Chen-Li-Fu, A State on the Gulf of Siam at the Beginning of the 13th Century

by O. W. Wolters

Publication: Journal of The Siam Society, Vol. XLVIII Part 2, Bangkok, pp 1-35

Published: November 1960

Pages: 35

Languages : English, Chinese

"The Sung Hui Yao Kao contains an unexpectedly long account of a small State called Chên Li Fu which, in the years 1200-1205, made a determined and temporarily successful effort to establish official relations with the Sung dynasty", remarks the author in his preamble. However, the exact location of this entity remains the butt of speculations. We can only know for sure it was situated "west of Cambodia", and in the Lower Menam Valley (Menam being the ancient name of the Chao Phraya River in Thailand).

Commenting the despatch of the State's envoys to Angkor, the author remarks that the Chen Li Fu ruler "whose reign began in 1180 used the Khmer title of Kamrateng which he, or one of his predecessors, must have received from their overlord in Angkor. No doubt at Angkor in 1200 he was still regarded as a vassal, but an embassy from a State which was in the sphere of influence of a more powerful one suggests a background of special political circumstances."

Was it ruled by a Siamese, Khmer or Mon-Khmer governor? How important were its links to the Khmer rulers in Angkor, to the Siamese area of influence and to the Chinese emperors? This fascinating study illustrates the many questions we still have regarding the history of medieval times in Southeast Asia.

Chen Li Fu in Chinese chronicles:


Map: ‘Carte Du Cours De Menam’ in L’Histoire Générale des Voyages. Prevost, Paris, 1750) by Jacques Nicolas Bellin (from Dawn Rooney's study, "The Mapping of Thailand, An Introduction")


Tags: Siam, Malay, Khmer Empire, Ceylon, Sri Lanka, maritime routes, trade, Chinese trade, Funan, Chinese chronicles, Thailand

About the Author

Portrait of O. W.  Wolters

O. W. Wolters

Oliver William Wolters (8 June 1915, Reading, UK – 5 December 2000, Ithaca, N.Y., USA) was a British academic, historian and author who did pioneering work on the ancient Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, following the groundbreaking studies by George Coedes. He was also a Malayan civil servant and administrator for twenty years.

At his death, he was the Goldwin Smith Professor of Southeast Asian History Emeritus at Cornell University, chair he kept after retiring in 1984. Previously, he had taught at SOAS University of London. He left many essays on regional history, including "The Khmer King at Basan (1371-1373) and the Restoration of the Cambodian Chronology during the 14th and 15th Centuries" (1965).

On Srivijaya, the maritime and commercial kingdom that flourished from the 7th to the 13th centuries in the Malay Archipelago (centered on Palembang on the island of Sumatra), he published ''Early Indonesian Studies and the Origins of Srivijaya'' in 1967. In 1970, he published ''The Fall of Srivijaya in Malay History''.