History Files

Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia


Cham (Vietnam)

Around 2000 BC, Chinese rice and millet farmers spread southwards into a region which stretched between Early Vietnam and today's Burma. There, they interbred with local hunter-gatherers in two main pulses, this being the first with the second taking place around the end of the first century BC.

The Viet people occupied the southern fringes of the second century BC Han empire, in the easternmost coastal area of South-East Asia. To their south were the Austronesian Cham people, seafaring settlers who reached the region from Borneo in continuous waves between about 1000 BC and AD 200.

To the south of the Cham people, around the Mekong delta in the first century AD, was the kingdom of Funan. This state would heavily influence the Cham people with its own Indianised culture, while the later Khmer would evolve along similar lines to the Cham, and would maintain close links.

The Cham were not a single group or tribe. Instead they consisted of many groups or tribes, many of which formed their own polities for at least part of the millennium and-a-half of independent Cham existence during the Iron Age and medieval period. Cham people emerged into history during the Sa Huỳnh culture of central and southern Vietnam which also saw the brief rise of the Au Lac kingdom to the north. They communicated in their own language group, with this being a division of the wider Malayo-Polynesian family.

As with much of the rest of the region outside of the Sinicised north of today's Vietnam, the Cham were strongly influenced by India even down to the names of their kings. Contacts between the two were easily furnished through trade and the Cham people's own skilled seafaring activities. It has been theorised that the Cham name may even have originated from the capital of the Indian Iron Age kingdom of Anga, a city which had formerly been known as Malini but which was changed to 'Champa'.

The main Cham kingdom is usually known as Champa, but there were other kingdoms, along with a series of semi-independent polities. There was also the kingdom of Lâm Ấp which may or may not have been a Cham state. Most likely is that the majority of its people were increasingly Indianised Chams, but perhaps initially that influence was not dominant.

Cham people (possibly) of Xianglin county (near today's Huế) entered history in AD 100 when they revolted due to high taxes. They plundered and burned down Late Han centres until the rebellion was put down in the same year. But this was the start of independence in Vietnam's centre and southern-central areas.

Champa's capital changed from time to time, with this being theorised as a demonstration of changes in ruling dynasty or even rebuilds of the kingdom. Cham culture and traditions would eventually inspire the northerners of Nam Viet to take much of it on board to mix with their Chinese influences, although it would take over a millennium to have an effect. Modern Vietnam's cultural and ethnic mix would be created from this fusion.

Traditional House, Vietnam

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Vietnam: A New History, Christopher Goscha, from Early Mainland Southeast Asia, C Higham (River Books Co, 2014), from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), and from External Links: Cultural elements of Cham Pa in Dai Viet capital and its vicinity, Nguyen Tien Dong (TiaSang.com), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Vietnam in the First State Foundation Period (Vietnam National Museum of History), and The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, George Coedès (Walter F Vella (Ed), Susan Brown Cowing (Trans), University of Hawaii Press, 1968, and available online via the Internet Archive).)

late 1st century

According to the Late Han envoy, K'ang T'ai (and supported by a Cham inscription), the first king of Funan is a certain Hun-t'ien, otherwise known as Kaupdinya or Kaundinya. This individual originates either in India, the Malay peninsula, or the southern islands, and is almost certainly a trader.

Queen Soma of Funan
Queen Soma and Kaundinya, her Indian husband and co-ruler are often claimed as the founders not only of Funan but of Chen-La and its successor, the Khmer empire

AD 100

The 'Second Chinese Domination of Vietnam' is generally peaceful, despite a dedicated process of Sinicisation taking place. The Cham people of Xianglin county (near today's Huế in coastal central Vietnam) still revolt though, due to high taxes.

The Cham plunder and burned down occupying Late Han centres until the rebellion is put down in the same year. The leaders are executed, but Xianglin is granted a two-year taxation respite.

136 & 144

Again during the 'Second Chinese Domination of Vietnam', the Cham refuse to be fully controlled by the Late Han. In AD 136 and 144 they launch two further rebellions which provoke mutinies in the imperial army. It appears that the governor of Jiaozhi tricks them into surrendering by means of offers of clemency.


A local leader named Chu Đạt revolts with an army of four or five thousand behind him. The Chu Đạt Rebellion ends in a massacre, with perhaps half of the army being beheaded.

Sa Huynh culture pottery of southern Vietnam and Cambodia
The Unesco World Heritage Site of Hoi An Ancient Town houses the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture, which contains more than two hundred artefacts from this culture in central and southern Vietnam of 1000 BC to AD 200


The Cham people revolt yet again during the 'Second Chinese Domination of Vietnam'. This time, under Khu Liên (Ch'u-lien to the Chinese), they remain undefeated, founding the independent central Vietnamese kingdom of Lâm Ấp. Its southern border touches the north-eastern border of Funan.

220 - 230

The descendants of Khu Liên take advantage of the 'Three Kingdoms' civil war period which terminates the Late Han dynasty. Between 220 and 230, one of the warring kingdoms sends an embassy to Lii Tai, governor of Guangdong (formerly Kwangtung, near Hong Kong) and Tonkin (formerly Chiao-chih in Vietnam).

It is in connection with this embassy that the names Lâm Ấp and Funan appear for the first time in a Chinese text. The offer of tribute from these southern kingdoms is purely a formality, especially based on later events.


A new dynasty comes to power in the Lâm Ấp kingdom. Subsequent rulers here bear fully Indianised names, seemingly part of a new ruling house, and perhaps truly Cham even while a question mark hangs over the ethnic identity of the previous rulers of Lâm Ấp.

My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam
The kingdom of Lâm Ấp was about the first state to emerge in what is now central Vietnam, with the Nam Viet to their north and various independent Cham groups to their south, while Funan formed their most important neighbour, with relations between the two usually being friendly


Funan has been the dominating power in the southern region of South-East Asia for five centuries. The death of Rudravarman may have meant the restoration of the rightful line after 550, but it may be this very restoration which now causes Chen-La to destroy what remains of the kingdom.

North-eastern Funan territory is gradually absorbed into the growing Cham domains so that the language or dialect of Funan is lost in preference to Cham tongues.


Chinese records cease to mention Lin-Yi (Lâm Ấp) and replace it with the name Huang Wang.

Moreover, the new dynasty which reigns in this region inaugurates the use of posthumous names. These serve to indicate the divine presence of the king after his death, the god with whom the deceased king has been united. The origin of and precise dates for the first of these kings is unknown.


With the northern flank secure, the Viet ruler, Lê Hoàn, turns his attention to the south which has suffered recently from a number of Champa raids. Known as the Champa-Dai Viet War of 982 (or the Cham-Vietnamese War of 982), the Viet ruler leads a military expedition against the Champa ruler, Jaya Paramesvaravarman I.

The temple of King Le Dai Hanh (Le Hoan) is built on the site of the royal palace of Hoa Lu
The temple of King Le Dai Hanh (Lê Hoàn) was built on the site of the royal palace of the Hoa Lu capital which was relocated by the subsequent dynasty

The campaign results in the defeat of the Cham forces and the death in battle of Paramesvaravarman I. The threat of Cham raids is ended and instead it is the Viet people who now begin a southwards push to absorb increasing amounts of Cham lands.

1446 - 1447

Following two heavy Champa raids (in 1444 and 1445), the forces of Dai Viet now campaign into Champa. Its capital and king are both captured and held for a year before the Viet forces are apparently forced out of the country. Two decades of peace now follows between the two kingdoms.


Dai Viet annexes the Champa capital of Vijayal (later Binh Dinh) and territory to the north of Mui Deiu (which itself is a little to the south of Qui Nhon). This forms the main core of Champa. The southernmost remainder of Champa becomes the vassal states of Kauthera and Panduranga.

The Champa temple of Thap Duong Long
While the impressive temple structures of Thàp Duong Long were most likely constructed as a Champa symbol of pride, designed with the Cham architectural style in mind, elements of the Khmer culture were also incorporated in the structures


The Cham rump state of Panduranga has been paying its tribute to the southern viceroy rather than directly to the emperor of Vietnam. Despite warnings and imperial insistence that this be changed, the orders have been ignored.

Now, upon the death of the friendly viceroy of Saigon, Minh Mang annexes the state and holds as a royal hostage its last king. Cham independence ends and its people eventually form part of modern Vietnam.

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