" Killing fields of Cambodia, not the only injustice for Cambodian victims only; but, it's for the whole humanity." A survivor


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Source: Sanderson Beck,South Asia 1800-1950

Cambodia to 1800

Funan king Fan Chan sent a mission from the Malay peninsula to a court on the Ganges. His successor Fan Xun received diplomats from China, but he joined Champa in the ten-year war against Chinese imperialism that began about 270 CE. The Funan king in the mid-fourth century was described by Chinese records as a Hindu. A rock inscription in the Pallava alphabet, found on the Malay peninsula and attributed to this period, has been translated from Sanskrit as the following:
Karma accumulates through lack of knowledge.
Karma is the cause of rebirth.
Through knowledge it comes about that no karma is effected,
and through absence of karma there is no rebirth.

In 484 Funan king Jayavarman sent the monk Nagasena to China to ask for help against the Lin-yi which was denied. By then the national religion there was Shaivite, and Buddhism was also practiced. Cock-fighting and pig-fighting were said to be the national sports, and trial was by ordeal. When Jayavarman died in 514, his son Rudravarman murdered the heir and seized the Funan throne. He raided Dongking in 543 while Vietnamese leader Li Bon was asserting independence from China; but Li Bon’s general Phaum Tu defeated the Funan raiders. Four years later the Chinese suppressed Li Bon’s Cham revolt. After Rudravarman’s death in mid-century the Funan power was somehow overthrown.

Bhavavarman reigned in the second half of the 6th century and claimed sovereignty over both Champa and the kingdom the Chinese called Chenla. China’s Sui dynasty imposed tribute on Champa king Sambhuvarman in 595, and ten years later the Chinese invaded and plundered the Chams. After the Tang dynasty came to power in 618, relations with Champa improved. In 627 Chenla king Ishanavarman completed the conquest of Funan by annexing its territory, and he cultivated relations with Champa by marrying a Cham princess. In the middle of the 7th century Jayavarman I invaded Laos up to the Nanchao border, and the Khmers used hydraulic techniques developed in the north to improve agriculture. The Chenla empire suffered civil wars and turmoil for about a century. In 722 Upper Chenla joined an attack on the Chinese governor of Dongking, but they were defeated. Lower Chenla was attacked, and Champa was raided in 774 and 787 by Malay pirates from Java.

Cambodia’s Angkor era began with the long reign (802-50) of Jayavarman II, who established himself as the Khmer god-king. His son Jayavarman III (r. 850-77) was known for hunting elephants. He was succeeded by his cousin Indravarman I (r. 877-89), who oversaw the construction of an artificial lake and irrigation works. His son Yashovarman I made the Siemreap River change course into a vast reservoir and had the first city of Angkor laid out. He also sponsored the building of a hundred monasteries for Shaivites, Vaishnavites, and Buddhists. Jayavarman IV (r. 928-42) usurped the throne and abandoned Angkor, but Rajendravarman II (944-68) overthrew that usurper’s son Harshavarman II and made Angkor the capital again. Cambodians invaded Champa in 945 and carried off a gold image of Bhagavati. Jayavarman V’s reign (968-1001) was considered an era of learning and of brilliant ministers, many of whom were women.

Suryavarman I (r. 1002-50) took power “by the sword” during a civil war that lasted a decade. His son Udayadityavarman II (r. 1050-66) was occupied with putting down revolts, and his peaceful brother Harshavarman III (r. 1066-80) was overthrown by the vassal prince Jayavarman VI (r. 1080-1107), who started a new dynasty amid civil strife. His older brother Dharanindravarman I (r. 1107-13) retreated to a monastery, though an inscription called his government prudent. Suryavarman II (r. 1113-50) made Champa a vassal and annexed it when the Cham king would not support his invasion of Annam (Vietnam). He re-opened diplomatic relations with China and oversaw construction of the largest religious building in the world, occupying nearly a square mile. The king was deified as Vishnu and controlled an immense religious establishment. The year he died an expedition against Dongking failed. Although Dharanindravarman II (r. 1150-60) ruled as a Buddhist, it did not seem to matter; but his younger brother Yashovarman II, ruling for only six years, had to put down a revolt of peasants tired of being exploited for royal extravagance. He was killed by the ambitious chief Tribhuvanadityavarman. In 1167 the usurping Champa king Jaya Indravarman IV began attacking Cambodia, and ten years later the Chams sacked Angkor, killing King Tribhuvanadityavarman.

Cambodia experienced anarchy until 1181 when Jayavarman VII was enthroned at Angkor. His Khmer army then attacked Champa and sacked their capital of Vijaya, annexing that country from 1203 to 1220. Jayavarman was a Mahayana Buddhist, but at this time Theravada Buddhism was introduced into Burma by the Mon monk Chapata, and its simple ways of austerity, solitude, and meditation soon spread into Cambodia, where people were tired of big temples. Heavy taxation to support thousands of officials and hundreds of dancers, forced labor for construction, and military service for wars had impoverished the people. Cambodia had to abandon control of Champa and gradually declined. Jayavarman VIII (r. 1243-95) re-established Brahmin dominance and allowed Buddhist images to be vandalized.

A soldier, who had married Jayavarman VIII’s daughter, seized power in Cambodia as Indravarman III (r. 1295-1308). Theravada Buddhism was so popular that it was adopted by the Cambodian court, and Sanskrit royal inscriptions ended with the accession of Jayavarman Paramesvara in 1327. Thai forces occupied Angkor twice about 1369 and 1389, and a third attack conquered it in 1431. The intricate irrigation system could not be maintained, and the Khmer court moved the capital to Phnom Penh in 1434. The next period of Cambodian history is very obscure. Nong records indicate that in 1512 Kan murdered his brother-in-law Srei Sukonthor and seized the throne. The royal family fled, but in 1516 Candaraja (Ang Chan) returned to defeat and kill Kan. Candaraja was popular and ruled Cambodia for forty years. His raid on the province of Prachim in 1531 may have provoked the Siamese attack led by Chau Pnhea Ang, the son of the late exiled king Preah Srei. Both sides claimed victory; but apparently Chau Pnhea Ang was killed in 1535 or perhaps as late as 1556. The abandoned city of Angkor was discovered about 1550. Candaraja began a series of raids into Siamese territory in 1559; but when they reached Ayudhya in 1564, the Burmans had already occupied it.

Candaraja was succeeded by his son Paramaraja or Barom Reachea I (r. 1566-76); he continued the war and occupied the province of Korat in 1570. His son Sattha (Paramaraja II) ruled from about 1576 to 1594; an inscription recorded that Sattha began restoring Angkor Wat in 1577. Although Siam invaded Cambodia in 1583, King Sattha made a treaty with them two years later, and they defeated an invasion from Laos led by the Burman governor of Chiang Mai. Sattha must have fallen out with Siam’s Pra Naret, because when Ayudhya was besieged by the Burmans in 1587, Sattha seized Prachim in Siam. Three Siamese armies invaded Cambodia in 1593, and Sattha fled to Srei Santhor while his brother Soryopor defended the capital. Sattha was deposed by a relative and died in 1596.

Spaniards from Manila tried to make Cambodia dependent on them by promising to defend it against Siam. Joen Brai (Ram Mahapabitr) seized the throne but could not force the Spaniards to pay reparations for pillaging Chinese junks; Joen Brai and one of his sons were killed in the fighting. The Spaniard Gallinato refused the crown, restored some goods, and promised reparations before departing. He left Veloso and Ruiz in Vietnam to search for Sattha, who was dead; but they persuaded his second son Cau Bana Tan to be crowned as King Paramaraja III at Srei Santhor in May 1597. In an expedition from the Philippines only one ship of three made it to Phnom Penh. In chaotic Cambodia magnates and the deposed son of Joen Brai were trying to put Sattha’s exiled brother Soryopor on the throne. A violent feud over a Malay camp provoked by Laksamana of the Malays resulted in most of the Spaniards being massacred in 1599. After Laksamana had Paramaraja III assassinated, the magnates put the younger brother of Sattha and Soryopor on the throne as Paramaraja IV. He contacted Manila through a Spanish soldier but was murdered a few months later by a jealous husband. Sattha’s son Cau Bana Nom seized the throne; but Soryopor returned from exile supported by Siam’s force and replaced him in 1603, making Cambodia a vassal state of Siam.
The story of Rama and Sita was also very popular in the Cambodian version Reamker. The Cambodian royal revenue came from a ten percent tax on all rice production. The King also had monopolies on other trade that included timber, dried fish, and hides. One-third of legal fees went to the King, one-third to the judge, and one third to the winning party. In addition to the talaha chief minister, Cambodia had ministers for justice, the army, foreign trade and the navy, and the palace. The chaovay sruk was the highest of the officials (okya). A 17th century Cambodian law indicated that the Cambodian army only needed a food supply for three days because enemy populations could be robbed.

In 1618 the Khmers forced Soryopor to abdicate to his son, who was crowned Chey Chettha II. He restored Khmer customs and founded a new capital at Udong. When two armies from Siam invaded in 1623, the King led the defense of Tonle Sap Lake, and his brother Outey defeated them in Banteay Meas. A Siamese naval attack also failed the next year. Chey Chettha formed an alliance with Hué and married a beautiful Vietnamese princess. The Vietnamese moved into the Prey Kor province and founded Saigon. When Chey Chettha died in 1628, his oldest son Ponhea To was too inexperienced to rule; so Prince Outey governed as regent. Ponhea To tried and failed to regain Korat from Siam. After he fell in love and began living with one of his uncle’s wives, Outey instigated people to kill the lovers and their Chinese guards. To’s younger brother Nou became king in 1630, but Outey continued to govern. When Nou died in 1640, Outey made his own son Ang Non king; but Soryopor’s third son Chan seized the palace with mercenaries in 1642, killing Outey, the King, and the ministers. Chan was married to a Malay woman and converted to Islam to secure his Malayan alliance. Because the Muslims competed with the Dutch, in 1643 Chan destroyed the Dutch ships that had been operating at Phnom Penh for twenty years. Batavia sent five Dutch ships to blockade Phnom Penh; but the Khmers resisted, and peace was made in 1652. Two sons of Outey appealed to Chey Chettha’s Nguyen widow at Hué, and Vietnamese forces helped them capture Chan in 1658.
When Batom Reachea became king in 1660, the Chams and Malayans lost their privileges and revolted. This failed, and they fled to Siam. In 1672 Batom Reachea was assassinated by a nephew, who married the queen, but she had him killed. Batom Reachea’s son Ang Chei became king in 1673 but died fighting his brother Ang Tan, who was backed by the Vietnamese. He soon died of disease, and Prince Ang Non was driven out by another brother, Ang Sor, who defeated the Vietnamese and was crowned Chey Chettha IV in 1674. Ang Non got help from discontented Chinese refugees in 1682, causing the Khmer army to flee. Siamese forces intervened on one side and then another to keep the civil war in Cambodia going. With help from the Chinese and Vietnamese, Ang Non was able to seize Phnom Penh in 1688. Chey Chettha made peace with Hué and let Ang Non live at Srei Santor. When Ang Non died in 1691, his son Ang Em had to accept a Vietnamese governor. The Vietnamese began colonizing lower Cambodia in 1698. Chey Chettha discovered old legal writings and had the laws revised, abolishing the death penalty and making punishments less severe. Chey Chettha IV abdicated the throne four times in these unstable times as factions were supported by Siam or Vietnam. Ang Em became king for the second time in 1710 but fled to Hué when the Siamese invaded in 1714. Siam accepted tribute in 1722 from Ang Em, who abdicated for his son to become Satha II. Khmers massacred some Vietnamese in the Banam region in 1731.

Chey Chettha’s son Thommo Reachea became king for the third time in 1738, when the Siamese army expelled the Vietnamese. He died in 1747, and his oldest son was murdered by a younger brother. The ministers chose another brother, Ang Tong; but he fled to Siam as Satha returned with Vietnamese forces. Cambodians rose up and drove out the Vietnamese, making another prince Chey Chettha V. He died after ruling six years, and Ang Tong was reinstated. While the Vietnamese took over more Cambodian provinces, Prah Outey murdered his way to the throne in 1758 and ceded two more provinces to Hué. In 1767 Outey II refused to help Siam’s Taksin and called him half Chinese, provoking the insulted Taksin to invade Cambodia. Siamese troops burned down Phnom Penh. They supported Ang Non II, who became king when Outey abdicated in 1775. While he was in Siam, the minister Mu organized an army that defeated and executed the returning Ang Non. Mu then was made regent for Ang Non’s seven-year-old son Ang Eng in 1779. The Siamese army invaded, and the people of Cambodia threw out the regent and turned to the mandarin Ben. Ang Eng fled to Siam with his family in 1790. He was crowned king at Bangkok in 1794 by Rama I and then returned to Cambodia. Rama also rewarded Ben by putting him over Battambang and Mahanokor. Ang Eng had a palace built at Udong but died while visiting Bangkok in 1797. His young son Ang Chan II was not old enough to be crowned king until 1806.

Cambodia 1800-1904
Cambodia’s king Ang Eng died in 1797, but his young son Ang Chan II was not old enough to be crowned king until 1806. Chan paid tribute to Vietnam as well as Siam. He refused to attend the funeral of Rama I in 1809, and he executed two Cambodian officials who did attend. When Siamese forces supported a dissident brother of Chan in 1811, the Vietnamese came to the aid of the King. Chan’s three brothers fled to Bangkok. Twice a month Chan prayed ceremoniously for the Emperor of Vietnam. Starting in 1817, Cambodian workers were beaten by Vietnamese supervisors as they excavated the Vinh Te Canal in southern Vietnam. Soon after it was completed, the former monk Kai led a revolt that attacked Vietnamese military posts. A local force of Khmers and Vietnamese refused to fight them; but Vietnamese soldiers from Saigon defeated them, and some rebels were executed in Saigon and Phnom Penh. A Buddhist account of this rebellion suggests that they lost the invulnerability they gained from prayer because they began killing people. Cambodia continued to send tribute annually to Bangkok until Rama II died in 1824. Then the Vietnamese supported a rebellion against Siam around Vientiane.

After Vietnamese governor Le Van Duyet died in 1832, Emperor Minh Mang replaced officials in Cambodia, provoking Duyet’s son to rebel. Siam’s Rama III took the opportunity to launch a campaign into Cambodia led by Chaophraya Bodin. Ang Chan II and the Vietnamese abandoned Phnom Penh. General Bodin occupied the capital, but Chan’s brothers Im and Duong did not gain support from the Cambodians. In 1834 Bodin left with four thousand Cambodians; but most escaped after they reached Udong. Bodin’s forces with Im and Duong settled in the northwest region of Battambang and Siem Reap. Vietnamese general Truong Minh Giang defeated the rebellion at Saigon and was appointed to govern Phnom Penh. When magicians persuaded Chan to let some people out of jail at Phnom Penh, Truong had the magicians shot.

Ang Chan II became ill and died in 1835. He had no sons, and his oldest daughter Baen favored Siam; so Chan’s second daughter Mei was made queen. The Vietnamese changed the name of the region around Phnom Penh from Annam to Tran Tay (Western Commandery). They divided Cambodia into 33 provinces with names associated with Cochinchina and built fifty strategic forts. The Khmers were armed, but many more Vietnamese immigrated. Emperor Minh Mang urged the Cambodians to learn Vietnamese and improve their agriculture by using oxen for plowing and by raising mulberry trees, pigs, and ducks so that the Vietnamese occupation would not be an economic loss.

When Vietnamese emissaries tried to lure Ang Duong back to Phnom Penh, he was arrested and taken to Bangkok in 1837. That year uprisings against the Vietnamese in Cambodia began. In 1839 Prince Im defected to Phnom Penh, believing the Vietnamese would make him king, but they arrested him and took him to Hué. A Siamese garrison was posted to Battambang, from which most of the Cambodian officials had fled. In 1840 Minh Mang ordered a land survey and improved tax collection that now included fruits and vegetables; he also demoted Mei and her two sisters while arresting and taking to Saigon the six highest Cambodian officials for having falsified records so that 15,000 people would not be drafted. This caused a major rebellion in September 1840; but the uprising collapsed after a few months because no Siamese invasion supported the insurgency. Also Minh Mang ordered crops and orchards burned down, and the rebels lacked supplies. Sporadic guerrilla resistance against the Vietnamese occupation continued until 1847.

In August 1841 the Vietnamese arrested Mei and her sisters, made them drunk, and deported them to Vietnam with the royal regalia. General Bodin had 35,000 men and attacked the Vietnamese garrison at Pursat. He advised Bangkok to release Duong, who returned to Battambang with gifts from Rama III. Truong Minh Giang recalled Prince Im and the princesses; but this was such a failure that he took them and 6,000 Vietnamese back to Vietnam. There he wrote a letter to Hué, saying he lost Cambodia, and then he poisoned himself. Bodin’s army occupied Phnom Penh, but by 1844 they were starving and returned to Udong. The Vietnamese reinstated Mei as queen. The Vietnamese fought the Siamese army, but a stalemate led to peace negotiations.

In 1847 the Vietnamese returned the Cambodian regalia and royal family, and both sides crowned Ang Duong as king of Cambodia. He had the fortifications at Phnom Penh leveled and used the bricks to build Buddhist monasteries near Udong. Ang Duong managed to play off his neighbors, and he sponsored many reforms and public works. Eventually he appealed to the French, and their envoys arrived in 1856 with a proposed treaty; they wanted teak for shipbuilding and access for their Catholic missionaries. Duong also built forts and suppressed rebellions in Cochinchina and by Muslim Chams. He died in 1860.

Ang Duong was succeeded by his son Ang Vody, who had grown up in the Siamese court and was not popular. When his brother Si Votha rebelled in 1861, Ang Vody fled to Bangkok. Bishop Miche used diplomacy and French gunboats to help quell the revolt, and Ang Vody came back the next year. Admiral Bonard told him that Cambodia’s tribute that previously went to Hué should now be paid to the French in Cochinchina. In 1863 Lt. Doudart de Lagrée was established at Phnom Penh as resident. Admiral De La Grandiere went to Udong and agreed to protect Ang Vody from Siam in exchange for consulates, timber concessions, and mineral rights. The French failed to stop piracy in the Gulf of Siam, and so most trade went through Saigon. Some suspect that the French gave the British a secret promise that they would not enforce this treaty for twelve years, but France’s problems with Germany may account for their lack of action. Ang Vody assured the Siamese king that he was still loyal and made a secret treaty on August 11 that recognized him as their viceroy in Cambodia the following January.

In March 1864 Ang Vody was going to leave for Bangkok; but when Doudart de Lagrée threatened to take over his capital, Ang Vody changed his mind and signed a treaty in April that gave France control over Cambodia’s foreign affairs and trade concessions. In June a crown was passed from the Siamese ambassador to the French envoy to Ang Vody, who crowned himself King Norodom. In 1866 he moved to Phnom Penh. In 1867 Siam made a treaty with France that gave up their sovereignty over Cambodia to the French except that they retained the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap, and Sisophon.

King Norodom was criticized for excessive drinking. He patronized French business, and in 1872 he made a contract with German businessmen to collect taxes in two Cambodian provinces for five years. In 1877 he promised to abolish slavery, renounce royal land ownership, reduce the number of top officials (okya), and rationalize tax collection. In exchange the French promised to help defeat Si Votha’s rebellion. However, he escaped, and the reforms that would have affected power bases were not implemented. In 1881 Norodom signed a convention that abolished the tax on the French in Cambodia. The following year he renounced importing arms and ammunition except through Saigon, and in September 1883 he leased out the collecting of duty on opium and alcohol. Early in 1884 Norodom agreed to give customs duties to France for administrative expenses.

In June 1884 Cochinchina governor Charles Thomson came from Saigon to Phnom Penh on a steamboat with a hundred armed guards who forced Norodom to sign a treaty in which
The King of Cambodia accepts all administrative, judicial, financial, and commercial reforms
which the government of the French Republic will judge in future to be useful for facilitating the realization of the protectorate.

The treaty also authorized the French government to name Residents and Deputy Residents “to control local authorities,” and Cambodia was made responsible for paying the expenses of the protectorate as well as the kingdom. Slavery was abolished, and land ownership was institutionalized. King Norodom sent a letter of protest to the President of France.

After preparing for six months the Cambodians reacted to the French treaty by launching a major revolt that lasted two years. On January 8, 1885 Prince Si Votha attacked a French military outpost at Sambor, and his rebels controlled the northeast. The Cambodians began by destroying telegraph lines. Lacking modern weapons, they used guerrilla tactics. The French suspected Norodom of supporting the rebellion, but they got his younger brother Sisowath to appoint pro-French officials. The Cambodians lost 10,000 men in the war, but most of the French losses were from disease. Filippini replaced Thomson as governor and was instructed to end the uprising as soon as possible. He began negotiating with Norodom in July 1886. After the Cambodians realized that the French had a steady supply of men from Algeria and Tonkin, Norodom traveled around telling his subjects to submit to the French and lay down their weapons. The French promised to respect Cambodian customs, but they insisted on a council of ministers. Norodom lost his sovereignty as French Indochina annexed Cambodia.

The insurgency died down by the end of 1886, and by late 1887 even Si Votha had retreated to the Laotian frontier, where he died in 1891. In the late 1880s King Norodom appointed governors in exchange for gifts, and officials were replaced by wealthy contributors. The King was favoring the rebellious Prince Duong Chacr as his heir, but in 1888 Resident Superior de Vernéville persuaded Norodom to have him arrested. Duong Chacr fled to Bangkok and then went to Paris in 1893. Norodom approved his son’s being exiled in Algeria, and the Prince died there in 1897.

By 1892 the French were controlling the collection of direct taxes, and they installed residents in all ten provinces by 1894. Although slavery was abolished, debt still kept many in servitude, often for life. As Norodom’s health declined, he became more addicted to opium, which the French supplied for free. In 1897 the résident supérieur Huynh de Verneville cabled Paris that Norodom could no longer rule the country, but Indochina’s Viceroy Paul Doumer came to visit him and restored his royal seal. The resident superior took more control over the council of ministers and appointed Um prime minister and Thiounn secretary general over Norodom’s objection. The King disagreed with other appointments also. Prince Yukanthor visited France in 1900 and criticized French colonial domination in Cambodia. He sent a long memorandum to the French prime minister and his cabinet, and Jean Hess got his complaints published in Le Figaro. Norodom was pressured to cable his son to come home, but Yukanthor feared punishment and lived in exile at Bangkok until his death in 1934. Chinese immigrants helped Cambodia export its surplus rice. The French controlled education, and the only school was for the children of the royal family. King Norodom got cancer in 1902 and died on April 25, 1904. He was mourned by his people for three years.

Cambodia 1904-50

The French chose 64-year-old Sisowath to be king of Cambodia. He was dedicated to Thanmayut Buddhism, and after two years of performing ceremonies the Governor-General crowned him in April 1906. The French supervised 750 students attending schools in Phnom Penh and 400 in the countryside. The French also supplied Sisowath with 113 kilograms of opium per year. After his coronation he attended the Colonial Exhibition at Marseilles with the royal dance company. In Paris he concluded the negotiations for the treaty with Siam that returned the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap, and Sisophon to Cambodia in 1907. The French and Cambodians began to restore Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, and in 1909 a Cambodian translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka was placed in a monastery there. That year the French residencies were given typewriters, and the paper work increased. The 1908 French census counted 60,000 Vietnamese in Cambodia and nearly that many Chinese.

The French could require up to ninety days of corvée per year from those too poor to pay taxes, and many of these worked on building roads. During World War I the French coerced Chinese merchants to float war loans, raised taxes, and sent volunteers to fight abroad. In November 1915 about three hundred peasants from the northeast came to Phnom Penh to petition Sisowath to reduce the taxes that were collected by Cambodian officials. The King ordered them to go home, but much larger delegations with as many as three thousand came from the east to the palace. Police estimated that a total of 40,000 came to the capital in early 1916, but others said 100,000. King Sisowath toured eastern Cambodia in an automobile, urging calm and announcing that no more corvée would be required in 1916. A royal ordinance in 1918 prohibited monks from “teaching reforms or … spreading among the faithful modern ideas.” To reduce the influence of Bangkok on the Buddhists the Protectorate promoted the establishment of the Pali School in 1920. Two years later they reserved places in the administration for its graduates, but this was revoked after a few years. King Sisowath had a royal palace built for a million piastres even though times were hard.

The French granted Cambodians a consultative assembly in 1922 and a residency council two years later, but they still held the power. The French took over the administration of local justice in 1923 and the next year began expanding education. French officials were paid up to 1,200 piastres per year but owed only 30 piastres in tax while most peasants earned about 90 piastres annually and owed up to 12 piastres in tax. A. Pannetier noted that fewer Frenchmen were bothering to learn the Khmer language. In 1924 Félix Louis Bardez, the resident in Prey Veng, began collecting more taxes, and he was soon promoted to Kompong Chhnang, which had low revenues and banditry. On April 18 he had several tax resisters handcuffed and did not allow them to eat while he ate lunch. This provoked about two dozen people to beat to death Bardez, his interpreter, and the militiamen. Then about seven hundred Cambodians marched to Kompong Chhnang, demanding remission of their taxes, but they were dispersed by armed militia. The name of the village was changed to mean “Bestiality,” and eighteen men were prosecuted and sentenced to life in prison for the murders.

King Sisowath died in 1927 and was succeeded by his son Sisowath Monivong. He preferred spending his time with his wives and concubines rather than on official business. Tiounn had become minister of Finance, Palace Affairs, and Fine Arts, and he governed the country. By 1930 Cambodia had 9,000 kilometers of paved and gravel roads. Four years were required to complete a 500-kilometer railroad in 1932 connecting Phnom Penh with Battambang. In 1930 a Buddhist institute began in Phnom Penh to study the differences between the sects in Siam and Cambodia. The French also used propaganda to divide the Cambodians from the Vietnamese and the Chinese; the slogan“Cambodia for Cambodians” became popular. During the Depression the price of rice fell from three piastres per picul to one. Tax delinquency reached sixty percent in 1932 before the resident superior granted remissions. The first Khmer newspaper called Nagara Vatta (Angkor Wat) was published in 1936. Their editorials complained that the Vietnamese dominated the civil service and that the Chinese cornered commerce while educated Khmers lacked employment. By 1937 they were circulating more than 5,000 papers. In 1936 Cambodia’s high school became Lycée Sisowath, but the French spent little on five thousand primary schools. By 1937 five hundred graduates had formed an association. Immigration increased the Chinese population to about 300,000 by 1940.

From July 1940 to March 1945 Cambodia fell under the Vichy French government of Vice-Admiral Jean Decoux. They promoted Cambodian patriotism and raised the salaries and responsibilities of indigenous officials. Nagara Vatta became more anti-French and suffered repression. After monks’ demonstrated, more than thirty Cambodians were given long prison terms. In a short war with Thailand the French planes bombed Nakon-Panom on November 28, 1940. Thai forces advanced toward Battambang, but the French claimed victory at sea. A cease-fire was ordered on January 28, 1941, and the Japanese persuaded the French to return Battambang, Sisophon, Siem Reap (except Angkor), and parts of Laos to Thailand for six million piasters. King Monivong died in April 1941, and Governor-General Decoux chose 19-year-old Norodom Sihanouk as more malleable than Monivong’s son Monireth. The annual French gift of opium was cancelled, and Palace Minister Thiounn was persuaded to retire.

In December 1941 the Japanese army invaded Cambodia through Battambang, and by August 1942 the Japanese had posted 8,000 troops in Cambodia. Nagara Vatta supported Japan and opposed colonialism, and the French censored at least 32 issues, including ten leading editorials. The monk Achar Hem Chieu taught Pali in Phnom Penh and advocated Gandhian nonviolence against colonial rule. He was arrested for an anti-French plot on July 17, 1942 even though a monk was supposed to be defrocked first. Monks were beaten but did not retreat, and several Buddhist elders were also arrested. Son Ngoc Thanh took refuge in the Japanese legation and fled to Bangkok. Hem Chieu was accused of urging Cambodian soldiers to desert. The Japanese sponsored a Cambodian nationalist rally three days later that demanded his release. Nagara Vatta editor Pach Chhoeun led the march and was arrested as he presented a petition in the French Residence. Vichy commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. In 1943 Hem Chieu died of illness on the French penal island of Poulo Condore. That year the Japanese bought a million tons of rice in Indochina at the low price of a quarter piaster per kilo. Most of it was not used for food but to power engines and military vehicles. Also in 1943 French resident Georges Gautier announced that the 45-letter Cambodian alphabet would be replaced by Roman letters.

On March 9, 1945 the Japanese disarmed French forces and cancelled the Romanization. Four days later the Japanese authorized King Sihanouk to proclaim Cambodia’s independence, changing their name from the French Cambodge to the Khmer pronunciation Kampuchea. Two weeks later the Vietnamese rioted in Phnom Penh because they feared being interned. The Japanese took the French into protective custody until the end of the war. Son Ngoc Thanh returned and became minister of Foreign Affairs. Those with incomes less than 1,200 piasters were exempted from the capitation tax. Sihanouk appeared at a rally on July 20 to commemorate the Buddhists’ demonstration of 1942. An anti-royalist coup was suppressed on August 10, the day Son Ngoc Thanh became prime minister. Later that month a nationalist rally was attended by 30,000 people, and Thanh organized a referendum that got 541,470 votes for independence. The half-Vietnamese Thanh urged the Cambodians to join the Vietnamese resistance against the French. The French returned to Cambodia on September 12, 1945 and arrested Thanh one month later, deporting him to France. The French protectorate was reimposed on October 15.

In early 1946 bandit gangs calling themselves Issarak took over the countryside from the French. In April they killed the French garrison at Siem Reap and captured their weapons. King Sihanouk made an agreement in May with the French, who promised Cambodia a constitution with the right to form political parties, but they retained control over finance, defense, and foreign affairs. Son Ngoc Tranh was accused of treason for collaborating with the Japanese. The Democratic party (Krom Pracheathipodei) was led by Prince Sisowath Yuthewong and was supported by Nagara Vatta and the ideas of Chhoeun. The Liberal party (Kanaq Sereipheap) led by Prince Norodom Norindeth was conservative and was supported by large landowners. More than sixty percent of the newly enfranchised voted on September 1, 1946. The Democrats won 50 seats, the Liberals got 14, and 3 seats were independent. More than three thousand Khmer Issaraks accepted amnesty in December under a new constitution.

In 1947 the Democrats agreed to the constitution modeled after the Fourth Republic of France that gave power to the National Assembly. The Issarak insurgency faded as Battambang and Siem Reap were returned to Cambodia, and the Bangkok regime had little sympathy for them. Most of the noncommunists who opposed the Viet Minh accepted the amnesty that was offered in 1949. On November 9 King Sihanouk signed a treaty with the French that he called “50 percent independence,” but the Assembly led by the Democrats refused to ratify the treaty.

Early in 1950 the United States recognized Laos and Cambodia as independent and began giving them aid.


Written by Kham

12/10/2009 at 12:31 am

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