Sanfotsi (Chinese: 三佛齊; pinyin: Sānfóqí), also written as Sanfoqi, was a wealthy trading polity in Southeast Asia mentioned in Chinese sources dated from the Song dynasty circa 12th century. In 1918, George Cœdès concluded that Chinese forms of San-fo-ts'i (Sanfoqi), Fo-ts'i (Foqi), Fo-che (Foshi), Che-li-fo-che (Shilifoshi), which correspond to Arabic Sribuza and can be reconstructed as Śribhoja, are names referring to Srivijaya empire, located in Palembang, South Sumatra, in present-day Indonesia.[1]

According to Chinese sources, Sanfotsi was an empire that controlled many territories in the strait of Malacca, eastern Sumatra and the Malay peninsula. It was purportedly a large thalassocracy ruled by a high-king exercising sovereignty over several states that were dependencies of Sanfotsi. Although some considered Sanfotsi to refer to Palembang proper, recent scholars say its territorial extent was more vast.


Sanfotsi, as a state has had many recorded accounts, the majority of which are from Chinese sources such as the Chinese annals, Chu-fan-chi written by Chau Ju-kua, and Ling-wai-tai-ta (Chinese: 嶺外代答; pinyin: Lĭngwài Dàidā) by Chou K'u-fei (Chinese: 周去非; pinyin: Zhōu Qùfēi; Wade–Giles: Chou Ch'ü-fei). Excerpts here translated by Hirth and Rockhill:


Sanfotsi lies between Chon-la (Kamboja) and She-po (Java). Its rule extend over fifteen chou (provinces). It lies due south of Tsu'an-chou. In the winter, with the monsoon, you sail a little more than a month and then come to Ling-ya-mon where one-third of the passing merchants before entering this country of Sanfotsi.

A large proportion of the people are surnamed P'u. The people either live scattered about outside the city, or on the water on rafts of boards covered over with reeds, and these are exempt from taxation.

They are skilled at fighting on land or water. When they are about to make war on another state they assemble and send for the such a force as the occasion demands. They appoint chiefs and leaders, and all provide their own military equipment and the necessary provisions. In facing the enemy and braving death they have not their equal among other nations.

During most of the year the climate is hot, and there is but little cold weather. Their domestic animals are very much like those of China. They have wine of flowers, wine of coconuts, and wine of areca nuts and honey, all fermented, though without any yeast of any kind, but they are so intoxicating to drink.[2]

Chou Ku-fei

Sanfotsi is in the Southern Ocean (South China Sea). It is the most important port-of-call on the sea-routes of the foreigners from the countries of Toupo on the east and from the countries of the Ta-shi (Arabs) and Ku-lin (Quilon) on the west; they all pass through it on their way to China.

The country has no natural products, but the people are skilled in fighting. When they are about to fight, they cover their bodies with a medicine which prevents swords wounding them. In fighting on land or on water none surpass them in impetousity of attack; even the Ku-lin people come after them. If some foreign ship, passing this place, should not enter here, an armed party would certainly come out and kill them to the last.

This country has great store of rhinoceros, elephants, seed-pearls and medicinal aromatics. It is a custom of the people to make rafts to float on the water and live on them.[3]


The established theory has concluded that Sanfotsi is identical to Srivijaya.[1] Srivijaya was written in older Chinese sources as Shi-li-fo-shi (室利佛逝, also shortened as fo-shi) which is an approximate phonetic rendering, but changed to San-fo-qi at the end of Tang Dynasty. San means three in Chinese, therefore the term can be read as "the three vijayas"; this has been suggested as Chinese recognition that it was not a centralized empire at some time in its history.[4]

However other historians tried to locate it somewhere else.[5] Philippines historian Paul Kekai Manasala suggested that Sanfoqi refers to it was a Prehispanic Philippine state name Sambali.[6] He argued that the accounts suggests that Sanfotsi was located to the South of China, and was, in fact, due south of the port of Ts'uan-chou.[7] Since the Philippines is the only area exactly and directly due south of the port of Ts'uan-chou and have several place names such as Lingmayon (Lingayen) and Poni (Panai) that may fit some of the place name in the account, it therefore may fit the description.[8]

Some Thai historians, such as Chand Chirayu Rajani, while agreeing with the designation of Sanfoqi with Srivijaya, argued that it refers to Chaiya in Thailand rather than Palembang.[9]

See also

Zabag kingdom


  1. 1 2 Michel Jacq-Hergoualc'h (2002). The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk-Road (100 Bc-1300 Ad). BRILL. p. 234. ISBN 9004119736. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  2. Chau Ju-Kua, Friedrich Hirth and W. W. Rockhill (1911). Chau ju-kua: his work on the Chinese and Arab trade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries : entitled Chu-fan-chi. translated from the Chinese and annotated by Friedrich Hirth and W. W. Rockhill. St Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences. pp. 60–62.
  3. Chau Ju-Kua, Friedrich Hirth and W. W. Rockhill (1911). Chau ju-kua: his work on the Chinese and Arab trade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries : entitled Chu-fan-chi. translated from the Chinese and annotated by Friedrich Hirth and W. W. Rockhill. St Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences. p. 63.
  4. John N. Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300_1800. NUS Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-9971695743.
  5. The Medieval Geography of Sanfotsi and Zabag
  6. "Etymology of "Sanfotsi" (三佛齊) (Article)".
  7. Paul Kekai Manansala. Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan. Lulu. pp. 432–434. ISBN 978-1430308997.
  8. "The Location of the Kingdom".
  9. Chand Chirayu Rajani (1974). "Background To The Sri Vijaya Story-Part" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. 62: 174–211.
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