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date: 22 April 2019

Modern Cambodia Since 1863

Summary and Keywords

Modern Cambodian history begins with the creation of the French Protectorate in 1863. Until the 15th century, Cambodia was a regional great power, but by the late 18th it faced extinction as a sovereign state. Although the Protectorate ensured the country’s territorial integrity, French ideas of governance and philosophy collided with Cambodia’s ancient traditions. By 1897, the French had prevailed: Cambodia had escaped its predatory neighbors, Siam and Vietnam, but had lost its internal and external sovereignty. After independence in 1953, Cambodia sat on the fault lines of the Cold War. Precariously neutral until 1970, it fell into a new dark age of civil war, foreign invasions, saturation bombing, and mass murder. Liberated from the horrors of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea (DK) by the Vietnamese in late 1978, the regime the invaders installed suffered a period of international ostracism that lasted until the end of the Cold War in 1991–1992. Cambodia is at peace today, but hopes that it would develop as a free, democratic, and more equal society have proved illusory. Cambodia is one of Asia’s poorest states; a kleptocracy ruled by the durable autocrat Hun Sen via a façade of democratic institutions. The economy, according to Sebastian Strangio, “is controlled by … [a] new quasi-palace elite: a sprawling network of CPP politicians, military brass, and business families arranged in vertical khsae, or ‘strings,’ of patronage emanating from Hun Sen and his close associates.”

Keywords: Cambodian modern history, Khmers, French Protectorate, Khmer nationalism, Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodian independence, Cambodia and the Cold War, Lon Nol coup, Khmers Rouges, Democratic Kampuchea, People’s Republic of Kampuchea, UNTAC, Cambodian People’s Party, Hun Sen

The Premodern Period

The first sixty years of Cambodia’s 19th-century history were the darkest of any period save for the upheavals of the 1970s. Until 1863, Cambodia endured repeated foreign invasions, famine, depopulation, rebellions, and intra-dynastic feuds.1 Between 1806 and 1830, the royal court at Udong paid tribute to both Siam and Vietnam. The reign of King Duang (1848–1860) began as a period of relative peace and stability, but by 1858, according to the famous travel writer Henri Mouhot, “the present state of Cambodia is deplorable, and its future menacing.”2 On the advice of Catholic missionaries, Duang wrote to the French emperor, Napoleon III, to request a treaty of protection. The Siamese blocked the initiative,3 but the seeds of the future protectorate had been sown.

After their occupation of Saigon in 1858, the French were worried by the proximity of the Cambodian border, which lay just 80 kilometers up the Mekong River from the city. Worried that Great Britain had signed treaties of trade and friendship with Siam and was interested in Cambodia,4 the French reconsidered Duang’s request for protection. These concerns coincided with growing public interest in Cambodia after the publication of Henri Mouhot’s Travels in serial form in 1860. Mouhot argued that French conquest could “regenerate” Cambodia and that it could prove a lucrative acquisition for them.5 His views were echoed by the officially sponsored Spooner Report of 1862, which affirmed that annexation of the kingdom would “at no cost double the importance and wealth of Lower Cochinchina.”6 The French naval officers at Saigon made policy semi-autonomously and decided to annex the kingdom ahead of ratification by Paris.

The Colonial Period

On August 11, 1863, King Norodom signed a treaty of protection with France, with a French gunboat anchored near his palace to impress upon him that he had no choice but to sign.7 Although the treaty superficially appeared innocuous, it gave France the right to garrison troops and warships at Phnom Penh, along with a French Résident with the status of a grand mandarin. The French maintained that Norodom signed voluntarily,8 but the king claimed to have signed under duress. Wriggle as he might, however, Norodom could not get off the French hook. When the Straits Times revealed that he had later signed a secret treaty with Siam,9 the French forced him into a humiliating retraction. His status as a French vassal was no longer in doubt.

Initially, the French kept a low profile, but “protecting” Cambodia proved troublesome. In 1866, the pretender Pou Kombo led what Jean Moura described as “an immense revolution” against the king, and this was only quelled by French marines and gunboats.10 The early years were seen as a “heroic age” by the French. Scholar-administrators such as Adhémard Leclère and Jean Moura mapped the country, learned the language, and researched its history and culture. Alas for France, their hopes that the Mekong River would serve as a strategic “river road to China” were dashed when the Doudart de Lagrée expedition of 1866 found that shipping was blocked by the Khône Falls on the Laotian border.11

The French soon wearied of what Gustave Janneau later described as the “worm-eaten debris” of the antique Cambodian state.12 Résident Etienne Aymonier grumbled that maintaining Norodom and his huge entourage of wives, concubines, and retainers gobbled up most of Cambodia’s public finances.13 French attitudes hardened after the birth of the Third Republic in 1870, but attempts to reform the kingdom’s governance and finances were stymied by passive resistance by the king and the mandarins. In 1881, the French attempted to seize direct control of the kingdom’s finances14 only to meet with pervasive obstruction. Three years later, Governor Charles Thomson forced Norodom to sign a new treaty that allowed the French to expand bureaucratic oversight, slash royal expenditures, abolish slavery, and introduce private property in land.15 While there can be little doubt that the French genuinely believed that their reforms were in the best interests of Cambodia, we cannot overlook the facts of colonial aggrandizement. Contemporary French theoreticians of colonialism such as Paul Leroy-Beaulieu argued that colonies existed to provide wealth for France. Such views were never seriously challenged at the time.16

The Great Rebellion and Its Aftermath

The Khmers appeared to have accepted the coup, but in January 1885 they rose in revolt across the whole kingdom. France was soon bogged down in an intractable colonial war and resorted to brutal methods against an elusive enemy fighting on trackless terrain and with popular support.17 When the rising persisted into 1886, the French were forced to accept a negotiated settlement brokered by the king.18 Norodom’s help came on condition that the most contentious clauses of the 1884 treaty were removed, but the Khmers’ victory proved pyrrhic. The country had suffered a demographic catastrophe,19 and the French retreat was tactical. In 1892–1893, they greatly expanded the powers of the colonial administration. Norodom’s dissident sons, Yukanthor and Duang Chakr, were exiled. When Norodom fell seriously ill in 1897, the French took the opportunity to take total control, and this time they had the support of the country’s most influential mandarins. Norodom died in 1904, and the French put their long-time ally, Prince Sisowath, on the throne.20 Cambodia was now a colony in all but name.

Sisowath’s reign (1904–1927) was largely uneventful.21 In 1907, the provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap were returned to Cambodia from Siam, further cementing Sisowath’s close relationship with the protecting power.22 During his reign, the kingdom underwent modest economic and social development and a French-sponsored revival of Khmer culture. French archaeologists began to restore the ancient ruins of Angkor, and although the project brought glory to France, it bolstered Khmer pride.23 However, two incidents disturbed the equilibrium of French rule: in 1916, a vast peasant protest movement swept the central provinces, and in 1924 Résident Félix-Louis Bardez was murdered by villagers while on official business.

The 1916 and Bardez Affairs

The 1916 Affair erupted two years after the outbreak of the Great War in Europe.24 Sisowath encouraged his subjects to volunteer as soldiers and workers for France, but the Khmer people lacked enthusiasm for the distant war waged by the foreign occupiers of their land. The French resorted to heavy-handed recruitment methods, and this contributed to a rising tide of discontent that culminated in the vast peasant movement of 1916. By some accounts, up to 100,000 peasants left the fields and converged on the capital. Although some writers have read back nationalist sentiment to the period,25 the salient cause of the mass unrest was resentment over high taxation and demands for corvée labor, not separatist politics. Haunted by the specter of the 1885 rebellion and embroiled in a desperate war at home, the French panicked. Scores—perhaps hundreds—of demonstrators were killed and wounded by soldiers and police, and hundreds more were imprisoned or fined. It was a gross overreaction; the movement never took on an overtly anticolonial complexion, despite the best efforts of dissident circles linked to the exiled Prince Yukanthor. Most peasants seldom if ever met a French person, and their grievances were primarily with the lowly Khmer functionaries who collected taxes and enforced corvée. With some exceptions, the demonstrators ignored the French and complained directly to the king. After Sisowath agreed to consider their demands and the French sacked corrupt Khmer officials and eased taxes, the vast movement melted away. Nevertheless, memories of the repression lingered and contributed to the later growth of Khmer nationalism. The same is true of the Bardez murder.

“A Kind of Belle Époque”

In 1924, the villagers of Kraang Laev in Kompong Chhnang province murdered Bardez and his Khmer bodyguard.26 The Résident had grievously insulted the villagers when they proved unwilling to pay taxes he believed they owed. Résident Supérieur Baudoin insisted that the murders lacked any political dimension, but his critics argued that the episode highlighted the high-handedness and brutality of colonial rule. The harsh collective punishment imposed on the villagers bears this out, as does the profligate waste of resources and human lives on construction of the French hill station at Bokor, which was funded from taxes collected from the peasants.27 Despite these disturbing facts, the Cambodian nationalist politician Huy Kanthoul looked back to the interwar years as “a kind of ‘belle époque,’ forever gone.”28 The époque continued after Sisowath’s death in 1927 and his son Monivong’s ascension to the throne.

Unseen by the French, however, changes in political consciousness were gestating under the époque’s surface calm. Although there was no developed Khmer national awareness at the time, advanced political ideas had rubbed off on at least two Khmer returned servicemen, Pach Chhuon and Khim Tit, as a result of their wartime sojourn in Europe. In 1936, they helped found the literary magazine Nagaravatta (Angkor Wat), which provided educated Cambodians with an avenue to explore the world of ideas independently of their French masters. Two years later, the first novel in Khmer, Tonlé Sap, was published: a milestone in a largely preliterate society. For most of the population, life continued in traditional ways, little understood by most French officials and settlers, among whom fluency in Khmer was declining.29 In 1939, the Second World War broke out, bringing the relative social peace of the preceding decades to an end.

War and the Growth of Nationalism

In June 1940, France capitulated ignominiously to Nazi Germany, and the Indochinese authorities cast in their lot with the collaborationist regime of Marshal Pétain. They were humiliated again when they were forced to accept Japanese garrisons and warships in Indochina. Their prestige was further dented when the Japanese forced them to return the Cambodian provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap to Thailand after an inconclusive border war. These defeats shocked the Khmers. King Monivong fell into a deep depression and refused to meet with French officials or even speak their language. Franco-Khmer relations had entered into a new phase.30 Monivong died on April 24, 1941, and the French installed the eighteen-year-old Prince Norodom Sihanouk on the throne, believing quite wrongly that he would be a docile puppet. By this time, the Vichy authorities had adopted the trappings of European fascism. Khmer youths were encouraged to enlist in the Yuvan, a mass movement modeled on Hitler Youth. The French promoted their own national icons such as Joan of Arc, and fostered a cult of Khmerité—“Khmerness”—in the belief that this would consolidate their power against the Japanese.31 In fact, it helped incubate nascent nationalist feeling. The Yuvan brought young Khmers out of their villages in their thousands and gave them an inkling of their potential political strength.32 Meanwhile, the Nagaravatta circle and elements of the Buddhist sangha were moving toward open anti-French, nationalist ideas: a process surreptitiously encouraged by the Japanese, who maintained an 8,000-strong garrison in Cambodia.

The spark for open defiance came when the French tried to Romanize the traditional Khmer script. A prominent monk, the Achar Hem Chieu, was arrested for preaching a militant sermon attacking the plans. On July 20, 1942, several thousand Khmers, including members of the Nagaravatta circle and monks with their traditional sunshades, marched through the streets of Phnom Penh to demand his release. This “Revolt of the Parasols” was broken up by the police with some 200 arrests.33 The upcoming nationalist leader Son Ngoc Thanh escaped to Japan, but many of his colleagues were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment on Poulo Condore Island. The French miscalculated as the prison proved to be a “university of revolution” where the Khmers mingled with seasoned Vietnamese anticolonial activists who rounded out their political education. A number of Khmers became hardened nationalist and/or Communist militants.34 Back in Cambodia, the ubiquitous police repressed any signs of discontent, but on the first anniversary of the Phnom Penh demonstration, King Sihanouk presided over a rally at which nationalist speakers “regaled the crowd with a litany of Cambodian patriotism, citing antimonarchic rebellions in the 1860s, the 1884–85 revolt, the 1916 Affair, the Bardez incident and the 1942 monks demonstration.”35 It was also clear to the Khmers that the French ruled only on sufferance of the Japanese, who were also covertly encouraging the nationalists.

The Postwar Years and Democratic Experiment

By 1945, the Axis faced certain defeat. Paris had been liberated the previous summer, and the Allies were island hopping toward Japan. Admiral Decoux, the Vichy governor-general of Indochina, was preparing to switch sides, a fact not lost on the Japanese. On March 9, they ousted the French and invited King Sihanouk to declare Cambodian independence.36 Son Ngoc Thanh staged a triumphant return from Japanese exile and was appointed prime minister in a new Cambodian government. Shortly afterward, he received an overwhelming mandate in a Stalinist-style referendum. David Chandler believes that

there is no evidence that any voting took place. Instead, it seems that the questionnaire [asking whether the respondents wanted French or Cambodian rule] was sent to provincial governors, who transmitted positive answers to the capital consisting of the number of eligible males under their jurisdiction.37

The process was flawed, but Thanh’s message of independence was undeniably popular through all strata of Cambodian society. The puppet state lasted a scant seven months before Thanh was ousted by the returning Allies, but the experience of limited self-rule proved to the Khmers that they could govern themselves.38

The French returned in October 1945 as part of a British occupation force, determined to regain control of “their” kingdom. They soon realized, however, that any attempt to return to the pre-war status quo would jeopardize their hold on the Protectorate. Accordingly, in January 1946 they granted Cambodia limited autonomy within the French Union. A national assembly was established, replete with manhood suffrage, and a number of political parties were hastily formed to contest elections. In May 1947, Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy within the French Union.39 To the chagrin of the Khmer elites and the French, the newly enfranchised masses delivered resounding majorities for the nationalist Democratic Party in successive elections. Behind the scenes, Sihanouk was machinating in concert with the French. The pliable youth had acquired a taste for power, and he was unwilling to share it with the Democrats, whom he suspected of republican sympathies and ties to the Khmer Issarak insurgents who were waging an anticolonial struggle in the countryside.40

Cambodia Wins Independence

In late 1951, the Democrats won another convincing electoral victory and installed their new leader Huy Kanthoul as prime minister. His government lasted barely nine months before Sihanouk, with the support of French troops, ousted him in the coup d’état of June 15, 1952.41 As it turned out, Sihanouk had overthrown the last freely elected government Cambodia would know for forty years. Nevertheless, if he had relied on French tanks to oust Huy Kanthoul, Sihanouk also sensed that independence was within Cambodia’s grasp. The French were wearying of the intractable war against the Viet Minh in next-door Vietnam, and they preferred Sihanouk to an Issarak or Communist regime in Cambodia. They quickly acquiesced to Sihanouk’s theatrical “royal crusade for independence,” and on November 9, 1953, Cambodia regained the independence it had lost ninety years earlier.42 The French were gone, but they had left the country with a legacy of authoritarian rule and had done little for its social and economic advancement.

Sihanouk enjoyed tremendous prestige, both as a traditional Buddhist ruler and as the undisputed father of independence. He would rule Cambodia for the next seventeen years via a hybrid system that combined populism with traditional absolutism. He formed his own political party, the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, and abdicated in favor of his father Suramarit in March 1955 so that he could involve himself more directly in political affairs. Elections were rigged and opponents crushed, but he was genuinely popular. Often portrayed in the Western media as a buffoon, Sihanouk was a mercurial politician, prone to sudden swings in mood or policy, but he was an astute ruler despite his faults.43 Cambodia lay in a bitterly contested zone of the Cold War, and, recognizing that taking sides would tip the country into an abyss, Sihanouk stuck tenaciously to a policy of neutrality. It was a considerable achievement. His economic and social policies, which stemmed from his vague ideology of “Buddhist socialism,” also offered genuine possibilities for national advancement. Unfortunately, he failed to think them through seriously. In 1963, after cutting diplomatic ties with the United States and tilting toward China, he nationalized banking and foreign trade. If properly managed, this may well have allowed planned economic growth, but the sector’s management was riddled with corruption, and the low prices paid for rice by the government monopoly alienated large sections of the peasantry. Sihanouk also displayed little real interest in boosting the country’s highly inefficient agriculture, despite theatrical stunts in which he doffed his shirt and wielded a hoe at the opening of irrigation works and other projects. Crucially, while the prince recognized that an educated workforce was essential for economic and social progress, and he lavished up to 20 percent of yearly national budgets on education as a result, he failed to provide the growing numbers of high school and university graduates with jobs commensurate with their qualifications.44 Chronic underemployment and unemployment built up built up a head of resentment among educated young people, and many (including those who had studied abroad) gravitated to the Communist opposition; a threat that Sihanouk failed to grasp.45 Others were drawn to the conservative republican nationalism that triumphed in 1970.

By the late 1960s, Sihanouk’s popularity began to wane as a result of endemic corruption, economic mismanagement, unemployment, and autocratic rule. In 1967, a serious peasant revolt broke out in the Samlaut district of western Battambang, ten miles from the Thai border. Although the Cambodian Communists supported the uprising, it appears to have been a spontaneous jacquerie triggered by resentment over government rice requisitions at below market prices rather than part of a coordinated campaign. Sihanouk was enraged and took the rebellion as a personal insult. The uprising was crushed, with up to 10,000 deaths, as Sihanouk admitted at the time.46 It also became increasingly difficult for the prince to keep his country out of the war in neighboring Vietnam. He had to accept both “secret” Vietnamese Communist bases in the east of Cambodia and the transhipment of war matériel for them through the port of Sihanoukville. This also meant that he could not object when the United States began to “secretly” bomb the bases in 1969.47 The eastern jungle also harbored Cambodian Communists, who had fled for their lives from Sihanouk’s police to shelter under the wing of their Vietnamese allies. Ominously for the prince, elements within his own ruling circle were growing impatient with neutrality and exasperated with Sihanouk himself.48

Sliding toward Disaster

On March 18, 1970, while Sihanouk was on a state visit to Moscow, he was ousted by a near unanimous vote of the Cambodian Parliament, which declared Cambodia a republic.49 Coup leaders General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak, launched a general mobilization to drive the Vietnamese Communists from the east of the country. Ecstatic crowds hailed the coup, the celebrations marred by bloody, officially condoned pogroms against the country’s Vietnamese minority.50 Lon Nol was a corrupt fixture in Cambodian politics, but he lacked serious combat experience, and his small army was no match for the battle-hardened Communist forces. He was driven, though, by an intense, mystical nationalism that blinded him to reality. He believed that the United States would come to his assistance51 and had also profoundly miscalculated Sihanouk’s response. The infuriated prince entered into an alliance with the North Vietnamese and the Cambodian Communists, whom he had previously excoriated as the “Khmers Rouges,” literally “Red Khmers.” Cambodia had slid into the abyss Sihanouk himself had long dreaded.

At the end of April 1970, President Nixon ordered “Operation Shoemaker,” a joint United States–South Vietnamese invasion of the “Fishhook” area of Cambodia. Over 15,000 soldiers swarmed over the border, backed by aircraft and artillery.52 Lon Nol welcomed the incursion, believing that it was meant to aid his beleaguered forces. In fact, as Nixon assured U.S. TV viewers, Shoemaker was intended to “protect our men who are in Vietnam, and to guarantee the success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization program.” Nixon put an eight-week time limit on the invasion, which aimed to destroy enemy bases, not to involve America in a new land war.53 Lon Nol’s republic was a pawn, sucked into a catastrophic war at the very time that the United States was leaving it.

Within weeks of the invasion, Vietnamese Communist and Khmers Rouges troops were fighting Lon Nol’s republican forces as far west as Siem Reap and Battambang, and within earshot of Phnom Penh. Peasants flocked to join the insurgents following an appeal by the exiled Sihanouk. The United States could now bomb the countryside with impunity. Huge numbers of refugees flocked to Phnom Penh and other centers to escape the brutal conflict. The republic’s soldiers fought well, but were let down by their commanders and the government. Corruption flourished. Army officers invented phantom soldiers, pocketed their salaries, and sold weapons to the enemy. Lon Nol was prone to absurd flights of fantasy, including that grass could be transformed into troops.54 In February 1971, he suffered a severe stroke that left him intellectually and physically impaired, but refused to step aside. One year after his stroke, a U.S. Embassy official offered this diagnosis: “mild schizophrenia, paranoid type; symptoms—neologisms, word salad, delusions of grandeur and persecution; I.Q. about 105.”55 It might have been an assessment of the republic itself, which limped on for a further four years to certain defeat.

In January 1973, the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords and left their Saigon client regime to fight what Lyndon Baines Johnson had once said should be “a war that … ought to be fought by the boys of Asia.”56 Cambodia now felt the full, devastating force of U.S. bombing. Between March 1970 and June 1973, the United States dropped almost 540,000 tons of bombs on the country, with the most intensive attacks in the six months after the accord, when 260,000 tons fell on the country. This compares with a total of 160,000 tons of bombs dropped on Japan during the entire Second World War. In August 1973, the U.S. Congress halted the bombing, and in June 1974, America cut off the supply of bombs to Lon Nol’s air force.57 The republic was effectively on its own, outfought by a fanatical enemy and led by criminals and incompetents. In January 1975, the Khmers Rouges launched a ferocious artillery and rocket barrage on the capital, and on April 17, 1975, they entered Phnom Penh, to be welcomed by the war-weary population. The war was over, but a new round of atrocious suffering was about to begin.58 The insurgents called their regime Democratic Kampuchea (DK), but sovereignty was invested in a shadowy group of men and women who called themselves the Angkar—“the organization”—rather than in the people of Cambodia.

A New Dark Age: Democratic Kampuchea

The war had destroyed normal Cambodian life. Even the most humane of governments would have been faced with an extraordinary task of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and providing for its citizens’ welfare. Phnom Penh’s population had swollen more than threefold with refugees. Much of the country’s agriculture was destroyed or neglected. The true death rate may never be known, but between 150,000 and 750,000 Cambodians had perished in the U.S. bombing. According to a Finnish Commission of Inquiry, the war had cost 600,000 lives with countless injured and two million people driven from their homes.59

The republic’s defeat gave the victorious Khmers Rouges the opportunity to impose an unrealistic and inhumane blueprint for the total reconstruction of society. 1975 was designated as Year Zero; the cities were forcibly emptied of their inhabitants, and these “new people” were herded into the countryside according to a prearranged plan. DK became a vast prison work camp in which the people toiled to produce rice for export, while often reduced to starvation. According to the plan, exports would provide the capital to build the country’s industrial base within four years, starting with light industry, followed by heavy industry. The cities were regarded as parasitic and unproductive in the pseudo-Marxist blueprint formulated by Khieu Samphan, a Sorbonne-educated leading figure in the Angkar hierarchy.60 The Khmer people would rapidly develop the country without outside help in line with the Maoist prescription of self-reliance. Markets and currency were abolished and all farming collectivized.61 The grand design would be carried out without experts: specialists such as engineers, agronomists, teachers, doctors, and skilled workers were treated with suspicion, and educated people were routinely murdered. The blueprint was a recipe for disaster. As a result of the cruelty, indifference, dogmatism, and incompetence of the Khmers Rouges regime, between 1.7 and 2 million people perished, with as many as 250,000 murdered, out of a population of perhaps 7.3 million.62

Controversy continues over whether the mass killings amount to genocide, or are more properly regarded as crimes against humanity. Philip Short argues in his political biography of Pol Pot that the latter was the case and that the term “genocide” in the Cambodian context has a political subtext.63 The Cambodian government, on the other hand, celebrates Victory Over Genocide Day on January 7 each year. The UN, however, defines genocide, after Raphael Lemkin, as

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.64

Arguably, based on this legal definition, DK did not intend to destroy the Cambodian nation, regardless of its utter contempt for the lives and human rights of its subjects.

The picture is complicated, however, when we consider the regime’s policies toward minority ethnic and/or religious groups. Ben Kiernan states flatly that “there is no question that Democratic Kampuchea waged a campaign of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese,” that they were “systematically exterminated by 1979,” and that the regime continued to kill Vietnamese refugees who returned to Cambodia after 1979. He also argues that the regime deliberately targeted the minority Muslim Cham population and that “more than one-third of the Chams, about 90,000 people, perished.”65 Both cases amount to genocide, he considers, because the aim was the extermination of the group for racial/ethnic reasons in the case of the Vietnamese and for racial/ethnic/religious reasons in the case of the Chams, who were forbidden to speak their language or practice their religion. (Article 20 of the DK Constitution stated that “All reactionary religions that are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchea and the Kampuchean people are strictly forbidden.”) The Chams, it can be argued, were a culturally distinct, unassimilable Other and as such were singled out for elimination by the regime.

DK’s ultra-left ideology was laced with a strong dose of the racism and national chauvinism common to most Khmer political tendencies. The pseudonym with which regime leader Pol Pot signed his first published articles—“The Original Khmer”—is revealingly antithetical to orthodox Marxist-Leninist ideology. The dictator reserved particular enmity for the Vietnamese, who were widely regarded by Cambodians as the traditional enemy as a result of a history of annexation and occupation stretching back centuries.66 The DK leadership also resented being treated as junior partners by the Vietnamese Communists during the long war years. One of DK’s first acts was to send troops to the border and to expel the Vietnamese minority,67 and Khmer Communists who had spent the war years in Hanoi were accused of being “Vietnamese in Khmer skins.”68 Pol Pot—“Brother Number One” in the DK hierarchy—dreamed of reclaiming the lower Mekong delta from Vietnam; it could be done, he insisted, if every Khmer killed ten or even thirty Vietnamese.69 Accordingly, DK soldiers carried out murderous cross-border raids against hapless delta villagers, and Pol Pot rebuffed all Vietnamese pleas to negotiate, perhaps gambling on Chinese support for his demands. He miscalculated profoundly. On Christmas Day 1978, the battle-hardened Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia and swept the Khmers Rouges across the Thai border.70

The People’s Republic of Kampuchea

The invaders were shocked by what they found. Colonel Bui Tin wrote later of seeing “hundreds of thousands of gaunt and diseased people, dazed as if they were returning from hell, [who] wandered shoeless along dusty roads … reduced to a state where they did not speak or smile any more.”71 The Vietnamese installed a government of dissident Khmers Rouges and “Hanoi Communists” who had sat out the DK years in exile. The new state took the name People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) and began the immense task of reconstruction. Famine loomed. Virtually all transport, energy, and water infrastructure had been destroyed, damaged, or neglected. There were no banks or currency, schools, or hospitals. There was no foreign trade. There was no functioning civil service, and most skilled workers and experts had either died or fled the country.72

The Vietnamese had liberated Cambodia from dictatorship, but peace and security remained elusive. Between 1979 and 1989, the PRK was an international outcast, recognized only by the Soviet bloc, India, and a handful of African countries, and regarded with suspicion by many Khmers as a Vietnamese puppet. Almost eighty countries continued to recognize the DK—which retained Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations—as Cambodia’s legitimate “government-in-exile.” The West, China, and the ASEAN countries were relentlessly hostile to the PRK. The Khmers Rouges had been smashed but were able to regroup and ally themselves with Sihanouk and right-wing Khmer Serei republican forces to wage guerrilla war from bases in Thailand. For the West, the invasion was an opportunity to punish Vietnam for its alliance with the Soviet Union and its stunning victory over the United States. This was admitted by the U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who claimed nevertheless that it was done to “help the Cambodian people.”73 In fact, Cambodia was caught up in the last deadly spasms of the Cold War and the welfare of its people was of little importance in the game of international Realpolitik. Although the PRK made efforts of reconstruction, its efforts were cancelled out by harsh Stalinist methods—and the world embargo on aid and trade. Reconstruction was further hampered by a seemingly endless border war in which the Khmers Rouges and their Sihanoukist and nationalist allies of convenience acted as proxies for China, the West, and ASEAN. The PRK’s reliance on Vietnamese troops (who stayed for twelve years) also undermined its standing among the people, for whom the Vietnamese were the hereditary enemy. The situation appeared intractable, and the people suffered terribly as a result.74

UNTAC and the Rise of Hun Sen

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which began in 1989, the United Nations was able to bring Cambodia’s warring factions together to resolve the impasse. The Vietnamese withdrew their troops, and on October 23, 1991, the parties signed the Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodian Conflict in Paris. The following February, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) assumed responsibility for organizing the transfer of power from the PRK to the new State of Cambodia. Following elections in May 1993, UNTAC was gradually disbanded, but not before a final paroxysm of violence by the Khmers Rouges.75

It also became clear that the former People’s Revolutionary Party—now rebadged as the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—would refuse to relinquish power to rival parties. Party leader Hun Sen refused to accept the outcome of the elections, although international observers agreed that they had been generally free and fair. The largest share of the vote went to Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s royalist FUNCINPEC party, with the CPP coming in second. Although it might have been possible for FUNCINPEC to govern in coalition with the smaller parties, there was bad blood between them. In the end, the CPP and FUNCINPEC formed a coalition, with the latter’s prince Norodom Ranariddh assuming the role of “first prime minister” and the CPP’s Hun Sen that of “second prime minister.” The ranking proved illusory. The CPP controlled the police and military and key government portfolios, and while they had jettisoned the PRK’s socialist ideology, they retained the old Stalinist methods of control.76

In July 1997, Hun Sen seized power in a bloody coup and ever since has ruled as Cambodia’s “strongman.” Elections are regularly held, but the outcomes are never in doubt. According to Human Rights Watch,

Hun Sen has ruled through violence and fear. He has often described politics as a struggle to the death between him and all those who dare to defy him. For example, on June 18, 2005, he warned political opponents whom he accused of being “rebels” that “they should prepare coffins and say their wills to their wives.” This occurred shortly after he declared that Cambodia’s former king, Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated to express his opposition to Hun Sen’s method of governing, would be better off dead.77

The regime has also been heavily criticized for the tardiness with which former Khmers Rouges leaders have been prosecuted for their crimes against humanity.78 Cambodia and the UN set up a special joint court in 2006 to try former DK leaders,79 but as many of them have died or have been judged to be too infirm to stand trial, few apart from Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan have been convicted. The tribunal has also attracted widespread media criticism for the glacial speed of proceedings and alleged corruption.80

Cambodia remains a desperately poor country. Its ecology is under great strain as a result of illegal logging and poaching, much of it carried out by persons close to the regime. In 2015, Transparency International ranked Cambodia 151 out of 168 countries on a scale of corruption.81 Although Cambodia scored relatively well on 2012 international rankings of economic inequality,82 newly created wealth has disproportionately benefited the elite, and the 2012 ranking does not take into account elite income from illicit activities such as logging. Economic inequality is grotesque, with “gold [vinyl painted] BMWs parked next to families living in cardboard houses.”83 The Hun Sen family’s wealth has been estimated at several billion dollars, a sum impossible to acquire by honest means on an official salary. Billions of dollars of international aid has done little for the ordinary people, few of whom have electricity, clean water, or sanitation, as much of the aid money has been siphoned off into private pockets. Two-fifths of the country’s children grow up stunted because of poor nutrition, and 30 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day. Almost two-thirds of the population are illiterate or barely literate. Only around one-fifth of the national budget is spent on public health, education, and rural development, with much of the remainder going to the bloated police and military apparatus. With a corrupt judiciary and police, the urban and rural poor are always at risk of eviction should rich individuals or corporations covet their land.84 Hun Sen’s CPP maintains a stranglehold over the state security apparatus and does not hesitate to brutally repress dissidents. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the world seldom displays much interest in Cambodia. China now supplies around one-quarter of the country’s foreign aid, but unlike Western countries, it does not demand human rights reform in return.85 Recent demands by the Trump administration for the repayment of $500 million-worth of loans from the Lon Nol era have angered the population and are likely to cause Hun Sen to tilt further toward China.86

The situation looks grim, but the 2013 national elections saw the ruling party’s grip on power weakened, with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) gaining fifty-five seats to the CPP’s sixty-eight despite widespread voter fraud. There are signs that younger people, factory workers, monks, evicted farmers, and others have lost their fear of the authorities and are joining with human-rights activists and opposition politicians to confront the regime. However, the CPP claimed to have won 70 per cent of the vote in the June 2017 local elections and it remains to be seen if the opposition parties can mount a serious challenge to the CPP in the 2018 national elections. Ominously, Hun Sen made it clear before the 2017 polls that he would not recognize an opposition victory.

The Struggle of Timeless Society in a Globalizing World

The 19th century brought momentous changes to Cambodia. French colonialism reduced Norodom and his successors to puppet kings, but it also ended the country’s dark age and prevented its absorption into Siam. Norodom and the mandarins unsuccessfully resisted change, and the huge revolt of 1885–1886 slowed but did not halt the progress of the mission civilisatrice. Cambodia had been dragged from the remote fringes of the known world into the imperial, globalized system. We must ask, however, what impact the “mechanical changes” of the Protectorate had on the lives of the ordinary Cambodian people. Peasant life was extraordinarily resilient, grounded as it was in the enduring institutions of the family, subsistence farming, Buddhism, and kingship.87 Yet to borrow a phrase, while they might not have been interested in the outside world, it was interested in them. The coming of colonialism in the 19th century was to set the scene for tumultuous times in the 20th. For the first seventeen years after Cambodia won its independence from France, its autocratic ruler Norodom Sihanouk maneuvered to maintain neutrality in the face of huge pressures to take sides in the Cold War, and the “hot” war in neighboring Vietnam. In addition, the French had left Cambodia with a legacy of authoritarian rule and social and economic underdevelopment. After the coup of 1970, the country was sucked into a bloody vortex of war, economic destruction, mass murder, and exclusion from the outside world. Despite the glimmer of hope provided by the UNTAC intervention in the early 1990s, the country soon relapsed into authoritarian rule.

Dating the beginning of modern Cambodian history from the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1863 is not arbitrary. History may be a continuum, but it is punctuated by sudden sharp changes. The coming of the French was a watershed in Cambodia’s political and economic history. Previously, the kingdom had existed within a regional, Asian matrix of relationships; after 1863 it was drawn into a globalizing world of immensely powerful forces, and its history can only be understood within the context of world history. Cambodia’s tragic modern history has been one of struggle by a deeply conservative, “timeless” society to stay afloat in the stormy seas of modernity. David Chandler’s cautious assessment rings true: “it is uncertain if this inward-looking, family-oriented conservatism … will be of much help if Cambodia hopes to flourish as a twenty-first century state.”88

Discussion of the Literature

As Serge Thion reminds us, “explaining Cambodia is typically a foreigner’s business.” Most of the considerable corpus of historical works on Cambodia has been written by francophone and anglophone authors. There are a number of explanations for this. Firstly, Cambodia was a largely preliterate society until relatively recently, and even today only around 30 percent of children of middle school age are enrolled at school. Secondly, the French colonialists did very little to educate the population during the ninety years of the Protectorate, despite the rhetoric of the mission civilisatrice. Also, while some progress was made to expand education during Sihanouk’s rule after independence, the country’s post-1970 upheavals effectively brought it to a halt; indeed, educated Cambodians were targeted for death by the Khmers Rouges regime. More broadly, the Khmers, as a deeply traditional Theravada-Buddhist society, have not seen history in the same way as Westerners have done; rather they see it as a circular reproduction rather than a linear, if punctuated, development. In addition, history and its sister disciplines can be subversive. The gaoling of Professor Tieng Narith in February 2007 for allegedly insulting top officials was a clear warning to all Khmer writers not to criticize the Cambodian elite. Nevertheless, the reorganization of the Cambodian National Archives and gradual advances in literacy offer the possibility that Cambodians may be able to explore their past. Indeed, Khmer historians such as Sorn Samnang and Khin Sok have set a high standard for others to follow.

The earliest historians of modern Cambodia were French: scholar-administrators such as Jean Moura, Etienne Aymonier, and Adhémard Léclère, who included accounts of the Protectorate and its formation in their general histories of the country. Later French historians such as Madeleine Giteau, Achille Dauphin-Meunier, Alain Forest, and Pierre Brocheux have maintained a lively interest in Cambodia’s history. Researchers may also wish to consult some of the French-language memoirs, and travel books published during the colonial period, the most famous of which is Henri Mouhot’s Travels, which has been translated into English. English-language histories of Cambodia tended until relatively recently to focus on the country’s remote Angkorean past, although Martin Herz published a general history in 1958, and Manomohan Ghosh’s History appeared in 1960. The prolific Australian historian Milton Osborne began to publish on the country’s modern history from the late 1960s, and V. M. Reddi’s history of Cambodian nationalism appeared in 1970. David Chandler completed his fine but alas unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, “Cambodia Before the French,” in 1973, and it remains an essential resource for study of the premodern interlude. It is a sad irony that modern Cambodia only really came to world attention as a result of the victory of the Khmers Rouges in 1975. Countless books have been written describing and analyzing the unsettling phenomenon of Democratic Kampuchea (DK). These include many memoirs, the best of which will stand the test of time. Particular mention might be made of François Bizot’s The Gate, and Haing S. Ngor’s Surviving the Killing Fields. The corpus includes the work of scholars such as Ben Kiernan, who published his ground-breaking How Pol Pot Came to Power in 1985. Other insightful English-language historians who published during those years include Michael Vickery and Elizabeth Becker, and we should not overlook Philip Short’s marvelous political biography of Pol Pot. The doyen of English-language historians, however, is David Chandler, whose enormous output of high-quality work ranges from a general history of Cambodia to many books and papers on the colonial, Sihanouk, and DK periods as well as Khmer culture. Chandler has listed among his graduate students Cambodia scholars such as Ben Kiernan, Penny Edwards, Justin Corfield, and John Tully. Edwards is the author of Cambodge, Corfield a sympathetic history of the Khmer Republic, and Tully the author of two books on the French colonial period.

History is a discipline bristling with debates, and Cambodian history is no exception. Alain Forest’s account of French colonialism is markedly more sympathetic than Tully’s. The title of Reddi’s previously cited book reveals his assumption that Khmer nationalism existed as far back as 1863. His approach invites criticism that he is “reading back” into history an ideology that did not exist in Cambodia until much later. There are also differences in interpretation of the Pol Pot period; Vickery and Kiernan approach the period from a critical leftist perspective, whereas Chandler and Shawcross are firmly in the liberal mold. The most contentious subject, however, is the post-DK period, for the echoes of those terrible days still reverberate almost half a century on. How do we judge the Vietnamese actions in 1978–1979? Did their intervention breach international law, or was it liberation from a regime as brutal and robotically dogmatic as is the so-called Islamic State today? Most of the world’s governments claimed it was the former. Writers such as Fawthrop and Jarvis question why it took so long for the leaders of DK to be brought to trial and indeed why they were protected by world leaders after they were ousted from power. (The Khmers Rouges occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations for fifteen years after they were ousted from power.)

Although the world’s attention moved elsewhere after the UNTAC project and the end of the Cold War brought a measure of peace and stability to Cambodia, a number of authors have published high-quality work on the country’s recent past. These include Evan Gottesman, David W. Roberts, the late Joel Brinkley, and Sebastian Strangio, whose eloquent book on the Hun Sen years contrasts starkly with Harish and Julie Mehta’s biography of the Cambodian autocrat.

Primary Sources

Primary sources for the study of modern Cambodian history are relatively plentiful. The National Archives of Cambodia in Phnom Penh contain vast amounts of documentation from the period of the French Protectorate in Cambodia and from the post-independence era. Most of the colonial documents are in French, with smaller amounts of material in Khmer. For an introduction to the scope of the National Archives of Cambodia, see the online introduction written by Peter Arfanis, the chief archivist. It is only in the past twenty years or so that scholars have had access to the archives. When the French left Cambodia, they left a surprising amount of official documentation behind. This lay neglected for many years, and it is a matter of luck that they survived the DK period. The archives building appears to have been used as servants’ quarters, and while some of the files were reportedly used as fuel, most of them were simply shoved aside. Since 1995, the archives have been reorganized and catalogued by a team working under Arfanis’s direction and with some overseas aid grants. Most of the material is from the period of the Résidence Supérieure du Cambodge, from 1863 to 1954, and includes reports, correspondence, and minutes of meetings from various levels of the colonial administration. The archives also contain smaller amounts material from the post-independence era up to and including the Khmers Rouges Genocide Tribunal, but also from DK itself. Unfortunately, much of the written government and civil-service material from the 1950s to the mid-1970s has been lost or was deliberately destroyed by DK. Much of the material in the archives has been entered into an online database and can be searched by classification, title searches, or combinations of both.

Before the reorganization and opening of the National Archives of Cambodia, researchers relied almost completely for historical documents from the French Archives d’Outre-mer. Situated at Aix-en-Provence, the archives contain large amounts of material from the Résidence Supérieure du Cambodge. Archival material is located in the INDOCHINE files, the Fonds Amiraux, the RSC files (1863–1945), and the HCC files (1945–1954). The material is catalogued and may be searched online. The archives also house an extensive library with materials relevant to Cambodia.

Smaller amounts of material may be found in many archives and libraries around the world. These include the Centre Militaire d’Information et Documentation sur l’Outre-mer (CMIDON) at the Château de Vincennes in Paris, the Archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, and the British National Archives at Kew, London. The U.S. National Archives also contains very large collections of relevant documents and the database is searchable online. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris houses large numbers of newspapers and magazines from French Indochina, along with books, maps, photographs, and the like. The Monash University library in Melbourne also has a surprisingly large collection of newspapers from colonial Cambodia, much of it on microfilm. The library’s Asian Collections also houses Professor David Chandler’s research papers, which include large numbers of declassified U.S. State Department papers from the Sihanouk period and the Khmer Republic. Large university and public libraries around the world usually stock newspaper collections with material relevant for the study of Cambodia. Finally, many official and semi-official periodicals from French Indochina are now available online.

Further Reading

Becker, Elizabeth. When the War Was Over: Cambodia’s Revolution and the Voices of Its People. New York: Touchstone, 1986.Find this resource:

Berman, Jennifer S. “No Place Like Home: Anti-Vietnamese Discrimination and Nationality in Cambodia.” California Law Review 84.3 (May 1996): 817–874.Find this resource:

Brinkley, Joel. Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land. Collingwood, Vic: Black Inc., 2011.Find this resource:

Chandler, David. A History of Cambodia. 4th edition. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008.Find this resource:

Chandler, David, P. The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War, and Revolution Since 1945. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1991.Find this resource:

Corfield, Justin. Khmers Stand Up! A History of the Cambodian Government, 1970–1972. Clayton, Vic: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1994.Find this resource:

Edwards, Penny. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2007.Find this resource:

Evans, Grant, and Kelvin Rowley. Red Brotherhood at War: Indochina Since the Fall of Saigon. London: Verso, 1984.Find this resource:

Fawthrop, Tom, and Helen Jarvis. Getting Away With Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Gottesman, Evan. Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge: Inside the Politics of Nation Building. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Kiernan, Ben. How Pol Pot Came to Power: A History of Communism in Kampuchea, 1930–1975. London: Verso, 1985.Find this resource:

Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79. London: Yale University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Osborne, Milton. Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Roberts, David W. Political Transition in Cambodia, 1991–99. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Shawcross, William. Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.Find this resource:

Short, Philip. Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare. London: John Murray, 2004.Find this resource:

Slocomb, Margaret. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea, 1979–1989: The Revolution After Pol Pot. Chiang Mai: 2004.Find this resource:

Smith, Roger, M. Cambodia’s Foreign Policy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965.Find this resource:

Strangio, Sebastian. Hun Sen’s Cambodia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Tully, John. France on the Mekong: A History of the Protectorate in Cambodia, 1863–1953. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002.Find this resource:


(1.) David Chandler, “Cambodia before the French: Politics in a Tributary Kingdom” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1973); and David Chandler, “Cambodia’s Relations with Siam in the Early Bangkok Period: The Politics of a Tributary State,” Journal of the Siam Society 60.1 (1972): 153–169.

(2.) Henri Mouhot, Travels in the Central Part of Indo-China (Siam), Cambodia, and Laos: During the Years 1858, 1859, and 1860, vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1864), 272. As it is difficult to transliterate Khmer names into Latin script, Duang is sometimes rendered as Duong. In this text, the author has adopted the versions of Khmer names used by David Chandler, the foremost English-language historian of Cambodia.

(3.) Jean Moura, Le Royaume du Cambodge, vol. 2 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 130.

(4.) Nicholas Tarling, “British Policy Towards Siam, Cambodia, and Vietnam, 1842–1858” (August 1965), paper presented to the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, Hobart.

(5.) Mouhot, Travels, 180–181, 275.

(6.) Andrew Spooner, “Report on Cambodia: A Trip from Saigon to Battambang,” trans. Nola Cooke, Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies 1 (2007): 156.

(7.) “Traité d’Amitie, de Commerce, et de Protection Française entre la France et le Cambodge, le 11 août 1863,” [Ratifications échangées à Houdong, le 14 avril, 1864], F.O. 881/2395, National Archives, Kew, London.

(8.) Pierre Pasquier, “Indo-China Today,” The Asiatic Review 25.84 (October 1929): 600.

(9.) The Straits Times, Singapore, August 20, 1864.

(10.) Moura, Le Royaume du Cambodge, 170–175; and John Tully, France on the Mekong: A History of the Protectorate in Cambodia, 1863–1953 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002), 45–46.

(11.) Francis Garnier, Travels in Cambodia and Part of Laos: The Mekong Exploration Commission Report (1866–1868), trans. Walter E. J. Tips (Bangkok: White Lotus, 1996); John Keay, “The Mekong Exploration Commission, 1866–68: Anglo-French Rivalry in South East Asia,” Asian Affairs 26.3 (November 2005): 289–312; and Milton Osborne, River Road to China: The Mekong River Expedition, 1866–1873 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1975).

(12.) Gustave Janneau, “Le Cambodge d’autrefois,” Revue Indochinoise 21 (1914): 265.

(13.) Letter from Résident Etienne Aymonier to the Governor of Cochinchina, March 18, 1880. Indochine A.F. Carton 14, Dossier A 30 (28), Archives d’Outre-mer (AOM), Aix-en-Provence. See also Tully, France on the Mekong, 57–67.

(14.) Letter from M. De Vilers to the Minister of Colonies, November 19, 1881, Indochine AF Carton 15 Dossier A30 (52). Situation au Cambodge. Rapports de le Myre de Vilers, 1880–82, A.O.M.

(15.) See Tully, France on the Mekong, 73–76. On the traditional land system, see Roger Kleinpeter, Le Problème Foncier au Cambodge (Paris: Editions Domat-Montchrestien, 1975).

(16.) Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, De La Colonisation Chez Les Peuples Modernes (Paris: Guillaumin, 1874). More broadly on the impulses behind European imperialism, see J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (London: James Nisbet, 1902); and Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875–1914 (London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987). For a contrary view to the “economic taproot” theory, see for instance Henri Brunschwig, trans. William Glanville Brown, French Colonialism 1871–1914: Myths and Realities (New York: Frederick Praeger, 1964). However, neither Hobson nor other historians of his persuasion discount other impulses to the colonial project.

(17.) See Tully, France on the Mekong, 83–99; Moura, Histoire, 159–161, 170, 152; and Lt. Batz, “Historique de l’Occupation Militaire du Cambodge par les Troupes Françaises de 1855 à 1910,” Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinoises 6.3–4 (1931).

(18.) “Le Cambodge en 1893,” Revue Indochinoise Illustrée (September 1893): 157; and J-L de Lanessan, La Colonisation Française en Indochine (Paris: Germer Baillière, 1895), 30.

(19.) Tully, France on the Mekong, 93–96.

(20.) See Tully, France on the Mekong, 101–120; and David P. Chandler, A History of Cambodia, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008), 174–180. Prince Yukanthor is the subject of two French-language books: Jean Hess, L’Affaire Iukanthor: Les Dessous d’un Protectorat (Paris: Felix Juven, 1900); and Pierre L. Lamant, L’Affaire Yukanthor: Autopsie d’un Scandale Coloniale (Paris: Société Française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 1989).

(21.) For discussions of the Sisowath years, 1904–1927, see John Tully, Cambodia Under the Tricolour: King Sisowath and the “Mission Civilisatrice,” 1904–1927 (Clayton, Vic: Monash Asia Institute, 1996); and Alain Forest, Le Cambodge et la Colonisation Française” Histoire d’une Colonisation sans Heurts (1897–1920) (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 1980). See also Tully, France on the Mekong, chs. 8–14; and Chandler, A History, 188–201.

(22.) See Tully, Cambodia Under the Tricolour, 81–132.

(23.) On the cultural dimensions of the mission civilisatrice, see Penny Edwards, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945 (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2008).

(24.) See Milton E. Osborne, “Peasant Politics in Cambodia: the 1916 Affair,” Modern Asian Studies 12.2 (1978): 217–243; Tully, Cambodia Under the Tricolour, 159–211; and Tully, France on the Mekong, 177–190.

(25.) For example, V. M. Reddi, A History of the Cambodian Independence Movement, 1863–1955 (Tiraputi: Sri Venkateswara University Press, 1970).

(26.) David P. Chandler, “The Assassination of Résident Bardez (1925): A Premonition of Revolt in Colonial Cambodia,” Journal of the Siam Society 70 (1982): 35–49.

(27.) See Tully, France on the Mekong, 294–297.

(28.) Huy Kanthoul, “Mémoires,” unpublished French-language manuscript. Chandler Collection, Monash Library Asian Collections.

(29.) Chandler, A History, 191.

(30.) Claude Hesse d’Alzon, La Présence Militaire Française en Indochine (1940–1945) (Paris: Publications du Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre, 1985); George Paloczi-Horvath, “Thailand’s War with Vichy France,” History Today 45.3 (London: March 1995); E. Thadeus Flood, “The 1940 Franco-Thai Border Dispute and Phibuun Sonkhraam’s Commitment to Japan,” Journal of Southeast Asian History 10.2 (1969): 304–325; and Tully, France on the Mekong, 327–349.

(31.) See for example Milton E. Osborne, Phnom Penh: A Cultural and Literary History (Oxford: Signal Books, 2008), 114; and Tully, France on the Mekong, 368–370.

(32.) John Tully, A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival (North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2006), 108.

(33.) Roderic Broadhurst, Thierry Bouhours, and Brigitte Bouhours, Violence and the Civilising Process in Cambodia (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 131–132.

(34.) Tully, France on the Mekong, 374.

(35.) Chandler, A History, 209.

(36.) On the Japanese role during the Vichy period, see Masaya Shiraishi, “La presence japonaise en Indochine (1940–1945),” in Shiraishi, Indochine Française 1940–1945, eds. Pierre Brocheux, William J. Duiker, Claude Hesse d’Alzon, Paul Isoart and Masaya (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1982).

(37.) David Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War, and Revolution since 1945 (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1993), 25.

(38.) See David P. Chandler, “The Kingdom of Kampuchea, March–October 1945: Japanese-Sponsored Independence in Cambodia in World War II,” Journal of South East Asian Studies 17.1 (March 1985): 80–93.

(39.) Philippe Preschez, “La democratie cambodgienne” (Diplome de l’IEP diss., Paris, 1961); Chandler, A History, 211–213; and Tully, France on the Mekong, 437–443.

(40.) Philippe Preschez, “La democratie cambodgienne,” and Huy Kanthoul, “Mémoires.” Also Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 26–45, 56–67.

(41.) Tully, France on the Mekong, 443–451.

(42.) Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 67–72.

(43.) See Milton Osborne, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994).

(44.) Chandler, A History of Cambodia, 188, and The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 118.

(45.) Osborne, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness, 113.

(46.) Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 163–166.

(47.) L. Michael Rives, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires at Phnom Penh at the time, later claimed to have been unaware of the bombing, and assumed that the reverberations were from across the Vietnamese border. Cambodia Country Reader, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Washington D.C. Retrieved from

(48.) Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 85–191.

(49.) Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 192–199; and William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), 112–117. For a general history of the Khmer Republic, see Justin Corfield, Khmers Stand Up! A History of the Cambodian Government, 1970–1975 (Clayton, Vic: Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1994).

(50.) The pogroms were widely reported during April 1970 in the international press, including Far East Economic Review, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

(51.) The United States denied any involvement in the coup, but the arrival from Vietnam of CIA-trained “Mike Force” Khmer Krom troops in Phnom Penh casts this in doubt. See William Shawcross, Sideshow, 112–113. This was also confirmed in a letter to the author by an Australian eyewitness, David Mackenzie: personal communication, November 17, 1990.

(52.) Shawcross, Sideshow, 128–160.

(54.) Transcript of Nixon’s televised speech, New York Times, May 1, 1970.

(54.) William Harben, “The Anthropological Lon Nol,” U.S. Embassy report to State Department, May 25, 1972. (Chandler Collection, Monash University Library Asian Studies Collection.)

(55.) William Harben, “The Marshal Launches Neo-Khmerism,” undated diary entry, probably mid-1972. (Chandler Collection, Monash University Library Asian Studies Collection.)

(56.) Cited in Erik Barnouw, The Image Empire: Broadcasting in the United States from 1953, vol. 3 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 255.

(57.) Tully, A Short History of Cambodia, 167–168.

(58.) Tully, A Short History of Cambodia, 169–170.

(59.) Kimmo Kiljunen, ed., Kampuchea: Decade of the Genocide: Report of a Finnish Inquiry Commission (London: Zed Books, 1984), 5–6.

(60.) Khieu Samphan, “Underdevelopment in Cambodia.”

(61.) See David P. Chandler, Ben Kiernan, and Chanthou Boua, Pol Pot Plans the Future: Confidential Leadership Documents from Democratic Kampuchea, 1976–1977 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast Asian Studies, 1988).

(62.) Tully, A Short History, 172; and Chandler, A History, 259. See also Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79 (London: Yale University Press, 1996), 456–460.

(63.) Philip Short, Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare (London: John Murray, 2004), 446–447.

(65.) Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, 460, 461. For an extended discussion of these issues, see Jennifer S. Berman, “No Place Like Home: Anti-Vietnamese Discrimination and Nationality in Cambodia,” California Law Review 84.3 (May 1996): 817–874.

(66.) The Vietnamese had annexed much of the lower Mekong delta piecemeal from the 17th century. During the Cambodian dark age of the early 19th century, they invaded and occupied the country and attempted to assimilate the population. See Chandler, “Cambodia before the French: Politics in a Tributary Kingdom.”

(67.) Tully, A Short History, 178.

(68.) Elizabeth Becker, When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), 256.

(69.) Ben Kiernan, Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia: Documentation, Denial and Justice in Cambodia and East Timor (London: Transition Publishers, 2008), 94–95.

(70.) See Grant Evans and Kelvin Rowley, Red Brotherhood at War: Indochina Since the Fall of Saigon (London: Verso, 1984); and Nayan Chanda, Brother Enemy: The War After the War (New York: Collier Books, 1986).

(71.) Bui Tin, trans. and adapted by Judy Stowe and Do Van, Following Ho Chi Minh: The Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), 119.

(72.) Bui Tin, Following Ho Chi Minh, 119–120. For a history of the PRK see Margaret Slocomb, The People’s Republic of Kampuchea, 1979–1989: The Revolution After Pol Pot (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2004).

(73.) Becker, When the War Was Over, 435.

(74.) See Eva Myslwiec, Punishing the Poor: The International Isolation of Kampuchea (Oxford: Oxfam, 1988).

(75.) For an overview of the post–Pol Pot era, see Evan Gottesman, Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge: Inside the Politics of Nation-building (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).

(76.) Chandler, A History, 288–289; and Tully, A Short History, 222–225.

(78.) See Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis, Getting Away With Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2005).

(79.) The official website of the court can be viewed online: “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).”

(80.) See for instance Charlie Campbell, “Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Trials Are a Shocking Failure,” Time, February 13, 2014.

(82.) In 2012, Cambodia’s gini coefficient was 30.76. This compares with 41.06 for the United States in 2013 and 63.38 for South Africa in 2011. (The lower the score, the more equal the income distribution.) World Bank figures cited by Index Mundi.

(83.) David Nathan, “The Truth Behind Cambodia’s Inequalities,” New Internationalist Magazine, May 24, 2015.

(84.) For detailed accounts of the country’s disparities of wealth, corruption, and abuse of power, see Joel Brinkley, Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land (Collingwood, Vic: Black Inc., 2011); and Strangio, Hun Sen’s Cambodia. There is also a great deal of information available on the internet. See for example Asian Development Bank, Cambodia: Country Poverty Analysis, 2014 and The World Bank, Cambodia Overview.

(85.) For a discussion of Cambodia’s China ties, see, for instance, David Hutt, “How China Came To Dominate Cambodia,” The Diplomat, September 1, 2016.

(86.) See for instance “Anger in Cambodia as US wants 50-year-old debt repaid,” Al Jazeera, March 13, 2017.

(87.) Chandler, A History, 168.

(88.) Chandler, A History, 299.