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Indonesia History - Early Chinese Contacts

By far the largest body of accurate chronological knowledge relating to the early history of Malaysia is that furnished by the Chinese. The Celestials had always been a literary people and had always taken a special interest in noting down what they could learn of foreign lands and curious customs. The poverty of their records as regards the Philippines seems to be due not so much to distance as to the relative insignificance of the local states when compared, to the richer and more powerful kingdoms of Indo-China, Sumatra and Java. This is the more evident from the fact that Formosa, lying at the very door of one of China's greatest ports, is mentioned no more frequently in the early records than are the Philippines. Another case in point is the frequent mention of Bruni and Sulu, as compared with Luzon and the other northern islands. It is of course evident that there may be important Chinese or Japanese records not yet examined by western students, but it seems unlikely that much further geographical or historical material is to be expected from that source.

The first Chinese to visit and write of a Malay land appears to have been the Buddhist pilgrim Fahien, who went overland to India, AD 400, sailed from Ceylon to Java, in 413, in an Indian ship, and later went on to China in another Indian or Javanese ship, arriving in 414. The size of these ships is indicated by the fact that they are said each to have carried a crew of about two hundred men. Though he remained in Java for five months, Fahien tells us little about it except that the people were Brahmans and not Buddhists. Many other Buddhist pilgrims visited India in the seventh century, and, as Chinese maritime enterprise was then rapidly developing, the greater number went by sea. The most famous of these later pilgrims was I-tsing, who, in 671, sailed in twenty days from Canton to Sri-Vishaya, on Sumatra. After remaining there for six months he went on to India, but in 685 he returned to Sri-Vishaya again and remained for four years. At that time this great Sumatran state was already beginning its rapid expansion, and the Menangkabau country and fully one-half of the whole island had been added to its domain.

Beginning with the last Sung dynasty (960-1279), intercourse between China and Sri-Vishaya was fairly frequent and continuous down to the time of its capture and destruction by the great Javanese empire of Madjapahit, in 1377. Because of its importance as the source of the first Philippine civilization, the early Chinese descriptions of this state are of unusual interest. The capital city was fortified and surrounded by a wall built of bricks, which was more than ten miles in length. Most of the common people lived in scattered villages outside of the city, though many also lived on rafts built in the water. Several writers mention these rafts and the expert use made of them by the people. This is especially interesting in view of the fact that the Visayan pirates who made numerous raids on the Chinese coast during the twelfth century are said to have used sailing-rafts and not boats. The Sri-Vishayans had books, written in characters similar to those of India; they were also able mathematicians, and traders reported that they could calculate future eclipses of the sun and moon. They practised suttee, or the burning of wives and slaves with the bodies of dead kings and great chiefs. Menangkabau appears to have been regarded as an integral part of Sri-Vishaya. A large colony of Chinese had estblished themselves in Sri-Vishaya, and after the conquest by Madjapahit several thousand men of Canton and Fukien left the city and established themselves at a place on the coast, which they defended bravely, and where they afterwards built a town.

With regard to Java, the Chinese records contain much interesting information, and it is necessary to state only that intercourse with that country seems to have been fairly continuous from the fifth century down to the European period. The Madjapahit rulers, however, were always jealous of China's relations with their dependencies, and on several occasions killed or maltreated imperial envoys to tributary states. This attitude was partly justified, in that Madjapahit's dependencies often appealed to the Chinese Court to forbid Java from collecting tribute, and sometimes even secured imperial decrees to that effect. Among others, both Bruni and Sulu appear to have tried this scheme of playing off China against Java for their own benefit.

In February 1292 the Mongol emperor of China, Kublai Khan, ordered the preparation of a punitive naval expedition directed against Java. It was partly an act of retaliation for King Kertanagara's refusal to pay tribute to China, and especially for the cruel and contemptuous way in which the Javanese ruler had disfigured the face of an imperial envoy.

The fleet, which is reported to have consisted of 1000 ships, manned with 20,000 soldiers, was ready to leave by November. The journey was hazardous and beset with ill- fortune. Almost immediately after departure the convoy was hit by a typhoon; it was refused entry into Champa, where the loading of fresh supplies had been anticipated, and consequently by the time it approached the harbour at Tuban on Java's north coast the force was already demoralized, many of the soldiers suffering from starvation and dysentery.

The Chinese army was greeted by representatives from the new settlement at Majapahit, who explained that Kertanagara had been defeated and killed a few months previously and that his throne had been seized by a usurper, Jayakatwang of Kediri. The rightful heir, Raden Wijaya, son-in-law of Kertanagara, had established a stronghold at Majapahit and was asking for assistance in the annihilation of their common enemy, in return for official tribute.

An alliance was formed and on 15 March 1293 the combined force launched an attack on Daha (Kediri). The final assault on the capital was made five days later, resulting in the loss of 5000 Kediri lives and the surrender of Jayakatwang. Raden Wijaya then returned to Majapahit, ostensibly to prepare his tribute settlement, leaving his allies to celebrate their victory. Quickly mobilizing his forces again, however, he turned on the Chinese army in a surprise attack, killing many and sending the rest running back to their ships. In this way Raden Wijaya established the kingdom of Majapahit. Seven months later, in November 1293, he was officially enthroned, bearing the royal title Kertarajasa Jayawardhana.

Banjarmasin is the capital of the province of South Kalimantan. After the forming of the Indonesian Government, Banjarmasin was the capital of Kalimantan province until it was divided into 4 Provinces (West, East, Central and South), then it became the capital of South Kalimantan.

The Chinese accounts of trade, etc., at the end of the fourteenth century regarding Bandjarmasin are of the same date as the account of Sulu, and are of special interest because of their mention of the Badjaos and of the use of burial jars: "At Banjarmasin they have a city with walls of wood, one side of which lies against a mountain. The chief of this country keeps several hundreds of finely dressed girls and when he goes out he rides on an elephant and is followed by these girls, carrying his clothes, shoes, knife, sword and betel-tray; if he goes in a boat, he sits cross-legged on a couch and these girls sit on both sides with their faces turned towards him, or are employed in poling the boat; his state is always very great.

"Many of the people make rafts of trees bound together and build houses on the water in which they live, just as it is done at Sri-Vishaya. Men and women use a piece of cloth of many colors for wrapping round their head; their back and breast are generally bare, but sometimes they have a jacket with short sleeves, which they put on over their heads; the lower part of their body is surrounded with a piece of cloth. Formerly they used, banana-leaves as plates, but since they trade with the Chinese, they have gradually begun to use earthenware. They also like very much earthen jars with dragons outside; when they die, they are put into such a jar and buried in this way. They detest adultery, and he who commits it is punished with death; when a Chinese has intercourse with one of their girls, they cut off his hair and give him the girl as a wife, never allowing him to return to his country.

"In the neighborhood are the Badjaos, who are of a ferocious disposition and go out in the middle of the night to cut off people's heads, which they carry away and adorn with gold; therefore the traders fear them very much and at night carefully mount guard to await them." A later note adds: "The last King of Bandjarmasin was a good man, who treated the merchants very favorably; he had thirtyone sons and, fearing that they might molest the merchant vessels, he did not allow them to go out. His wife was the daughter of a Badjao chieftain, and a son of hers succeeded his father; this man listened to the words of his mother's relatives, began to oppress the trade and owed much money to the traders, which he did never pay. After this the number of those who visited the country gradually diminished."

The History Of The Ming Dynasty (13681643), Book 324, relates that "Java is situated at the south-west of Champa. In the time of the emperor Kublai, of the Yuan dynasty (12601249), Meng Ch'i was sent there as an envoy, and had his face cut, on which Kublai sent a large army which subdued the country and then came back.

"In the year 1369 the emperor T'ai-tsu sent an envoy to this country, to communicate his accession to the throne; at that time an envoy from this country, who had brought tribute to the house of Yuan, was in the province of Fukien, on his voyage back, when the house of Yuan fell; he therefore returned to the capital of the new dynasty, where the emperor appointed an envoy to escort him back to his native country, and presented him with an almanac.

"In the year 1370 the emperor issued an edict, informing the world that he had subjugated Sha-mohf (the country of the Yuan), and of the following contents: 'In all past times the ruler of the world had his attention fixed on all who live in it, he continually watched over them, the far and the near were equal to his mind, and it was his constant wish that all mankind should enjoy tranquillity and happiness. Now, for this purpose, it is necessary that China should be in a state of tranquillity first, and then the countries outside can rely on it."

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Page last modified: 11-04-2017 18:47:16 ZULU