History of Cambodia

Brief history of Cambodia

A brief review of the summarized history of Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia.

Ancient Cambodia

Cambodia has a rich and fascinating history. The earliest humans in Cambodia were Stone Age hunters and gatherers. However, agriculture was introduced to Cambodia around 2,300 BC.

Early Cambodian farmers used stone tools, but from 1500 BC Cambodians used tools and weapons made of bronze. By 500 BC they had already learned to use iron.

The first civilization in the area arose around 150 AD in the Mekong River Delta in South Vietnam. This civilization was known by the Chinese who called it Fu-nan.

As Fu-nan traded with Cambodian Chinese society it became more sophisticated. The settlements grew. Also the kingdoms. At the beginning of the 7th century AD all of Cambodia was highly civilized.

At first, Cambodia was divided into rival states. However, in the early 9th century, a king named Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

The Khmer Empire in Cambodia

Like all early civilizations, the Khmer Empire was an overwhelmingly agricultural society, although there were many craftsmen, the vast majority of the people were farmers. Their staple diet was rice.

The Khmers were animists. They believed that spirits inhabited natural phenomena such as the earth and trees. Indian religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) were introduced later, but coexisted with traditional beliefs.

The rich and powerful built beautiful temples (the only stone buildings in Cambodia). They were richly decorated with fine stone carvings. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat, built in the early 12th century.

For Cambodia it was prosperous and powerful. Then around 1000 AD, King Jayavarman V was assassinated. Civil war continued until Suryavarman I founded another dynasty. In 1011 he was already in control of Cambodia. However, his dynasty only lasted until 1080, when he was succeeded by another.

In 1177 a people called the Chams from Champa (on the coast of Vietnam) invaded Cambodia. However, King Jayavarman VII managed to expel them in 1183 and between 1203 and 1220 he was able to force the Chams to submit to him. However, by the middle of the 13th century, the Khmer kingdom was in decline.

In 1431 the Thais captured the Cambodian capital, Angkor. It was later abandoned and a new capital was founded at Phnom Phen. In the mid-16th century, Angkor was covered in jungle and was accidentally rediscovered by a Cambodian king.

XVI-XVIII centuries

During the 16th century, Cambodian power continued to decline. At the end of the century, Cambodia fell under Thai sovereignty (absolute control). In 1594 the Thais captured the capital. After that, they dominated the region.

Beginning in the mid-17th century, Vietnam ‘s power grew. In the early 17th century, Cambodians controlled parts of what is now South Vietnam. They had a port called Prey Nokor. (It was later renamed Saigon.) In the late 17th century, Prey Nokor fell under Vietnamese rule.

During the 18th century, Cambodia found itself squeezed between two powerful neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The Thais invaded Cambodia several times in the 18th century and in 1772 they destroyed Phnom Phen.

In the last years of the 18th century the Vietnamese also invaded Cambodia. The Cambodian king was forced to turn to the Thais for protection. In exchange, Thailand took northwestern Cambodia.

Cambodia in the 19th century

In the early 19th century, King Chan (1806-1834) turned to the Vietnamese for protection against the Thais. The Thais were upset with this policy and when a rebellion broke out in South Vietnam in 1833 they took advantage of the invasion of Cambodia. However, the Vietnamese king crushed the rebellion and the Thai army withdrew.

As a result, the Vietnamese emperor strengthened his control over Cambodia. When the Cambodian King Chan died in 1834, one of his daughters was installed as queen and the Vietnamese settled in Cambodia. The Vietnamese regarded Cambodians as “barbarians” and tried to “civilize” them by teaching them Vietnamese customs.

Resentment over Vietnamese influence led to a rebellion in 1840-1841. The Thais invaded again to reassert their control over Cambodia.

However, in the 1850s French missionaries arrived in Cambodia. The Cambodian king turned to the French to protect him from both the Thai and the Vietnamese. So in 1863 Cambodia became a French protectorate.

Cambodia in the 20th century

Under French rule there was some economic development in Cambodia. Roads and railways were built, and a rubber industry grew in the 1920s. However, Cambodians were forced to pay heavy taxes, and from the 1930s Cambodian nationalism grew.

Then in 1941 Cambodia was occupied by the Japanese. However, at first they allowed the French officials to remain in their posts, but in March 1945, when the Japanese were losing the war, they desperately tried to curry favor with the Cambodians.

They arrested French officials and declared Cambodia independent. However, when the Japanese surrendered, the French took over again. They arrived in October 1945.

This time the French allowed Cambodians to have political parties and a constitution. Through a 1949 treaty, Cambodia became semi-independent. In 1952, King Sihanouk removed the government and took personal control of the country.

Events unfolded rapidly. On November 9, 1953 the French finally allowed Cambodia to become fully independent and in 1955 Sihanouk abdicated in favor of his father and elections were held.

Sihanouk formed his own political movement. From 1955 to 1970 he dominated Cambodian politics to the point that it is sometimes called the “Sihanouk era.” In 1960, when his father died, he called himself “Head of State.” Sihanouk called his movement “Buddhist socialism.” However, he was not really a socialist at all.

Sihanouk’s reign began to unravel in 1968 when the communists started a civil war. In 1970 Sihanouk left the country. During his absence, the National Assembly voted to remove him as head of state. Cambodia was renamed the Khmer Republic.

However, the communists advanced slowly. The Americans bombed Cambodia to try to stop the communists. However, they captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia

In 1975, in the reign of the Khmer Rouge, a horrible and tragic era of Cambodian history began. They were led by Pol Pot (or Saloth Sar), also known as ‘Brother Number One’.

How many people were killed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is not known for certain, but it was probably at least 1.5 million and may have been as high as 3 million. Pol Pot declared that history would begin anew in Cambodia. The first year of the revolution was now the first year of history.

In 1975 Cambodia was a mainly agricultural country. Pol Pot decided that it should be completely agricultural. This meant that all the inhabitants of the towns and cities were forced to move to the countryside. Pol Pot also decided that agricultural production should double in 4 years (a totally unrealistic goal)

. Private property was prohibited and collective farms were formed. They were supposed to grow 3 tons of rice per hectare (again a completely unrealistic goal). People were forced to work long hours to try to grow the extra rice. They were given insufficient food and many fell ill and died from a combination of exhaustion and malnutrition.

That was not all. The religion was banned in Cambodia (people caught practicing Buddhism were executed). Family relationships were banned (on the grounds that parents exploit their children). In addition, the slightest violation of the rules led to execution.

Although they were half starved, the people caught looking for food were executed. People were also executed for being lazy. Needless to say, anyone who complained was executed.

In addition, the Khmer Rouge murdered intellectuals. People who spoke a foreign language or wore glasses were soon executed. This nightmarish situation only ended with a war with Vietnam. The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and quickly prevailed. Unfortunately, Pol Pot escaped and didn’t die until 1998.

Pol Pot’s soldiers fled to Thailand and were met by Thais who feared a Vietnamese invasion. The Khmer Rouge continued a guerrilla war against the Vietnamese. However, Vietnamese forces withdrew from Cambodia in 1989.

Negotiations then began between several different parties. The result was the Paris Peace Accords of 1991. Communism was abandoned in Cambodia and a caretaker government ruled until 1993, when elections were held and a constitution was written. Sihanouk became a constitutional monarch.

However, the Khmer Rouge refused to participate in the elections and continued their guerrilla warfare. Fortunately, in 1996, Pol Pot’s second-in-command, Ieng Sary, defected in 1996. Many Khmer Rouge followed him. Pol Pot himself died in 1998 and peace returned to Cambodia.

In 1999 Cambodia joined ASEAN.

Cambodia in the 21st century

In 2004 King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated. His son became King Norodom Sihamoni in his place.

Today, Cambodia is still a poor country, but there are many reasons to be optimistic about its future. In the early years of the 21st century, the Cambodian economy grew rapidly. Today Cambodia’s economy is growing strongly. The textile industry in Cambodia is booming, as is tourism. Cambodia is increasingly prosperous.

Oil was discovered in the sea off Cambodia in 2005 and it holds great promise for the future. Today the population of Cambodia is 16 million.

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