On Cross-Cultural Diffusion: The Chinese
Elements Adopted by Khmer Architectural Craftsmen in Angkor,
Speaker: Sharon WONG
(Assistant Professor, Department of
Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 7 November,
Venue: Room 12 Humanities Building, New
Asia College, CUHK
Professor Wong’s seminar focused on the
technological choices of the Khmer architectural ceramics in Angkor, Cambodia.
Professor Wong suggested the ceramics is a useful tool to analyze the
intersection of official exchange between Khmer and Chinese polities during 9th
to 14th centuries. By studying the Chinese elements adopted by Khmer
architectural craftsmen in Angkor, the cross-cultural exchange in the past
could be found.
The document “The customs of Cambodia” (真臘風土記) written by the Chinese diplomat Chou Ta-kuan (周達觀) during his stay at Angkor between 1296-1297 is the first
written historical documents of the daily life in the Khmer Empire. Zhenla (真臘) was composed of ethnic Khmers on the lower Mekong River
and was also the Chinese designation for Cambodia after the fall of Funan (扶南).
|Professor Sharon Wong|
The Chinese influence is usually portrayed as
a straightforward case of one-way cultural diffusion. In this hypothesis, China
was considered as the origin of Khmer ceramics, and Khmer ceramics and kiln
technology could not have reversely influenced China. The Khmer craftsmen
received their knowledge through Chinese potters and imported Chinese trade ceramics.
Another hypothesis suggests the Khmers’
ceramics invention is parallel to Chinese ceramics industries. In this
hypothesis, Khmer ceramics was indigenous, unique, continual inventiveness, and
dis-similar to other Southeast Asian ceramics in the region. The hypothesis is
heavily relied on archaeological evidences from controlled excavations, which
obtain new information on minimizing all Chinese elements in Khmer ceramics.
Professor Wong argued that, according to
several shortcomings associated with the methodologies and sources adopted by
the various scholars, these hypotheses ignored the complexity of cultural
contacts between different ceramics industries. Both Khmer and Chinese ceramics
industries played active roles. They absorbed and selected the foreign elements
that suit their own needs.
As the excavation, fieldwork and research of
this project is still ongoing, Professor Wong suggested more archaeological
findings are needed before making any conclusion. She also encouraged us to
think about the social and ideological context of the diffusion, for example,
whether the Khmer Empire should be considered as the great dominated empire
from 9th to 14th centuries or the periphery region of