his supply ship was lost. The lack of supplies was a serious threat to Omar and his army. Although Omar and Togan subsequently plundered Thang Long again, they still were faced with the lack of supplies. Kubilai Khan’s subsequent supplies also failed to arrive due to the blocking by Dai Viet. The hot and humid weather, coupled with frequent Tran raids, sent Da Yuan back to China for another round, marking the end of the third attack. Throughout, Dai Viet never explicitly bowed to Da Yuan’s position. They agreed to offer tributes on the condition that their country would not be invaded again by Kublai Khan. Yet the tensions between the two countries were not abated. Fortunately, as a result of the turmoil within Great Yuan, as well as Kubilai Khan’s increasingly poor health, the Yuan Empire eventually gave up their original plan of invading and occupying Dai Viet and its surrounding areas(Lien, pp.42-48).

These wars between Da Yuan and Champa and Dai Viet were also mentioned by Marco Polo in The Description of the World. He focused more on the war between Champa and Da yuan. According to Marco Polo, the war between Champa and Da Yuan began after Yuan’s envoy Sogatu was sent to Champa along with soldiers in 1278. With tremendous destructions to Champa’s lands and people, the old king of Champa could not withstand anymore. As result, he offered twenty elephants to Kubilai as tributes, and requested Kubilai’s army to retreat and promised to surrender in a letter (Polo, p.148).




In conclusion, the discussion on the kingdom of Champa is mainly focused on its prosperity of maritime trade and wars with countries, especially those wars between Kubilai. Their richness of natural resources can be seen from a specific example of its premature rice exported to China and trading made the major contribution to feed Cham people. In addition, efforts have also been made to describe its wars with the Da Yuan Empire, which could be divided into three parts, with the kingdom of Dai Viet involved in the latter two and the final submission.