A User's Guide

I. Introduction

1. This data-base comprises English-language translations of the references to Southeast Asia contained in the various reign accounts (shi-lu) of the successive emperors of the Chinese Ming dynasty. For a more complete introduction to the Ming Shi-lu and their use as historical sources, please go here.

2. The translations are based on the 133-volume Academia Sinica edition of the Ming Shi-lu (together with the volumes of textual criticism) published under the direction of Huang Chang-chien (黃 彰 健) in Tai-wan over the period 1961-66.

II. Scope

1. Included in the Appendix are references to all maritime polities known to the Ming state, excluding Japan, Korea and Ryukyu, as well as references to the mainland Southeast Asian polities, including all those Yun-nan polities readily identifiable as Tai. The references to maritime polities in South Asia and Africa, reached by Ming envoys after travelling through Southeast Asia in the early 15th century, are also included.

2. References to the maritime marauders known as wo-kou (倭冦), or "Japanese pirates", and to Chinese pirates are generally excluded unless they include material of obvious relevance to Southeast Asia. Readers interested in the maritime activities of these persons can consult the works by Chang Tseng-hsin, Cheng Liang-sheng and So Kwan-wai.

3. The references to the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and Jesuits are included, as they came to China from bases in Southeast Asia and were depicted in the MSL as maritime yi (a generic term for non-Chinese).

III. Conventions

1. The references are presented chronologically, in the same order as which they appear in the respective shi-lu.

2. Each reference bears a heading and a footer. The heading provides the reign title, the year of that reign, the lunar month and the day from which the reference comes, and a Western equivalent date, based on Keith Hazelton's A Synchronic Chinese-Western Daily Calendar 1341-1661, which provides Julian dates until October 4, 1582 and subsequently Gregorian dates.

The footer includes details of the shi-lu from which the reference is taken as well as the juan (chapter) and page numbers. For example, "Tai-zu 51.8a-9b" refers to a reference extending from page 8 (recto) to page 9 (verso) in chapter 51 of the Tai-zu Shi-lu. A further reference is provided detailing the position of the translated text in the Academia Sinica edition of the Ming Shi-lu. Such a reference might read 35-5475/76. This would mean that the original text extends from page 5475 to 5476 in Volume 35 of the Academia Sinica edition.

3. All references are translated in their entirety unless containing an ellipsis (....), which indicates that part of the reference has been omitted.

( ) - are used to enclose:

  1. Western date equivalents
  2. Chinese characters.

[ ] - Are used to enclose additions by the translator.

(Alt: .....) - Indicates a textual alternative provided in another edition or, occasionally, an alternative translation.

There are some characters which we are not able to represent in unicode encoding. We have enclosed close equivalents or components of the new characters in angle brackets < and > throughout. We aim to represent all the characters in the text within the next few months.

IV. Standards

1. All Chinese terms are transliterated in accordance with the Han-yu pin-yin romanisation system, based on Xian-dai Han-yu Ci-dian (現代漢語詞典) (1980 edition). Readers should however be aware that modern pronunciations of Chinese characters is not always equivalent to their phonetic values in Ming times. In addition, many of the Southeast Asian names in the MSL were obviously recorded using the Cantonese or Hokkien pronunciation of characters. Chinese characters are only provided in the text when they are not included in the index.

2. All proper names are transliterated in the text, except for the following place names, which have well-accepted translations.

  • 阿丹 = Aden
  • 安南 = Annam
  • 阿魯 = Aru
  • 緬甸 = Ava-Burma
  • 咬<>吧 = Batavia
  • 邦哈剌 = Bengal
  • 古里 = Calicut
  • 真臘 = Cambodia
  • 占城 = Champa
  • 柯枝 = Cochin
  • 忽魯莫斯 = Hormuz
  • 爪哇 = Java
  • 急蘭丹 = Kelantan
  • 老挝 = Laos
  • 呂宋 = Luzon
  • 天方 = Mecca
  • 滿剌加 = Melaka
  • 木骨都束 = Mogadishu
  • 舊港 = Old Port
  • 湓亨/彭亨 = Pahang
  • 馮家施蘭 = Pangasinan
  • 大泥 = Patani
  • 蘇門答剌 = Samudera
  • 暹羅 = Siam
  • 錫蘭山 = Sri Lanka
  • 蘇祿 = Sulu

3. In general, Chinese official and organizational titles are rendered using the terms suggested by Charles O. Hucker’s A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985).

4. A number of standard translations of frequently-used terms have been adopted to ensure conformity and to facilitate ease of comparison.

5. The names by which the Ming state referred to the Đại Việt polity (predecessor to modern Vietnam) over the 14th to 17th centuries are numerous. It was in the late 14th century referred to as “the country of Annam” (安南國). During the Ming occupation of the region in the early 15th century, the Chinese referred to the new province they had created as "Jiao-zhi" (交阯). Subsequent to the defeat of the occupying forces by the Vietnamese and the withdrawal of Ming military and civil administrators, the Chinese again termed the area “Annam”, sometimes noting it as a "country" and at other times referring to it as a “commandery”.

6. "Ava-Burma" is used to translate the Chinese term “Mian-dian” (緬甸), which was used to refer to successive Shan and Burmese polities in the area of what is today Burma/Myanmar. It is adopted from Ray Huang's usage of the term in Goodrich and Fang’s Dictionary of Ming Biography(1976; 1208).

V. Untranslated terms

A number of Chinese terms defy convenient or accurate translation into English. For this reason, they are simply left in romanised form in the translations.

These terms include:

  • bo (貊) - A generic term used to refer to non-Chinese persons.
  • biao-li (表裏) - throughout the early MSL texts, it is frequently reported that foreign envoys who came to China were rewarded with biao-li of silk. David Farquhar in "Oirat-Chinese Tribute Relations 1408-1446" (in Studia Altaica: Festschrift für Nikolaus Poppe, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 1957) translates this as “piece of colored satin with lining”. Henry Serruys in his Sino-Mongol relations during the Ming. 2. The tribute system and diplomatic missions : 1400-1600 (Bruxelles, Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1967) p. 212, considers that the term refers to lined silk garments. The latter opinion appears to be more widely accepted.
  • di (狄) - A generic term applied to non-Chinese peoples. More widely referring to peoples to the west of the Chinese regions.
  • ding (錠) - A unit by which paper money was quantified.
  • dong (峒) - A term used to designate certain administrations beyond the formal Chinese bureaucracy. Likely also used for settled agricultural areas of Tai populations By extension, a reference to "uncivilized" areas.
  • fan (番) - A generic term used to refer to non-Chinese peoples. Sometimes interchangeable with yi. (q.v.)
  • geng (更) - A unit of sea distance. The distance travelled during one watch. See, for example, Shen-zong shi-lu juan 546.2b. Joseph Needham discusses the term in his Science and Civilization in China (Vol. IV:3 Nautics) (Cambridge University Press, 1971) p. 564, note e.
  • guan-fang (官防) - A type of seal or tally issued to Chinese officials to indicate that they were Imperially-commissioned.
  • he-ding (鶴頂) - The casque of certain birds.
  • hu (胡) - A generic reference to Mongols and other non-Chinese persons beyond the western and northern borders
  • jia (甲) - A base-level administrative division – A tithing.
  • jin (斤) - A unit of weight (catty). Approximately 1 and 1/3 pounds.
  • jin (金) - Probably one liang of silver. In Shen-zong shi-lu juan 168.4b-5a, it is noted that 5,000 liang of silver was expended on rewards and that each soldier was given one jin.
  • li (里) - A unit of distance. Approximately 1/3 of a mile. Needham (op cit.) gives 0.348 of a mile for the Ming li.
  • li-xue (理學) - A philosophical school, sometimes translated as “Neo-Confucian rationalism”.
  • liang (兩) - A unit of weight, a "tael" or 1/16th of a jin (斤q.v.). Frequently used to refer to a weight of silver.
  • man (蠻) - A generic term used to refer to non-Chinese persons principally to the south of the Yangtze river. Sometimes rendered as “barbarian”.
  • mang (蟒) - A type of four-clawed dragon used as a design motif on official robes.
  • ming (名) - The term used to refer to the personal name of a Chinese person.
  • mu (畝) - A Chinese unit of land area - 1/7th of an acre.
  • qi-lin (麒麟) - mythical animals. Used as design motif for official robes. The term was also used for giraffes brought to China in the early 15th century. In the latter cases, it is translated as "giraffe", rather than being romanised.
  • shi (石) - A grain measure, equivalent to a picul, or 133.3 pounds. Also pronounced dan.
  • sui (歲) - The unit for designating age in years in Chinese society.
  • tao-meng (陶孟) – a title used for senior officials of Tai polities
  • yi (夷) - A generic term used to refer to non-Chinese persons. Sometimes interchangeable with fan (q.v.).
  • zhi-fang (職方) - Originally the name of the Bureau of Operations in the Ministry of War, which had control of statistics and maps for the various regions. Subsequently, when a place became "subject to the zhi-fang", it meant that it had been incorporated into the Chinese empire.
  • zi (字) - A formal name or style adopted by Chinese males at about 20 years of age.


Readers should be warned that many of the Ming Shi-lu references translated here are complex and confusing even in the original. Some references, particularly those from the 16th century, comprise very condensed versions of memorials, with frequent allusion to incidents not otherwise recorded. Such references often prove confounding, and present much difficulty in translation. This characteristic compounds the many problems innate in trying to render the language of Chinese bureaucrats over the 14th to 17th centuries into 20th-century English. The other major factor affecting the translations are the limitations of the translator. A fully competent translation of these references would require a large team of persons with expertise in Ming politics, military procedures and revenue systems, Southeast Asian polities and societies, local Chinese administration, classical Chinese literature and allusions, linguistics, Yun-nan geography, Fu-jian and Guang-dong maritime trade and so on. Assistance from persons with such expertise has not always been available to the translator, and thus the translations are undoubtedly deficient in many respects. In short, these translations should be considered as but general guides to the contents of the MSL references, intended so that entries of relevance to any particular subject can be located, and so that readers can gain some idea as to what is contained in each reference.


One of the aims in making this data-base publicly available on the Web is the hope that those who do find mistakes in the translations, can provide details of omitted references, or have other comments on the content or presentation of the materials, will submit these. In this way, their ideas can be incorporated in updated versions of the data-base and it will allow for a fuller and more accurate version will be made available in future.