A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival

A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival

A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival

A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival

Synopsis

In this concise and compelling history, Cambodia's past is described in vivid detail, from the richness of the Angkorean empire through the dark ages of the 18th and early-19th centuries, French colonialism, independence, the Vietnamese conflict, the Pol Pot regime, and its current incarnation as a troubled democracy. With energetic writing and passion for the subject, John Tully covers the full sweep of Cambodian history, explaining why this land of contrasts remains an interesting enigma to the international community. Detailing the depressing record of war, famine, and invasion that has threatened to destroy Cambodia, this discussion shows its survival to be a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Excerpt

This book traces the history of Cambodia from the Indian-influenced state of Funan, which predated Angkor (founded in 802), to the present: a grand sweep of over 2000 years. Also included is a brief discussion of the pre-history of what is today Cambodia in Chapter 2. The Cambodian monarchy is over 1200 years old; King Sihamoni, who sits on the throne today, is the latest incumbent in a line dating from the reign of King Jayavarman II, the shadowy founder of Angkor, the first unified polity of Cambodia. It is not an unbroken bloodline of kings, but was disrupted by usurpers on many occasions. The institution, however, has remained constant for almost all of this time. If we count Jayavarman II’s predecessors, the monarchy is even older, and epigraphic evidence indicates that Khmer culture predates him by around 200 years. Whether those that lived here before were Khmers, we cannot say, although it is probable that they were.

If the monarchy has been remarkably resilient, so too have been the Khmer people and their culture, which sustained the kingdom. Although there have been some sharp discontinuities in Cambodian history, the Khmers today, particularly the rural dwellers who still make up the majority of the population, live much as their ancestors did. In their heyday, the martial Khmers carved out an immensely powerful empire with Angkor, the largest city of antiquity, at its centre. Today we see only the stone heart of a city that has long since rotted away, and can trace the pattern of the city’s veins, the network of canals that carried life-giving water from the distant heights of Kulen. Then, as now, the largest class was the peasantry, although they doubled as soldiers and builders. When the first European visitors arrived in the 16th century, the empire was in decline and the centre of gravity of the Cambodian state had shifted downstream to the Quatre Bras region at the head of the Mekong delta, where it remains today. The possible reasons for this shift are discussed in Chapter 3.

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