Lao history

Brief history of Laos summarized

A brief review of the summarized history of Laos, a country on the Asian continent.

Laos in ancient times

The first inhabitants of Laos were hunter-gatherers. Later they dedicated themselves to the cultivation of rice and vegetables. Early farmers used stone tools, but in Laos bronze was used from 2000 BC and iron from about 500 BC.

However, unlike in Vietnam, the people of Laos were influenced by Indian rather than Chinese culture. Beginning in the 1st century AD, Indian merchants introduced Theravada Buddhism to Laos.

From the 9th to the 13th century, the Khmer of Cambodia ruled much of what is now Laos.

However, in the 14th century, the ancestors of today’s Laotians founded a kingdom called Lan Xang. The first king was the ambitious Chao Fa Ngum, who was succeeded by his son Phaya Samsenthai in 1373. He ruled until 1421 and under him Lan Xang became a prosperous kingdom. Unfortunately his successors were less able rulers.

In the 16th century, Lan Xang was threatened by Burma, but managed to retain its independence.

In the 17th century, grandeur was restored to Lan Xang by Souriyavongsa (1637-1694). His long reign is seen as a golden age. During this period Lan Xang was powerful and prosperous. However, when Souriyavongsa died in 1694, he left no heir.

In the early 18th century, Lan Xang was divided into three regions: Luang Prang in the north, Vientiane in the center, and Champasak in the south. When it was divided in this way, Laos was weakened and fell prey to Siam (Thailand). In 1779 Siamese forces occupied Vientiane. Afterwards, the three Lao states were dominated by Siam (Thailand).

In 1804 Anouvong became King of Vientiane. By 1825 Anouvong was determined to overthrow Siamese rule and restore the kingdom of Lan Xang. In 1827 he advanced into Siam, but was defeated and forced to withdraw. Anouvong fled to Vietnam. Several months later he returned to Vientiane, but was captured by the Siamese (Thais), ending all hope of a restored Lan Xang.

The French in Laos

In 1867-68 a Frenchman named Francis Garnier traveled through Laos. However, the French left Laos alone for two decades. Then, in the late 1880s and early 1890s, French influence in the area grew. Finally, in 1893, the Siamese formally handed over all the territory east of the Mekong River to the French.

Laos became part of the French empire in Southeast Asia. However, the French took little interest in Laos and few French lived there.

In 1941 the French waged a war with the Thais over Laotian territory. The Japanese forced an armistice, and parts of Laos were given to Thailand. In April 1945, the Japanese forced the pro-French King Sisavang Vong to declare independence from France. Following the Japanese surrender in September 1945, Prince Phetsarath was Prime Minister of Laos. He led a government called Lao Issara (Free Lao).

However, the independence of Laos did not last long. In March 1946 the French invaded Laos and in May 1946 they regained control of the country.

Lao today

Then, in 1950, the pro-communist Prince Souphanouvong formed an organization that became known as Paphet Lao (Land of Laos). At first it was a relatively small organization backed by the Viet Minh.

Meanwhile, the French were losing control of Southeast Asia and in 1953 they withdrew from Laos, which became an independent, constitutional monarchy.

However, Laos in the 1950s was a divided country. Most were ruled by royalist governments supported by the US, while parts were ruled by the pro-communist Paphet Lao assisted by their allies, the Viet Minh.

All attempts to find a political solution failed and in the 1960s Laos was plunged into the Asian war. From 1964 to 1973, the United States bombed the Paphet Lao territory, but failed to defeat them.

Then, in 1975, South Vietnam and Cambodia fell to the communists. Seeing how things were going, the royalists fled Laos and allowed the paphet Lao to take control. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic was founded on December 2, 1975.

A full communist regime was introduced. However, in 1988 the Lao government introduced market reforms. As a result, the economy of Laos began to grow rapidly. Today, Laos is still a poor country, but it is developing rapidly and poverty is declining. Laos also has great potential for tourism.

Meanwhile, Laos joined ASEAN in 1997. It joined the WTO in 2013. Today the population of Laos is 7 million.

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