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Chandler - 1979 - The Tragedy of Cambodian History

Chandler - 1979 - The Tragedy of Cambodian History

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The Tragedy of Cambodian HistoryAuthor(s): David P. ChandlerSource:
Pacific Affairs,
Vol. 52, No. 3 (Autumn, 1979), pp. 410-419Published by:
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Accessed: 13/11/2013 06:45
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The Tragedy of Cambodian
David P. Chandler
Pity nd fear an arise from he spectacle nd also from he very structure f the plot, which s the uperior way and shows he bet- ter poet. The poet should onstruct he plot so that ven f the ac- tion s not performed efore pectators, ne who merely ears the incidents hat have occurred oth shudders nd feels pity for he way they urn ut.
Poetics, hapter XIV "II n y a de dftruit ue ce qui est remplace," 'est un mot profond de Danton, et it ajoutait: Nous ne remplagerons ien."
Carnet ert, 467
"tragedy" prings o mind in writing bout Cam- bodia, think, ecause of the price ts people have been made to pay for their Republic and their iberations, or their lliance and their war with he United States, for ndependence n the 1840s nd French protection fter hat, for Jayavarman VII's visionary ud- dhism, which wept up so many people in the twelfth nd thirteenth centuries, nd for the deeply ngrained notion that there re "big" and "little" people in society, which is in turn woven, rightly r wrongly, n a hierarchical esign. Why were these ufferings o intense? ive reasons ome to mind. These include Cambodia's location between wo populous, antago- nistic ountries, hailand and Vietnam; ts ethnic ingularity nd the righteousness hat flows rom t; the weight f an imperial ast, oom- ing behind time f powerlessness; he kinds f eaders and the deas of eadership) which preceded he revolution; nd the popular deol- ogy which, ntil recently, lended he notions f high ocial standing,
* This paper was first iven s a lecture t the University f British olumbia in November 1978. am grateful o Professor lexander Woodside for uggesting he topic, nd to Professor T. G. McGee of the Institute f Asian Research for nviting me to talk. n revising t, have benefited rom omments y R. E. Elson, Anthony ay, and J. D. Legge. 410
This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Nov 2013 06:45:39 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Tragedy f Cambodian istory power and merit, s well as their pposites-poverty, owerlessness, and spiritual hortcomings. Of these easons he first s probably he most mportant. Modern Cambodian history as been shaped to a large xtent y the fact hat its capital, Phnom Penh, ies on a cultural fault-line etween he n- dianized, Theravada Buddhist ulture f Thailand and the Sinicized, Confucian ulture f Vietnam. Cambodia itself, f course, was until recently Theravada kingdom; ut its capital region, where most of its people live, has always been more accessible to Saigon than to Bangkok. These facts ed to the country eing nvaded by the Thai (ostensibly o free Cambodia from Vietnamese protection) n 1811, 1833 and 1840.1 etween 1834 nd 1847, much of the country as oc- cupied by the Vietnamese; Cambodia returned o Thai protection between 1847 and the mposition f French hegemony n 1863. Until gaining ndependence n 1953, Cambodia, unlike her large neigh- bours, had been exploited the Khmer phrase, ih joan, means liter- ally, "ridden on and kicked") nd colonized for hundred nd fifty years. In the colonial era, Cambodia's foreign rade and internal con- omy were geared to the needs of the French n Indo-China as a whole, and to the export economy of southern Vietnam (Cochin- China) in particular. One price the Cambodians paid for what the French called their "docility" was the highest per capita taxes in Indo-China. Moreover, while the French llowed governing lites, n- cluding he monarchy, o function eremonially, he bureaucracy was largely taffed ith French-speaking ietnamese.2 t is not surprising, therefore, hat Cambodians associate periods of powerlessness ith periods f Vietnamese ontrol, nd periods f nationalist nrest such as the 1840s, 1970-72 r 1976-78) with killing Vietnamese. Little of this animosity would have arisen, perhaps, f Cambodia's demo- graphic entre f gravity ad remained n the northwestern art of the country ear the site of Angkor, eyond the reach of the Viet- namese but accessible to the post-Angkorean hai -kingdoms of Ayudhya nd Bangkok. Turning to the weight f Cambodia's past, one of the intriguing features f nineteenth-century ambodian history s the collective amnesia of the population regarding ts relationship o Angkor. Be-
' For a detailed treatment f this period, ee David P. Chandler, Cambodia efore he rench: Politics n Tributary ingdom, 794-1847 Ann Arbor: University icrofilms, 974).
See, for xample, France. Archives 'outremer Aix en Provence) Cambodge 3 E 11 (2), Re- port from ompong Chhnang, November, 907.
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