In 2008, I was invited to cover the seventh Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, and I spent my free time wandering around the Forbidden City in search of some ancient documents related to Cambodia and China. But unfortunately I couldn’t find any and the large museum was filled with thousands of people. In 2010, I had a chance to take part in a study exchange organised by the Shanghai Media and Entertainment Group at Fudan University in Shanghai. During a day trip to Nanjing museum, I found some documents from the Ming Dynasty about diplomacy with other countries, including Cambodia.
In Nanjing City in China, a museum showcases the artistic works of the Ming Dynasty, and there is a strong Cambodian connection.
The museum highlights the prosperity and lives of the Chinese people during this period, as well as the relationship China had with other countries. Some artefacts in this museum have been seen as new evidence of a long diplomatic relationship between China and the Angkor kingdom dating back 700 years.
A big painting copied from the original with historical text in ancient Chinese characters describes the diplomatic and trade relationship between China and foreign countries in the 14th century.
The painting, with just a few Chinese characters, reveals the relationship between China and India, China and Egypt, China and Africa, and particularly China and Angkor.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that this was the height of China and Angkor relations. While the two rulers established a diplomatic relationship, Chinese and Khmer businessmen bartered their goods based on their respective needs.
A Chinese official at the Nanjing Museum said that China’s diplomatic relationships during that time were ordered to be painted by the king of the Ming Dynasty and according to the traditions of each country in China’s ancient book and on the wall of the hall of the king.
Separately, sculptures in Cambodia, on the gate to Angkor Thom, also describe the way of life of the Khmer people, such as farming, fishing, crocodile hunting, trading and art.
The painting, copied from the original done in the time of the Ming Dynasty, depicts the diplomatic relationship between China and other countries in the 14th century. There are also six paintings about the relationship with Cambodia, which are very broad in topic and relate to the kings and to the people.
The paintings copied from the audience hall of the Ming Dynasty depict meetings between the Chinese emperor and kings from other countries, such as India, Egypt, Mongolia, Tibet and Angkor (Cambodia). Those paintings depict kings or ambassadors from various countries in their traditional clothes and also show their faces are different from the Chinese.
The paintings also depict the meetings between kings and the emperor, ambassadors meeting ambassadors or ordinary people involved in trade with China.
The Ming dynasty was established in the early 14th century by Tay Zu from 1328-1398. During this dynasty, China had relationships with many other countries, especially with Cambodians in the late Angkorian period.
Many historians know of the diplomatic relationship between Cambodia and China through the records of Chiv Takvann, a special envoy to China in the late 13th century during the Angkorian period, but the paintings from the Ming Dynasty in Nanjing City are new evidence of the long relationship between the two countries.