The Kingdom of Champa

The Cham, who came to power in the 2nd century AD, settled mainly in coastal areas with a dearth of cultivable land. Their economy was largely based on maritime trade through ports at Hoi An and Qui Nhon and on piracy. Contact with Indian traders in the 4th century had a demonstrably strong influence on the Cham, bringing Hindu religion and art into their culture. The receptive Cham also embraced Mahayana Buddhism in the 9th century and Islam from the 17th century until the present.

Believed to be of Indonesian origin, the Cham people were (and are) culturally and ethnically distinct from their northern neighbors the Viet (Kinh), and the Khmers to their south. Conflict with these two more populous and powerful kingdoms marked the history of the Kingdom of Champa from its inception until its effective demise in the 15th century.

The first mention of the Kingdom of Champa appears in Chinese historical writing in the year AD 192, by which time King Sri Mara had established a small kingdom in the area of modern-day Quang Tri Province. From its modest beginning, the Kingdom of Champa expanded rapidly and by the 4th century had unified under its control a coastal strip of territory stretching from modern-day Dong Hoi to Phan Thiet. From this base the Cham continued to expand northward, managing for a time to wrest control of the Red River delta and several provinces of southern China from the Chinese Han dynasty, which ruled Vietnam. During the 5th century the Chinese regained control of northern Vietnam and in 446 sacked the Cham capital of Simhapura (located near present-day Danang).

For several centuries China managed to maintain control of northern Vietnam despite ongoing rebellions, until internal turmoil in China in the 10th century gave the Viet an opportunity to throw off Chinese rule for good. Vietnam's independence soon translated into increased pressure on the Cham. Although the Cham managed to repel early Viet incursions, they were also forced to contend with invasions in the southern portion of their kingdom by the Khmers. In retaliation for these raids, the Cham captured and pilfered the Khmer capital of Angkor Wat in the year 1177. Still, it was to be the increasingly powerful Viet who posed the fatal threat to the Kingdom of Champa. From the late 13th century onwards the Viet slowly moved south, claiming Cham territory. The Cham's last great king, Binasuor, managed to halt the slide for three decades in the mid-14th century, but the reversal was only temporary. In 1471 the Viet, led by their king Le Thanh Tong, overran the Cham capital of Vijaya, bringing about Champa's end as an independent kingdom. The nominal existence of a rump Champa was eliminated in 1820 by the Vietnamese king Minh Mang, at which time the last Cham king and many of his subjects fled to Cambodia.

Today there are an estimated 77,000 Cham descendants living in Vietnam, with the majority in the Phan Rang–Phan Thiet region and with significant populations in Ho Chi Minh City and Chau Doc.

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