Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat

Portrait of Jean-Pierre   Abel-Rémusat

Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat (5 Sep. 1788, Paris — 2 June 1832, Saint-Fargeau-Ponthierry [of cholera]), a pioneer in French sinological studies who held the first chair of Chinese studies at Collège de France in 1814, takes a significant place in Khmer studies as the first Western translator of Zhou Daguans Customs of Cambodia.

While studying medicine in his youth, Rémusat stumbled upon a Chinese herbal treatise in the collection of Abbé Tersan and took upon to learn the Chinese language by himself with the help of the traditional Chinese dictionary Zhèngzǐ tōng. With linguist Silvestre de Sacy as his mentor, he soon became a respected linguist and philologist, publishing Chinese grammars and essays on classical Chinese literature.

Expanding the scope of his studies to the history of East-West contacts, and to relations between Chinese dynasties and Southeast Asian kingdoms, he became an editor of the Journal des savants in 1818, founder and first secretary of the French Société asiatique in 1822, and curator of the Chinese manuscripts at the Royal Library in 1824.

Abel-Rémusat interest in Cambodian history is manifest in the fact that he devoted the second chapter of his monumental Mélanges d’études asiatiques (1829) to a Description du Royaume de Cambodge, using Zhou Daguan’s travel account as the main source of his study, from his translation published in 1819 in Annales de la Chine.

His father, Jean-Henri-Rémusat (17301805), had been the King’s privileged surgeon.