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Chinese: 周达观/周達觀
Pinyin: Zhou Daguan
Wade-Giles: Chou Ta-Kuan
Zhou Daguan (1266–1346 AD) was a Chinese diplomat under the Temür Khan, Emperor Chengzong of Yuan. He is most well known for his accounts of the customs of Cambodia and the Angkormarker temple complexes during his visit there. He arrived at Angkor in August 1296, and remained at the court of King Indravarman III until July 1297. He was neither the first nor the last Chinese representative to visit Kambuja. However, his stay is notable because he later wrote a detailed report on life in Angkor, Zhenla feng tu ji (真臘風土記) (The Customs of Cambodia in English translation). His portrayal is today one of the most important sources of understanding of historical Angkor and the Khmer Empire. Alongside descriptions of several great temples, such as the Bayonmarker, the Baphuonmarker, Angkor Watmarker, and others, the text also offers valuable information on the everyday life and the habits of the inhabitants of Angkor.

Diplomatic Journey to Cambodia

On 20 February 1296, Zhou Daguan set sail from Wenzhoumarker in Zhejiang province, on a compass guided ship, passing the ports of Fuzhoumarker, Guangzhoumarker, Quanzhoumarker (Zaitong) and Hainanmarker, sailing past Taya Island, Annam, Qui Nhonmarker, Baria, Poulo Condormarker, Can tien then heading north on the Mekong River reaching the town of Kampong Chammarker of Cambodia; from there he boarded a small boat, sailing for a dozen days, until reaching Tonle Sap Lakemarker arriving at Angkor Thommarker, the capital of Cambodia in August.

Description of Angkor Thom

Zhou Daguan wrote that the city had five gates with multiple doorways, one in each compass direction, but in the east two. The city was surrounded by a wide moat crossed by bridges with sculptures of 54 figures pulling a nine-head nāga. On top of the city gate there were five Buddha heads, four of them facing four directions, the one at the centre was gilded with gold. "The city is square in shape, with four towers at each corner; the city gates are guarded, open during the day but closed at night. Dogs and convicts are barred from entering the city".

Description of the palace

Zhou Daguan wrote that the Palace was at the north of the golden bridge and the golden tower, and the Palace faced east. The main hall of the Palace was covered with lead tiles, the rest had clay tiles.

Description of the Khmer people

Zhou Daguan wrote that both men and women had their chests exposed, walked barefoot and wore only a piece of cloth wrapped around their waists. He reported that the common women had no hair ornaments, though some wore golden rings or bracelets. Beautiful women were apparently sent to court to serve the king or his royal family at his whim. Interestingly, he stated that all trades were carried out by women. In the market place, there were no buildings, but rather the female vendors sold their wares on large mats spread on the ground. The space in the market also apparently required a rent to be paid to the officials. He stated that the Khmer people had no tables or chairs in their homes, and not even what the Chinese considered to be bowls or buckets. They reportedly cooked their food in earthen pots used for boiling rice and for preparing soup. Their ladle sticks were made from coconut shells and soup was then served into a tiny bowl made from woven leaves, which were apparently waterproof.

He recorded a royal procession of Indravarman III who carried a sacred sword in his hand:

Zhou Daguan's book was first translated into French by the sinologist Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat in 1819 and again by Paul Pelliot in 1902. This translation was then translated into English and German.

In 2007, the chinese linguist Peter Harris, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies New Zealand, completed the first direct translation from Chinese to modern English, correcting many errors in previous versions. Harris worked in Cambodia for many years and included modern photographs and maps directly relating to Zhou's original account. This book also includes more than 100 bibliographic references, two appendices and a detailed index, in English and Chinese.

Harris also draws a series of parallels between the voyage of Zhou Daguan and the travels of Marco Polo. Marco Polo was Zhou's contemporary, however, according to Harris, Polo's travels contain a number of unusual omissions that have yet to be fully explained.


Zhou Daguan's account is very useful for determining that the 1st month of the Khmer calendar was "kia-to", called Karttika. None of the Khmer inscriptions uses month numbering, but of the three systems used later in Thailand, Karttika was called month 1 in parts of Lanna and was also sometimes so numbered in Laos. The astronomical new year, on the other hand, began in what would have been numbered month 6 (Caitra). This equation is confirmed when Zhou Daguan says he does not understand why they intercalate only in (their) month 9. On the scale being used here the 9th month is Ashadha, the only intercalary month in Thailand and Laos.(Ashadha is better known as 'month 8' since that is its Southern (Bangkok) equivalence.)

The use in Cambodia of Ashadha as the only intercalary month is not otherwise securely attested until the 1620s AD when a year (Saka 1539; IMA no. 9) is said to have a 2nd Ashadha when the old system did not have an extra month in that year. The inscription record between 1296 AD and 1617 AD is very patchy, but such records as survive from the first part of this interval appear to favour the older system of reckoning, suggesting that Zhou Daguan's informants were at the time of his visit in the minority.

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