The Xenophile Newsletter, #28


The Xenophile Historian Newsletter, #28
( )

Greetings once again to all my loyal readers!  Charles Kimball is here again, to give you the latest news on my world history website and podcast. 

For this newsletter I have exactly two announcements.  That’s right, just two.  For one thing, it has only been four months since the last newsletter came out.  And since then, I have added more pictures to existing pages and corrected a few typos, but that was never stuff I considered worthy of announcing.  Also, I have been busy in the outside world lately.  Nevertheless, I managed to stick to my goals of what I wanted on both the Website and the podcast.  So this newsletter will be short and sweet, compared with previous ones.


On the website itself, I completed the history of the fourteen South Pacific nations.  Chapter 5 covers events from 1945 to the present.  As it turned out, the most convenient way to present the subject was to divide it into four parts.  Here are the URLs for the webpages, and the subheadings for each one:

Part I

First, A Word on the Cargo Cults
The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and Nearby Atolls
Australia: The Menzies Era
Rabbits Gone Wild
Recolonial New Zealand

Part II

Independence Comes to the Islands
     Western New Guinea: From One Colonial Overlord to Another
     Western Samoa
     Nauru and Tonga
     Papua New Guinea
     The Solomon Islands
     Tuvalu and Kiribati
     The Free Association States

Part III

The Australian Constitutional Crisis
Australia in Recent Years
New Zealand: Labour and National Reforms

Part IV

The Smaller Island Nations Since Independence
     The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and Palau
     Fiji: Too Early to Tell
     Kiribati: Every Day and Every Year Begin Here
     Tuvalu: The First Nation to Go Under?
     Nauru: The Island That Lost its Future
     Papua New Guinea: A Troubled Young Nation
     Samoa: No Longer Western, But Looking Southwest
     The Solomon Islands: Are They A Nation Yet?
     Tonga: It’s Good to Be King
     Vanuatu: Harmony With Disunity
     New Caledonia: Unfinished Business
Conclusion for the Islands

However, I have one more task, requiring another history paper, before I will consider the South Pacific project finished.  That task is to write a history of the exploration of Antarctica, so the Antarctic can be included somewhere on the website.  I decided the best place for an essay on the South Pole would be to put it with the ones on the South Pacific, because most of the South Pacific is below the equator, too, and Chapters 1-3 also had much to say about exploration.  Come back in 2017 to read one more chapter!


The other news is that my podcast, on the history of Southeast Asia, continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  As of November 21, 2016, nine episodes have been recorded and uploaded, ten if you count the introduction.  So far there have been 4,710 downloads, to 3,355 devices (computers, laptops and smart phones).  Divide that by ten, and it works out to an estimated 335 listeners.  Most of that happened because I have successfully promoted the podcast, especially on Facebook.  Hopefully it won’t be long before I have enough listeners and downloads to attract a sponsor, and then I can make some money from this venture.

At the rate I am going, two episodes per month that average forty minutes each, I expect it will take the rest of this year to get finished with the Middle Ages, and I probably won’t cover twentieth-century conflicts (e.g., World War II, the Vietnam War) until sometime in 2018.  Still, as I have done on the website, I plan to include interesting content in each episode, including a number of strange and obscure stories the listeners probably haven’t heard before.

Since getting started last June, I have submitted the podcast’s RSS feed to four popular websites that host podcasts, and have found three more websites that posted links to the episodes without any input from me.  Therefore, at this time I know of eight sites where you can listen to or download the episodes:

Blubrry, the original host ( )
Google Play

And again, here is the podcast’s Facebook page:

If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, check it out!


So there you have it.  For the near future, I will continue putting out podcast episodes, and compose the Antarctica page mentioned above.  Then I will probably update another history series.  Most likely it will be the Russian history, because I finished the last chapter in 2000, right after Boris Yeltsin resigned, so maybe now it is time to cover all the things Vladimir Putin has done to revive the Russian state, and what the other former Soviet republics think about that. 

And when that is done, sometime in 2017, I think it will finally be time to write the Central Asian history I have been promising to myself for a quarter century, so at last I can say The Xenophile Historian contains the history of the rise and fall of just about everybody.  Thank you for reading and listening.  If you observe holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, have a great holiday season, and I’ll see you in the New Year!


If you missed older issues of this newsletter and want to see them,

they can be downloaded in a zip file from .  And the links below go to topics I mentioned in previous issues, that are still valid.  Please visit them, if you haven’t already:

The Xenohistorian Weblog, this site’s official blog.

My world history textbook, "A Biblical Interpretation of World History."

My business website:


Take Care and God Bless,

Charles Scott Kimball


You received this newsletter because you subscribed to my mailing list, provided by .  It comes out 1-3 times a year, when there have been major changes to the website.  I AM NOT in the spam business, so when you subscribed here, your address was not sent to any third parties.  If for any reason you wish to unsubscribe, or would like to subscribe a new e-mail address, go to my homepage ( ), scroll down about four fifths of the way to the bottom, enter your address where it says "Enter your e-mail address to receive the site newsletter!" and hit the "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" button.

Episode 9: The First Burmese Empire



Episode 9 of my podcast has just gone online!  This episode covers Burma (also called Myanmar) in the Middle Ages, with special emphasis on the Bagan Empire.  Visit a city with more than 2,000 pagodas!  Learn what makes Theravada Buddhism different from the other Buddhist sects.  Meet a king who ruled for 95 years, and another king who ate 300 dishes of curry every day!  Hear me mispronounce their names!  It’s all here for your listening pleasure!

(Transcript, added 11/30/2019)

Episode 9: The First Burmese Empire

Greetings, dear listeners! I just took a look ahead, and figured that at the rate I am going, with two episodes a month at around forty minutes each, it will take the rest of 2016 to get to the end of the Middle Ages in Southeast Asia. That’s eleven episodes, twelve if you count the introduction. How about that! When you started listening, did you think we knew that much about the region from more than five hundred years ago? After all, some of you may be familiar with ancient China’s great epic, “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” or you may have heard stories from Japan’s age of the samurai, but so far nothing from pre-modern Southeast Asia has captured the Western world’s imagination in the same way.

Anyway, in recent episodes we have covered three Southeast Asian countries as far as the fifteenth century: Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. For them we can say we have gotten to the end of the Middle Ages, and the next time they appear in an episode, it will be when Europeans make contact, shortly after 1500. Now in this episode, we will bring Burma, also known as Myanmar, up to that date.

Long-time listeners will remember we talked about Burma in Episode 5, covering how the Burmese people and related ethnic groups, what we sometimes call the Tibeto-Burmans, migrated from China and settled around the Irrawaddy River Valley. If you have just started listening to this podcast, I recommend you listen to Episode 5 first and then come back to this episode, so you won’t walk into the middle of the story and wonder what is going on. And I will also remind everyone that because the Burmese government changed place names all over the country in 1989, and not just the name of the country, there are two names for most of the places we talk about, an old pre-1989 name and the modern one. Likewise, if you try to read up on Burmese history, you may see two spellings for every place. For example, the main city in today’s episode is Bagan, spelled B as in boy-A-G-A-N, but previously it was P as in Paul-A-G-A-N, so we used to call it Pagan or even Paygan; don’t confuse it with the religious practice by that name!


When we broke off at the end of Episode 5, most of the ethnic groups found in present-day Burma had arrived, but a nation ruling over them all had not formed yet. The first Tibeto-Burmans to settle in the upper Irrawaddy valley founded a confederation of city-states called Pyu, and after the Burmese themselves took over, they founded a city of their own named Bagan in 849, near modern Mandalay, and that became the capital of their state.


Meanwhile, in the Irrawaddy delta and in the upper part of the Malay peninsula, was another state ruled by the Mons, cousins of the Khmers in Cambodia. They had settled here more than two thousand years ago, all the way back in Episode 2 of this podcast, and had been the first Southeast Asians to convert to Buddhism, when Indian merchants and missionaries introduced the creed. Originally their capital was at Thaton, located on the coast east of the Irrawaddy delta, in a convenient location for Indian ships to stop at. However, in 825 the Mons founded a new city, Bago, or Pegu if you prefer the old spelling. This city was in the delta itself, and in later centuries, Bago would be the preferred capital for states based in the delta.


On the west coast, between the Irrawaddy and Ganges deltas, is a province that gets in the news occasionally, because of recent clashes between Buddhists and Moslems living here. Nowadays this province is called Rakhine, but in the past it was called Arakan, and its isolation from the rest of Burma made it effectively independent most of the time. Finally, we must not forget the ethnic minorities like the Karens, living in the lands surrounding the core Burmese territory; they have always posed a challenge for the Burmese majority. Now what pulled these groups together? Let’s go and find out.




For two hundred years the Burmese and Mon kingdoms were able to co-exist peacefully. The Mons had the more advanced civilization, while the Burmese had the better army, so at this stage they would probably remind you of other cases when sophisticated and militant societies lived side by side, like ancient Athens and Sparta. The Burmese had learned wet rice agriculture by this time, and there were enough Buddhists among their mostly animist population to build a few Buddhist shrines, what we call stupas, in the ninth and tenth centuries. But it was when a powerful king came to the throne, by the name of Anawrahta, that things really took off.


Anawrahta ruled from 1044 to 1077, and he started out by building up Bagan’s defenses and creating new irrigation works. This by itself is typical royal behavior, but after a while Anawrahta realized that he needed more money and more skilled workers. To get both, he called up the army, marched south, and completely conquered the Mon kingdom in 1057. Here is how one Mon historian lamented the conquest. Quote: “The great capital of Thaton was in ruin, and silence reigned supreme. In contrast, Bagan shone in glory and in triumph, as if it had become the abode of gods.” End quote. From Thaton, Anawrahta brought back Buddhist scriptures, holy relics, and 30,000 Mon prisoners. The prisoners included architects, craftsmen and Therevada Buddhist monks; the king used them to decorate his capital and turn it into a cultural center.


Anawrahta’s successful campaign had a curious result. If you had visited Bagan in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, it would have looked like the conquerors became the conquered. New buildings followed Mon architectural styles. The Mon language became the main language of the Burmese court, because Mon administrators were employed to make the government more efficient. But full integration of the Burmese and Mon peoples never came; the Burmese and Mon royal families intermarried, but most Burmese looked down on the people of the south and would not admit them into their society.


Mon monks converted the whole country to Theravada Buddhism within a generation; they also encouraged good relations with the land that was the headquarters of Therevada Buddhism, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka responded by giving Anawrahta a replica of their most prized possession, the “Tooth of the Buddha.” Supposedly the original tooth had been pulled from the Buddha’s funeral pyre when he was cremated, about 1,600 years earlier, and in Sri Lanka a palace complex was built around the relic, called the Temple of the Tooth. However, as we will see in a future episode, there are questions about whether the relic is really one of the Buddha’s teeth, because a few other temples in different countries also claim to have the tooth; Wikipedia lists seven such temples, including one in California. Of course the “tooth” sent to Burma wasn’t the real thing, but Anawrahta built a pagoda to house it in, though he never became a Buddhist himself.


None of the kings after Anawrahta were warlike. It was as if the Burmese kings were so satisfied with Anawrahta’s campaign, that they felt no more wars of conquest were needed. While the Burmese army put down a Mon revolt in the 1080s, and it defended the kingdom from raids by nearby tribes, we do not hear of any more kings deliberately starting a war with somebody else. Today we thank the conversion of the country to Buddhism for this pacifist behavior.


The Therevada sect of Buddhism is older and more conservative than other Buddhist sects, like Mahayana Buddhism and Lamaism. Besides Sri Lanka and Burma, Therevada Buddhism is practiced in present-day Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Instead of following Bodhisattvas, or saints, the Theravada sect emphasizes studying the scriptures, following an ascetic lifestyle, promoting peace, and doing good works to improve the lives of other people. Those who do good works will achieve religious merit. Accumulating religious merit will allow someone to reincarnate to a better life than the one they are currently in, and if they gain enough merit, they may even reach the ultimate goal of all Buddhists, the disappearance of their souls into a mysterious dimension called Nirvana. What makes this doctrine different from the Hindu doctrine of karma is that a person who has religious merit can share it with anyone else. In one inscription at Bagan the stepmother of a king said she wished that the salvation she might earn would spread to the peoples across the “countless world systems.” Another inscription tells us about a faithful Buddhist donating cows, land and laborers to a monastery so that, quote, “[the] benefit of this offering I have given — the present king, future kings, [my] mother and father, [my] sons and all creatures, may they benefit equally with me.” End quote.


The second king after Anawrahta, Kyanzittha, ruled from 1084 to 1112, and was the first Burmese king that we know of to practice Buddhism. He was a Buddhist convert, and because those who join a new religion by choice are more zealous and enthusiastic than those born into it, he built Bagan’s grandest place of worship. Our sources tell us he was inspired by eight monks from India, who came begging for alms, and told the king that they had lived in the legendary cave temples of the Himalaya mountains. Using the powers of meditation, they allowed Kyanzittha to see the snow-covered mountain range; since Burma is a tropical country, the king had probably never seen snow before. This got him so excited that he ordered the building of a great white temple that would look like those mountains, the Ananda Temple. Construction started in 1090, it was completed in 1105, and afterwards, according to the same account, the king had the architects executed, so that a duplicate of the Ananda Temple would never be built.


Copying the Mon style of architecture, the temple is laid out in a cross shape, and has much decoration on the outside, including gold covering the spires. However, the interior is simple and is dimly lit, like a cave. The main features inside are four standing statues of the Buddha, each one 31 feet tall and made of gilded teakwood; they are illuminated by slits in the roof, so they appear to be floating in the air.


For the kings of Bagan, Ananda was only the beginning. Kyanzittha and his successors built more than 2,000 places of worship in a 25 square mile area around Bagan. Only four of them are fullscale temples, the rest are pagodas and lesser shrines. Because the period from Kyanzittha to the end of the Bagan Empire lasted just two hundred years, this means that they had to start construction on two new religious buildings every month. Gradually the Mon influence disappeared; in the late twelfth century a new form of architecture developed, one which made the inside of the pagodas as ornate as the outside.


Time has caused some of the structures to crumble; so have earthquakes, which strike Burma very often. A really bad earthquake in 1975 severely damaged the buildings, including the Ananda Temple. Another one hit in August 2016, but it did not get as much attention because more people were killed by the earthquake that shook central Italy on the same day. Today’s faithful do what they can to repair the structures, but unfortunately maintaining them all is a task beyond their means. The sight of all those deserted pagoda spires on the landscape had been described by one visitor as “an epic stage that has lost its cast.” On the page hosting this episode, you can see a picture of the Ananda Temple, and another picture showing several pagodas.


Together the buildings of Bagan are an architectural masterpiece; the Khmer temple of Angkor Wat, built at the same time, is the only Southeast Asian monument that is more impressive. Locals will tell you that, quote, “You cannot move a hand or foot at Bagan without touching a sacred thing.” End quote. By contrast, when archaeologists discovered the king’s palace in 1990, it turned out to be a wooden structure with a brick foundation; stone was reserved for religious buildings.


Soon every king was expected to be an extravagant patron of Buddhism, and a king who did not build new pagodas risked being viewed as unfit for office, inviting a palace coup. In Episode 5, I told you the strange story where a cucumber farmer beat the king to death with his shovel, and was made the next king; now we hear of some more strange royal deaths. One king was killed after a dispute over the price of war elephants. Another died when his elephant fell on him. Alaungsithu, the longest-reigning king, ruled for fifty-five years, from 1112 to 1167, and then at the age of 77, he was smothered in bed by a son tired of waiting for his turn on the throne.


The Decline of Bagan


At first, Buddhism’s emphasis on brotherly compassion and cooperation made the state more efficient, but the burden of supporting Buddhism increased gradually. Each new temple or pagoda required maintenance, and monks were needed to service them; this required large endowments from the state. And those endowments put resources out of reach, which normally would have been used for the state’s functions, like defending the realm, building roads and other public works, maintaining law and order, and providing assistance when disaster strikes. Thus, each new pagoda reduced the accessible tax base. It has been estimated that by 1280, two thirds of Burma’s farmland was being used to support the clergy, not the state. Finally, when the economy was bad, the rich could still do good deeds that brought religious merit, but the poor could not afford it, so discontent would rise during hard times. As was the case with the Khmer Empire, the effort spent on building and supporting religious buildings would eventually threaten the state’s very existence.


On the page I mentioned earlier, below the pagoda picture, you can see a simple graph I found on Wikipedia. It measures the contributions made to the pagodas, in terms of land, labor and silver, from 1050 to 1300. Ouch! Are you concerned about the reckless spending practiced by today’s governments? The trend is nothing new!


Beyond Burma’s borders, the Thai peoples were moving in from China. A Thai tribe called the Shans began moving as early as the tenth century, and they settled the lands immediately to the north and east of the Burmese state. Because they were closer to Bagan than they were to the cities other Thais were building, the Shans avoided becoming part of the new Thai states, Lan Na and Siam, and the Burmese recruited them as mercenaries.


The fate of the Bagan Empire was sealed when a truly awful king came to the throne in either 1254 or 1256, depending on which source you are reading. His name was Narathihapate, and today’s Burmese remember him as both a monster and a glutton. His main religious building, the Minglazedi Pagoda, took six years to build, and was so expensive that it inspired a Burmese proverb. Quote: “The pagoda is finished and the great country ruined.” End quote. In inscriptions on the pagoda he bragged about having 3,000 concubines, 36 million soldiers, and that he ate 300 dishes of curry every day. But the worst thing Narathihapate did was to offend the Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan.


Back in Episode 5 we mentioned another kingdom that the Burmese had come from originally, Nanzhao, which was located in China’s southwestern corner, modern Yunnan province. That kingdom was conquered by the Mongols in 1253, and this conquest put the Mongols within striking distance of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand — and Burma. In the early 1270s the Mongols began demanding tribute, and the Burmese refused. The second time the Mongol ambassadors came, they were killed. Long-time listeners will remember that the easiest way to start a war with Kublai Khan was to mistreat his ambassadors. Japan did it, Java did it, Vietnam did it, and now Burma did it.


The Mongols were too busy conquering the rest of southern China to respond immediately, but in 1277 they began raiding the lands between them and the upper Irrawaddy valley. Whenever the Mongols encountered Burmese troops, the Mongols won, and each raid ended when the Mongols returned home, because the tropical heat was too much for them. However, when the Mongols came back in 1283, it was not a raid but an all-out invasion, now that they were done with China.


Accounts from both sides agree that the Mongols won again, but disagree on what kind of force they used. Marco Polo, the famous Italian traveler, was working for Kublai Khan at this time, and he wrote that because Burma was so weak, the Mongols conquered it with just clowns and jugglers, while Burmese sources claim that the Mongol army had six million horsemen and twenty million foot soldiers. Of course the true story is somewhere in-between those two claims. Anyway, the Mongol army ravaged the country, but because Kublai Khan was also a Buddhist, he spared Bagan. This means the Burmese king probably would have done all right if he had stayed in his capital and submitted to Mongol authority. Instead, he fled to the southwest corner of the realm. Then in 1287, he decided both flight and resistance were futile, sent an embassy to Kublai’s court at Beijing, and tried to return to Bagan. But on the way, he was captured by his youngest son, Thihathu, and forced to take poison. If he had refused, the son would have killed him anyway with a sword, so as he took the fatal dose, he prayed that in all future incarnations, “may no male-child be ever born to him again.” Since that time the Burmese have called the ill-fated king Tarokpyemin, “the king who fled from the Chinese.”


With Narathihapate’s death Burma went to pieces. The king of Arakan, Min Hti, declared independence for his province. Min Hti claimed an incredibly long reign. At a minimum, he is credited with ruling from 1279 to 1374, or 95 years, which may be the longest reign anywhere, and a few of my sources report him ruling for 106 years! To the south, part of the Mon territory had been in revolt since 1281, and now the Mons regained their independence, too. However, instead of one delta kingdom like they had previously, the Mons ended up with three city-states, two in the delta and one on the nearest part of the Malay peninsula. To the east, the Shans also set up three city-states for themselves. The remaining core territory came under the rule of Kyawswa, another son of Narathihapate, in 1289. However, real power in the disintegrating realm was held by three of the king’s brothers, Athinkhaya, Yazathingyan, and the previously mentioned Thihathu; these three were viceroys of the provinces outside the capital.


In 1297, Kyawswa tried to escape becoming a puppet of his brothers by becoming a vassal of the Mongols instead. The Mongols accepted his submission, and tried to incorporate what was left of the Burmese state into their empire as two provinces. The three brothers wouldn’t have any of this, and a few months later, they invited Kyawswa to their headquarters, the city of Myinsaing, to attend the dedication of a monastery built by them. The king went, thinking the Mongols would keep him safe, but after the ceremony he was arrested, dethroned, and forced to become a monk in the monastery he had just dedicated. Then in 1299, to make sure he would not escape, the brothers executed him. That brought about a final Mongol invasion, which ended when the Mongol commander accepted a heavy bribe from the brothers to turn around and go home. The excuse that he gave for calling off the campaign was not accepted by his superiors back in China, and he and his staff were executed. After that the Mongols lost interest in Burma, evacuated their base at Tagaung in 1303, and never came back again.


With Kyawswa’s brothers sharing power, the Burmese capital moved from Bagan to Myinsaing, so we call the post-Bagan state the Myinsaing Kingdom. By 1310, Thihathu was the only brother left alive, and he became the sole king of Upper Burma. In 1313 he followed the advice of the court astrologers and moved the capital again, this time to Pinya. The kingdom split into two smaller states, the Pinya and Sagaing kingdoms, in 1315, presumably because Thihathu’s reign ended in that year.


As for Bagan itself, members of Anawrahta’s dynasty continued to rule until 1369, but they were no longer considered kings, just provincial governors. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, most of its population died or moved away. The city’s size shrank from an estimated 200,000 at its peak, to a mere 20,000. Over the seven hundred years since then, it has been a small town, no longer important except for those who come to admire its pagodas. The culture established at Bagan would remain the standard Burmese culture, existing with few changes until the twentieth century, but Bagan’s golden age was over.


Burma in the Late Middle Ages


After the fall of Bagan, almost 250 years went by before another strong Burmese state appeared. We won’t be talking about that state now, that’s a subject for a future episode. The two and a half centuries between the first and second Burmese empires can be summarized quickly; it was a chaotic period when Burma was divided into minor states. Four ethnic groups — the Arakanese, the Burmese, the Mons and the Shans — competed in a contest to reassemble the Bagan empire, this time with themselves in charge of it. And among these, only the Arakanese had a unified state.


After the Mongols withdrew from Burma, the Shans had an opportunity to make a great nation of their own, but they threw it away by constantly fighting among themselves for most of the fourteenth century. One of the Shan chiefs, Thadominbya, broke out of this pattern by founding a kingdom around the city of Ava, close to Bagan, in 1364. What made Ava different was that it was Burmese, not Shan; Thadominbya wholeheartedly embraced Burmese culture and claimed descent from the Bagan kings, giving himself an air of legitimacy that the other Shan princes did not have.


Ava gained control over all of the Burmese community and a few Shan tribes, but otherwise it was not a very successful nation. It fought with its neighbors constantly, and whenever it tried to conquer one of them it was forced to back down by threats or invasions by the others. In addition, Arakan’s western location allowed it to get aid from the nearest Indian state, Bengal, when it was attacked by Ava.


Among the Mons, their three states were united by Razadarit, an energetic king of Bago who ruled from 1384 to 1421. The new kingdom was called Hanthawaddy, and the unification was contested by Ava. For forty years, from 1385 to 1424, Ava tried to conquer the Mon state, but the war between them was a stalemate that got nowhere. The result was that the war exhausted Ava, and afterwards Ava regularly had to put down rebellions whenever it got a new king. By contrast, Hanthawaddy was so strong during the war that it forced Arakan to pay tribute from 1413 to 1421. For a century after the war, Hanthawaddy had a series of very competent kings, with names like Binnya Ran I, Shin Sawbu, Dhammazedi, and Binnya Ran II. These kings made the state a rich commercial center, trading with the other nations around the Indian Ocean for luxuries such as gold, silver, silk and spices.


In the 1480s and 1490s, the Burmese city of Prome, modern Pyay, broke away from Ava’s authority, and so did the Shan tribes Ava ruled. Then in 1510, the city of Toungoo also broke away, forming a state that grew to be as powerful as Ava itself. For Ava, the end came in 1527, when Prome and the Shan state of Mohnyin teamed up, attacked, and sacked the Burmese capital, pillaging pagodas, slaughtering monks, and making bonfires of the contents of monastic libraries.


Now there was a power vaccuum in the middle of Burma. Since 1527 is already past the end of the Middle Ages, and well into the modern era, I will break off the narrative here, and tell you in a future episode who filled that vaccuum. How’s that for a cliffhanger ending? For next time, there is one more part of the Southeast Asian mainland we need to look at to finish the region’s medieval history. That is the land in the middle of it all, what we now call Thailand and Laos. Yes, I have hinted about the Thai migration almost since the beginning of this podcast; now I will finally tell you about it. Join me here to learn about the last great migration of Southeast Asians, and how Thailand and Laos got started.


Again, if you like what you heard, consider making a donation, using the Paypal button on this episode’s page. And if you listen to this podcast on iTunes, consider writing a review. Thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!

Chapter 5: Oceania Since 1945


Over the past four and a half months, I have been giving priority to the new podcast, as you can see from my previous messages.  Even so, I have not neglected the website, and have continued to write for the website’s current history project — the South Pacific.  It has been a bit of a challenge prioritizing the writing and the podcasting, so I can keep to my schedule of uploading two episodes every month.  For a while, for instance, I would write the scripts for my episodes and record them on weekdays, while writing for the website on weekends.  Perseverance paid off, and now the fifth chapter of the South Pacific history is now online!

This time we wrap up the whole narrative, covering the fourteen nations in this region from the end of World War II to the present.  As it turned out, the most convenient way to present the subject was to divide it into four parts.  Here are the URLs for the webpages, and a list of subheadings on each one:

Part I

* First, A Word on the Cargo Cults
* The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and Nearby Atolls
* Australia: The Menzies Era
* Rabbits Gone Wild
* Recolonial New Zealand

Part II

* Independence Comes to the Islands
     * Western New Guinea: From One Colonial Overlord to Another
     * Western Samoa
     * Nauru and Tonga
     * Fiji
     * Papua New Guinea
     * The Solomon Islands
     * Tuvalu and Kiribati
     * Vanuatu
     * The Free Association States

Part III

* The Australian Constitutional Crisis
* Australia in Recent Years
* New Zealand: Labour and National Reforms

Part IV

* The Smaller Island Nations Since Independence
     * The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and Palau
     * Fiji: Too Early to Tell
     * Kiribati: Every Day and Every Year Begin Here
     * Tuvalu: The First Nation to Go Under?
     * Nauru: The Island That Lost its Future
     * Papua New Guinea: A Troubled Young Nation
     * Samoa: No Longer Western, But Looking Southwest
     * The Solomon Islands: Are They A Nation Yet?
     * Tonga: It’s Good to Be King
     * Vanuatu: Harmony With Disunity
     * New Caledonia: Unfinished Business
* Conclusion for the Islands

It looks like I am done with this project, but while working on it, I decided to write something on the exploration of Antarctica, so the Antarctic can be included somewhere on the website; we might as well put the paper on the South Pole together with the ones on Australia.  Therefore, look for one more paper on Antarctica to show up sometime in 2017, and then the complete South Pacific history will be considered finished.  Stay tuned for one more chapter!

Episode 8, The Five Hundred Years War


Episode 8 of the podcast is now available!  This episode covers Vietnam from 939 to 1471.  During this time two nations existed in the territory of present-day Vietnam (three if you count the Khmers ruling the Mekong delta).  Those nations were the Vietnamese state, currently called Dai Viet, and the Indianized state of Champa.  The Vietnamese and Chams fought on and off for most of this period, hence the episode name.  Who won?  Listen to find out!

(Transcript, added 11/19/2019)

Episode 8: The Five Hundred Years War

Greetings, dear listeners! A few days ago, I discovered the History of Southeast Asia Podcast on three new websites: MyTuner,, and Podfanatic. Unlike my previous announcements about the podcast spreading, I did not submit the podcast to them, via RSS feed or anything else; someone besides me did it! Indeed, was the only one I had heard of previously. Well, I salute whoever is responsible. Now there are eight places online where you can listen to or download the episodes:




Google Play






If you are listening around the date when I uploaded this episode, November 1, 2016, it is just days before the ballyhooed 2016 US presidential election. Are you tired of hearing about the election in the news all the time? Ready to escape to a simpler, less crazy time? Then you’ve come to the right place. We will begin by going back to the tenth century; hopefully, that will be far enough back in time for you. From there we will cover an on-and-off war that lasted almost five hundred years. And you thought the Hundred Years War between England and France was a long, drawn-out affair!


In Episode 6, we covered the history of Indonesia up to the end of the Middle Ages, and in Episode 7 we did the same thing with Cambodia. Now we will do that for Vietnam. We last looked at Vietnam in Episode 4, so to help those of you who didn’t listen to that episode, and to refresh the memories of those that did, here is a quick recap.


The ancestors of the Vietnamese, then just called Viets, lived in eastern China, near the mouth of the Yangtze River, when they first appeared in history. They lived in a state named Yue during China’s Zhou dynasty, and after Yue was conquered by another state, Chu, the Viets fled southward. Some Viets founded a kingdom named Man Viet, in today’s Fujian province. Other Viets, the ones we are interested in, kept going, and founded another kingdom, Nam Viet, which stretched across the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and northern Vietnam. Because of that last territory, we can now call them Vietnamese. But the Chinese would not leave them alone. In 111 B.C. a Chinese army pushed southward, and conquered both Man Viet and Nam Viet.


The Chinese succeeded in assimilating the people of Man Viet, and their land has been part of China ever since. However, the Vietnamese around the Red River refused to become Chinese. Here we can see a characteristic that has marked the Vietnamese ever since; when under somebody else’s rule, they are willing to fight for as long as it takes to free themselves, and never give up; when the odds against them look hopeless, they resort to unconventional ways of fighting, like guerrilla warfare. They revolted against the Chinese repeatedly, the Chinese put down the revolts every time, but then the Vietnamese tried again later. Finally, after more than a thousand years of on-and-off rebellion, in 938 A.D., the Vietnamese won a naval victory that forced the Chinese out of their land completely.


But the Vietnamese and the Chinese are not the only characters in this story. To start with, there were the various hill tribes, living in the rough terrain that the Vietnamese did not settle because it was not prime farmland. They have always been lurking in the background, playing a role all throughout Vietnam’s history; during the twentieth century, for instance, they were the so-called Montagnards that fought on the side of the Americans and the South Vietnamese government.


On the central Vietnam coast, there were the Chams, who were a civilized people, but very different from the Vietnamese, because they learned the ways of civilization from India, not from China. The Chams were originally Malays who had come across the South China Sea from the Philippines or Indonesia, around 1000 B.C. In 192 A.D. they founded the first of several city-states, and by 400 these city-states came together to form the kingdom of Champa. By this time they had also absorbed so much Indian culture that Hinduism was their chief religion, their art resembled Indian art, and their rulers had Sanskrit names, like the kings of Cambodia. Eventually China conquered Champa, too, but because the Chams were so far to the south, the Chinese could only hold onto their land from 446 to 510, a far shorter time than they ruled over the Vietnamese. Thanks to their Malay ancestors, the Chams were excellent sailors, and their ships would become their strongest asset in the struggles we will be covering today.


By the way, if you check the program notes, on the page where this episode is hosted, you will see a picture of some pagodalike buildings. This is Po Klong Garai, the best preserved of the brick temples built by the Chams. The temple was built around the year 1300 by Jaya Sinhavarman III, a king we’ll be hearing about later, and it is near the south Vietnamese city of Phan Rang. Because of its excellent condition, a few Hindus still use it as a place of worship today. I mentioned in Episode 4 that the largest collection of Cham temples was built at My Son, near modern Da Nang, but it’s not in good shape; American B-52s bombed the main temple tower in 1969, because during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong used it for a hideout, and another wartime souvenir on the site — buried landmines — makes the place unsafe to visit even now.


One more thing I need to remind listeners about. The southernmost part of Vietnam, the land around the Mekong River delta and modern Ho Chi Minh City, was ruled by Cambodia’s kings in medieval times. We won’t be talking about the Khmers much here — we already said enough about them in the previous episode — but they will play a part in our narrative.


A minute ago, I mentioned the program notes. If you look at them again, below the picture of the Cham temple is a simple map from Wikipedia, showing the part of Southeast Asia covered in this episode. The Vietnamese kingdom is colored yellow, and Champa is colored green. Most of Champa’s cities are marked with two names: the original Sanskrit name in red, and the modern Vietnamese name in parentheses. To the left of both, in light blue, is the Khmer Empire as it stood around the year 1200. I’m sure everyone who listened to Episode 7 will remember that!


Now that we’re back to where we were when we broke off at the end of Episode 4, let’s get on with the show.




The first of the many wars fought during this period was between the Khmers and Chams. In 944 and 945, the Khmer king, Rajendravarman II, sent troops to raid the region of Kauthara, modern Nha Trang. They came back in 950, pillaged the temple of Po Nagar and carried off the golden statue of Bhagavathi, the temple goddess. Thus, repairing the temple and replacing the statue were the main activities of Jaya Indravaman I, the Cham king at that time.


Meanwhile to the north, the Vietnamese kingdom was getting organized, now that the Chinese had been expelled. Historians distinguish fifteen dynasties in Vietnamese history. The last dynasty ended in 1955, when the South Vietnamese government deposed Emperor Bao Dai — but that’s a subject for another time, we’re getting ahead of ourselves if we talk about it now. Vietnam’s first four dynasties were the short-lived independent governments that revolted against Chinese rule before 939. The next three also had very short careers, numbering in all eight kings over a seventy-year period, because a lot of mistakes were made while the Vietnamese learned to govern themselves again, and the Chinese had not yet given up on the idea that Vietnam belonged to them.


The first dynasty after independence was the Ngo dynasty, and it ruled from 939 to 968. It was founded by Ngo Quyen, the general who had defeated the Chinese at the end of Episode 4. Unfortunately he only lived five more years after his heroic battle; the three kings after him were unable to deal with a dozen revolting military chiefs, and they never secured diplomatic recognition from China. Next came the Dinh dynasty, which barely lasted long enough to be called a dynasty: two kings for an eleven-year period, 968 to 979. Fortunately, the Dinh monarchs established a decent capital for the nation at a town named Hoa Lu; they also defeated the warlords and got the Chinese to accept Vietnamese independence by paying tribute. From the Chinese point of view, the Vietnamese kingdom was now a satellite state of theirs, like Korea. Finally, the Dinh monarchs copied one more Chinese custom, by being the first Vietnamese rulers to call themselves emperors, instead of kings.


The Dinh dynasty was followed by the early Le dynasty, from 979 to 1009. This dynasty’s founder was a very successful emperor named Le Hoan. He defeated a Chinese invasion in 981 by ambushing the Chinese army in Chi Lang Pass and killing its commander. One year later, he began the advance to the south against Champa. He had two reasons for doing this. In 972 the Cham king, Paramesvaravarman I, had sent a fleet to support one of the warlords mentioned a minute ago, but a fierce storm sank many of the ships as it tried to enter the Red River delta from the sea, and forced the rest to return home. Then in 982, Le Hoan sent an ambassador to Indrapura, Champa’s capital, and Paramesvaravarman imprisoned the ambassador. Le Hoan attacked, killed the Cham king, sacked Indrapura, and carried off an enormous amount of loot: women from the king’s entourage, gold, silver, and other precious objects.


Champa sent envoys to China that pleaded for aid against the Vietnamese, but none came. Many Chams escaped the Vietnamese by fleeing across the South China Sea to China. Remarkably, a community of 6,000 Chams still exists on Hainan, the big Chinese-ruled island on the north end of the South China Sea. Nowadays they are called Utsuls, and at some point after they arrived, they converted to Islam; we’ll talk more about that in a future episode. Back on the mainland, the Chams abandoned Indrapura around 1000, moving their capital to Vijaya, modern Binh Dinh. In case you’re keeping score, the Vietnamese won the first round.


Unfortunately, Le Hoan’s talents could not be passed on to the next emperor, Le Long Dinh, who was a sadist and a sexual deviant. Le Long Dinh only ruled for four years, because he was struck down by a disease that killed him at the age of 24. Near the end, he was so sick that he had to lie down when meeting with his officials in court. A palace guard commander named Ly Cong Uan became the next emperor, but he did not gain the throne by seizing power in a coup; he was nominated to sit on it.


Ly Cong Uan’s reign is considered the beginning of a golden age for the Vietnamese. He introduced a Chinese-style civil service bureaucracy, which proved to be more efficient than the warlord system used previously, and a more efficient system than the Mandala monarchies in the rest of Southeast Asia. In case you’re a new listener to this podcast, I described the Mandala system in previous episodes, especially Episode 3. Ly Cong Uan also moved the capital to a site 56 miles north of Hoa Lu, at the apex of the Red River delta. Vietnam’s capital has been here most of the time since then — this is Hanoi. He claimed he picked Hanoi because he saw a dragon going up the Red River on this spot, and this gave the city its other name, Thang Long, or “Soaring Dragon.” Unlike the seven dynasties before it, the Ly dynasty was stable enough to last more than two centuries, from 1009 to 1225.


The Ly monarchs called their country Dai Viet, meaning “Great Viet,” but the Chinese name of Annam, “The Pacified South,” was used everywhere else. The country prospered, and the government encouraged cultural progress by vigorously promoting literature, art, and Mahayana Buddhism. Other reforms included a dike system to protect rice farms from floods, founding the country’s first university to give civil service exams to commoners applying for government jobs, establishing humane treatment of prisoners, and a new system of taxation that was run by the court ladies.


But Dai Viet’s growth was always threatened by external wars. A second Chinese invasion was defeated after a four-year war, from 1057 to 1061. And the feud with Champa was renewed, when the Vietnamese raided the Chams in 1021 and 1026. The Chams thought their new capital was far enough south to keep it out of Vietnamese hands. But in 1044 the Vietnamese sacked Vijaya and killed the Cham king again, along with thirty thousand of his people. Champa now paid tribute to Dai Viet; among the gifts it sent were a white rhinoceros and a white elephant, which were considered very special animals. In 1068 the Cham king Rudravarman III decided it was time for revenge and attacked Dai Viet. He was defeated, and Vijaya was sacked a second time in 1069. Rudravarman III was chased into Cambodia, captured, and deported to Dai Viet. He had to surrender Champa’s three northernmost provinces, the ones Champa took in 780, to regain his freedom. Score another point for the Vietnamese.


The Chams got a new dynasty, their ninth so far, when Harivarman IV became king in 1074. He made peace with Dai Viet and restored the temples at My Son, thus beginning a new period of prosperity for Champa. However, not everything he did worked out, for he also picked a fight with Cambodia. In 1080, the Khmers invaded, sacked the temples and monasteries around Vijaya, and carried away treasure and works of art, before Harivarman was able to defeat them. Thus, he spent the rest of his reign restoring the temples around the capital, too.


The Vietnamese did not get involved in the fight between the Chams and Khmers because they had just fought the Chinese again. This time the main battles were in China. In 1075 the Vietnamese learned that China was preparing yet another invasion, so they struck first, using their army and navy to destroy three Chinese military bases. China struck back in 1076, but at the battle of the Cau River, about 25 miles from Hanoi, the Vietnamese fought them to a standstill. When neither side could win, the Vietnamese proposed a truce, and the Chinese accepted it.


Dai Viet was exhausted for the rest of the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. That encouraged the Chams and Khmers to join forces and invade the southern part of Dai Viet twice, in 1128 and 1132. However, even with the mighty Khmer Empire on their side, led by its great king, Suryavarman II, the Chams could not achieve their main goal, recovering the three lost provinces. Then the Khmer-Cham alliance went sour. The Chams made peace with the Vietnamese, and when Suryavarman came back to fight the Vietnamese again, in 1138, the Cham king refused to join him. Because of that refusal, the next time the Khmers showed up, in 1145, they attacked Champa instead. Suryavarman captured Vijaya, and destroyed the Cham temples at My Son; now the Khmers took Champa’s place in the feud between the Chams & Vietnamese. The disputed provinces ended up under Khmer rule. Score one point for the Khmers; bet you didn’t see that coming!


The Khmer occupation only lasted two years. In 1147 a minor ruler from the southern city of Panduranga, Jaya Harivarman I, liberated Vijaya and had himself crowned king of all Champa. Thirty years later, another Cham king, Jaya Harivarman IV, launched a surprise attack on the Khmers and sacked their capital, Angkor. The Chams succeeded not only because they had the element of surprise, but also because they had a new weapon — the Chinese had taught them how to build and use ballistas, the giant crossbows used in sieges. We already covered this Cham invasion of Cambodia, but I’m giving this point to Champa anyway. Then the Khmers rallied under a new king of their own, Jayavarman VII. Jayavarman did better in the struggle that followed, and Champa ended up as a vassal of the Khmers from 1190 to 1220. That’s another point for the Khmers.


Meanwhile to the north, the Ly dynasty was in decline. In 1224 a powerful court minister named Tran Thu Do persuaded the emperor Ly Hue Tong to bequeath the throne to his daughter, abdicate, and become a monk. With the emperor out of the way, Tran Thu Do arranged a marriage between the daughter and his nephew, Tran Thai Tong, and with that move, the Tran dynasty was founded. Then to secure the new dynasty’s position, Tran Thu Do launched a vicious purge of the Ly family; for instance, he had the ex-emperor killed in 1226 to keep him from making a comeback. One Ly prince, Ly Long Tuong, fled to Korea, where he eventually became a general.


After the purge, the Tran monarchs pursued the same policies that had worked for the Ly dynasty. But now Champa was independent again, and it wanted a rematch over the disputed border provinces, which had gone to the Vietnamese by default when the Khmers withdrew from the area, around 1150. The Chams sent pirate raids on the Vietnamese coast, and the Cham army recovered two of the disputed provinces, Quang Tri and Hue, while the third, Quang Binh, remained in Vietnamese hands. Emperor Tran Thai Tong retaliated with a military expedition in 1252, that captured and brought back the Cham queen, and the king’s concubines. However, that was as far as the feud got, for in the following year, the Mongols conquered Nanzhao, the nation in southwest China that we met in Episode 5. Now Kublai Khan’s army was on Southeast Asia’s doorstep.


Dai Viet and Champa quickly put aside their squabble to meet a threat that could destroy both of them. Fortunately, the Mongols were out of their element; they were used to fighting where the weather was cold and dry, and where the land presented few obstacles to their horses and arrows; the rugged jungles of Southeast Asia are nothing like that. The Mongols attacked and took Hanoi three times (in 1257, 1284, and 1287), and invaded Champa once, in 1283. Both the Vietnamese and Chams abandoned their cities, so the Mongols could not subject them to sieges, and they avoided open field battles. Each time the combination of Vietnamese army and Cham navy inflicted unacceptable losses, and the defenders relied on guerrilla tactics until the Mongols, suffering from heat, illness and a shortage of supplies, gave up and withdrew. The decisive battle was fought at the Bach Dang River in 1288, the same river where the Vietnamese beat the Chinese exactly 350 years earlier, and the Vietnamese commander, Tran Hung Dao, won his battle the same way — by ambushing the Mongol fleet. He celebrated his victory by composing a triumphant poem that declared, “This ancient land shall live forever,” and today, Tran Hung Dao is still venerated as one of the great heroes of Vietnamese history. Nearly seven centuries later, in 1951, the Viet Minh military commander, Vo Nguyen Giap, compared himself with Tran Hung Dao as he launched an attack against the French in the same area. Let’s give a bonus point to both the Vietnamese and the Chams, for defeating Genghis Khan’s grandson. However, in the last years of the thirteenth century, both Vietnam and Champa sent tribute; this allowed the Mongols to think they were the real winners, so they never came back.


Marco Polo, the most famous traveler of the Middle Ages, visited Champa in 1292. It must have been a brief stop, because the chapter on Champa in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, is a short one. While most of the material in that chapter has been verified with other sources, he also mentioned a Cham custom that seems farfetched. Quote: “You must know that in that kingdom no woman is allowed to marry until the King shall have seen her; if the woman pleases him then he takes her to wife; if she does not, he gives her a dowry to get her a husband.” End Quote. Then in the 1320s another European, a Franciscan friar named Odoric of Pordenone, visited Champa; you may remember I mentioned him visiting Java in Episode 6 of this podcast.


Once Kublai Khan was gone, the king of Champa, Jaya Sinhavarman III, tried to make the new friendship permanent by asking for a Vietnamese princess in marriage. After negotiations that dragged on until 1306, the Vietnamese said they would allow the marriage if Champa gave up the provinces of Quang Tri and Hue. Amazingly, Jaya Sinhavarman accepted. But he died less than a year after the wedding, and the princess, Huyen Tran, returned to Hanoi to avoid joining her husband in death. Remember how I mentioned that the Chams imitated the Indians in as many customs as possible? Unfortunately one of those customs was suttee, the Hindu practice of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. The two provinces the Cham king had handed over were not returned, and the next king, Jaya Sinhavarman IV, started a new war to take back those provinces. This time the northern kingdom won again; the Cham king was captured in 1312, and he died a prisoner in Hanoi. After that, Champa paid tribute to Dai Viet again. Give another point to the Vietnamese.


A Cham rebellion in 1318 failed, and the Vietnamese replaced the Cham king with a puppet king, a Vietnamese-born officer named Che Anan. However, he had lived much of his adult life in Champa, so he was persuaded to rebel in 1326, and succeeded in liberating the country. The Vietnamese, exhausted and bankrupt from fighting both the Mongols and the Chams, had to let Champa go. Still, the many wars with the northern kingdom were taking their toll on the Chams, too. One sign of this is that their culture looked less Indian, and more like the cultures of other Southeast Asian states. For example, there were eight Cham kings in the rest of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and only two of them had Sanskrit names; believe it or not, you won’t meet any more kings with names ending in “varman!”


Anyway, the next Cham king tried to take back the city of Hue in 1353, but failed. Then came Champa’s most outstanding king. He ruled from 1360 to 1390 and goes by many names: Po Binasuor in the Cham language, Che Bong Nga in Vietnamese, and Che Bunga in Malay. The series of well-planned raids he made against Dai Viet kept the Vietnamese in a state of terror during his whole reign; Vietnamese stories call him the Red King. In 1371 he even pillaged Hanoi. But wait, there’s more! In 1377 the Vietnamese emperor, Tran Due Tong, personally led an army against Champa. Po Binasuor ambushed that army, killed the emperor, and went on to raid Hanoi again. Not only did all of the disputed territory come under Champa’s rule, but Champa occupied everything up to Thanh Hoa, a town about 90 miles south of Hanoi. That’s another point for Champa.


The Red King’s career ended when he attacked Hanoi for the third time in 1390, and the Vietnamese fired a musket salvo at the royal barge, killing him. Now the Vietnamese launched a counteroffensive, which was so successful that in 1398 the capital was moved from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa, so that the emperor could be closer to the action. By 1402, Vietnamese forces had advanced far enough south to take Indrapura, modern Da Nang.


Then a crisis at home halted Vietnamese progress. Champa’s success in the 1370s and 1380s had shown the Tran dynasty was weak. Ho Qui Ly, the general in charge of Dai Viet’s defenses during that time, forced the last Tran emperor to abdicate in 1400, and took the throne for himself. One year later he also abdicated and crowned his son, Thai Thuong Hoang, but he stuck around to advise him, as the real power behind the throne. Together the emperor and the ex-emperor were capable and bold reformers; the changes they introduced included adding math questions to the civil service examinations, allowing open criticism of Confucian philosophy, using paper money in place of coins, investing in the building of large warships and the new weapons called cannon, and finally, land reform, because the Red River valley was getting overcrowded.


Despite all this, the ousted Tran dynasty still had supporters, and they called on China for help. So did Champa, which needed aid to take back the northern half of its kingdom. China had just begun another glorious age, that of the Ming dynasty, and in 1407 a Chinese army marched into Hanoi and removed the usurper and his son. In the south, the Chams were able to regain Indrapura. But instead of installing a new Vietnamese emperor and going home, the Chinese announced there was no Tran heir, and converted the Vietnamese state into a Chinese province. In doing so they took the national archives and many Vietnamese scholars back to China, a terrible loss to Vietnamese civilization. Nguyen Trai, a poet who lived at this time, had this to say about Chinese behavior. Quote: “Were the water of the Eastern Sea to be exhausted, the stain of their ignominy could not be washed away; all the bamboo of the Southern Mountains would not suffice to provide the paper for recording all their crimes.” End quote.


Evidently the Chinese did not remember what happened the last time they ruled Vietnam. They forced heavy taxes, slave labor, and their language and customs on the Vietnamese, and did it so severely that the Vietnamese revolted almost immediately. As usual, the Vietnamese lost the first battles, but went on to win the war. In 1418 the rebels found a capable leader named Le Loi, a wealthy landowner from Thanh Hoa. He taught the guerrilla tactics of Tran Hung Dao to his followers, and they successfully wore down the Chinese army; ten years later, in 1428, the Chinese got out of Hanoi. Le Loi proclaimed himself emperor, changed his name to Le Thai To, and founded the second Le dynasty, making him yet another one of Vietnam’s all-time national heroes. The previously mentioned Nguyen Trai was his right hand man, and after the 1428 victory Nguyen Trai composed an essay entitled the Great Proclamation Upon the Pacification of the Wu, which over the past six centuries has been considered Vietnam’s second declaration of independence. Here is a sample line from it. Quote: “Our people long ago established Vietnam as an independent nation with its own civilization. We have our own mountains and our own rivers, our own customs and traditions, and these are different from those of the foreign country to the north…We have sometimes been weak and sometimes powerful, but at no time have we suffered from a lack of heroes.” End Quote.


At the same time the new emperor was courteous to the enemy he had just defeated. He provided ships and horses to help the Chinese go home, and afterwards he sent gift-bearing ambassadors to China, to apologize for the “irresponsible behavior” of the guerillas who had ambushed the Chinese army. Whereas previous Vietnamese rulers had mainly been Buddhists, the Le dynasty emperors preferred Confucianism, and gift-giving was in agreement with the teachings of Confucius, preserving harmony and saving the Chinese from too much loss of face, something always important in Asian societies. The Chinese always appreciated that; the Vietnamese, even when independent, DID have Chinese culture.


When the Cham king died in 1441, a civil war broke out among those claiming the throne. Of course the Vietnamese did not pass up this opportunity to make trouble. In 1446 the Vietnamese occupied Vijaya, but not for long, for the Chams soon recovered it. This was Champa’s last victory. Earlier I mentioned that Champa’s biggest advantage was its navy, and now here is the biggest Vietnamese advantage — numbers. We learned in previous episodes of this podcast that the best places in Southeast Asia for farming were the big river valleys, especially the deltas of those rivers. Well, Vietnam has two major river systems, the Red River in the north, and the Mekong River in the south. The Vietnamese controlled the Red River, while the Khmers controlled the Mekong, but the Chams never had a large river in their territory. This meant that Champa could never feed as many people as its rivals, so when it came to population, the Vietnamese always outnumbered the Chams. Fighting larger opponents for generation after generation had taken its toll, and by the fifteenth century, Champa was simply worn out.


Another great emperor, Le Thanh Tong, ruled from 1460 to 1497, and during his reign, the Vietnamese-Cham conflict reached its climax. In 1471, in reaction to a Cham raid two years earlier, he sent a huge fleet southward, followed by a huge army, and they captured and utterly destroyed Vijaya. 60,000 Chams were killed, 30,000 were captured and enslaved. Among the latter was the Cham king, who fell ill and died on the junk that was taking him away. The Vietnamese state annexed the land to the south, all the way to Vijaya, and gave most of it to masses of landless soldiers and peasants, thereby easing the population crunch around Hanoi. All that was left to Champa was a rump state, between Cam Ranh Bay and the Mekong delta, with its capital at Panduranga, modern Phan Rang. Although the Cham kingdom lingered on for almost 250 more years, it never recovered; the centuries-old feud was over.


Okay, that’s enough excitement for this episode. All through the narrative, we have been keeping an imaginary score. What does the scoreboard say at the end? Well, the Vietnamese got the last point for trashing Vijaya in 1471, so here is the final score:


Vietnamese = 5 points.

Chams = 3 points.

Khmers = 2 points.


The Vietnamese win.

(stadium cheer)


Okay, I think the listeners get the idea!


Join me next time as we go to the other side of the Southeast Asian mainland, to see what Burma was doing while the Vietnamese were feuding with the Chams, and the Khmers were building Angkor. I probably should have mentioned it in the previous episode, when I was talking about how impressive the Khmer achievement was, but the Burmese built their own impressive monument at the same time — Bagan, a city containing thousands of pagodas. I look forward to having you with the next tour group, as we visit the first Burmese empire.


Like I have said in the past, if you like what you just heard, consider making a donation, using the Paypal button on the page where you played or downloaded this episode. That is the only way I have to financially support this podcast, until it gets a sponsor. And if you listen to this podcast on iTunes, consider writing a review. Again, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!