Ancient Cultural and Diplomatic Relations of Funan with China and India: An Assessment of Early Texts and Recent Archaeological Discoveries

Visiting Scholar Talks

Mar 30, 2023 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Phan Anh Tu | Vice Dean, Faculty of Cultural Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities - Ho Chi Minh City; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2022-23


Robert E. Murowchick | Lecturer of Archaeology, Boston University

Seating is limited. Masks are required for all in-person audience members.

Co-sponsored with the Asia Center

The Cultural and Diplomatic Relations of Funan Kingdom with China and India in the Ancient Period of Southeast Asia.

The kingdom of Funan (from the Chinese term 扶南) was located in present-day southern Vietnam, southeastern Cambodia and southern Thailand from the 1st to 6th century AD. Being recognized by George Cœdès as the first Indianized state in Southeast Asia, Funan has been recorded as having strong cultural and diplomatic relations with India since the first centuries AD. However, there is a notable absence of records about Funan in early Indian historical records, but we see an abundance of Chinese records about Funan during 3rd to 7th centuries. These Chinese records about Funan include Biography of Funan (Funan zhuan 扶南传) and Records of Foreign Matters in the Domain of Funan (Funan yiwu zhi 扶南異物志)dating from the early first millennium AD, to New Tang Histories (Xin Tang Shu 新唐书) in the early 11th c.

Archaeological investigations of the Funan kingdom were conducted during the French colonial period and have been continued since 1975 by Vietnamese archaeologists in the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. Archaeological discoveries have revealed the remains of several hundred Hindu and Buddhist sites and thousands of objects relating to the ancient culture of Funan, which has been called Oc Eo culture in Vietnam.

This long-term fieldwork and its interdisciplinary approach in the Mekong Delta allow us to analyses the triangular diplomatic and cultural relationship among Funan, China and India in this ancient period. As the result, my research has been based on diverse materials including ancient Chinese texts, archeological data and historical records in Vietnam and France (through the EFEO), ancient Chinese objects found in and around the Oc Eo archaeological site, ruins of religious structures, and Hindu and Buddhist statues and other objects unearthed in the Mekong Delta (Vietnam). Moreover, the recent archaeological excavations at the site of Giong Cat (2019) have provided new evidence with which to understand the crucial position of the Chinese objects in Funanese culture, an issue that wasn’t of particular interest to scholars during the French colonial period.