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A SHORT HISTORY OF LAOS

Ancient Laos
The earliest inhabitants of Laos were hunter-

gatherers. Later they were farmers growing


rice and pulses. The first farmers used stone
tools but from about 2,000 BC bronze was
used in Laos and from about 500 BC iron.

However unlike Vietnam the people of Laos

were influenced by Indian rather than Chinese


culture. From the 1st century AD Indian
merchants introduced Theravada Buddhism
into 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 skillful rulers.

In 1804 Anuvong became king of Vientiane.

By 1825 Anuvong had become determined to


overthrow Siamese domination and restore
the kingdom of Lan Xang. In 1827 he
advanced into Siam but was defeated and
forced to retreat. Anuvong 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 called 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 surrendered all territory east of the
River Mekong to the French.
Laos became part of the French empire in
Southeast Asia. However the French took little
interest in Laos and few French people lived
there.

Laos became part of the French empire in

Southeast Asia. However the French took little


interest in Laos and few French people lived
there.

In 1941 the French fought a war with the Thais

for Laotian territory. The Japanese forced an


armistice and parts of Laos were given to
Thailand. Then 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 Phesarath was prime minister of Laos.
He headed a government called Lao Issara
(free Lao).

All attempts to find a political solution failed

and in the 1960s Laos became drawn into the


wider Asian War. From 1964 to 1973 the USA
bombed Paphet Lao territory but failed to
defeat them. Then in 1975 South Vietnam and
Cambodia fell to the Communists. Seeing the
way things were going Royalists fled from
Laos allowing the Paphet Lao to take over. The
Lao People's Democratic Republic was
founded on 2 December 1975.

A full Communist regime was introduced.

However in 1988 the government of Laos


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. Today
the population of Laos is 6.9 million.