Cambodian History


When we want to reflect and discuss on Cambodia’s development especially to learn about Cambodia’s development challenges, as the starting point, we should take Cambodian history into serious consideration. Much evidence showes that the history really has significant influences and impact on the current development process in Cambodia. In particular, in many cases, Cambodian behaviors and practice are strongly determined by their past history.

Cambodia locates in South-east Asia, bordering Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Gulf of Thailand. Cambodia has a big fresh water lake called “Tonle Sap”, which is home of great sweet water fish population. The capital city Phnom Penh lies in the intersection of 4 rivers. Cambodia has tropical climates, in which two seasons can be observed throughout the year, i.e. rainy and dry seasons.

Cambodia has gone through many regime changes in the 20th century. Below is s timeline representing the evolution of Cambodia.

Important characteristics of Cambodian history
Cambodia was known as a country with a range of natural resources such as sweet water fishes, mines, forest, wild animals etc. However, it remains the one of the poorest country in the world.
Cambodia is also known as a country with significant cultural heritage in South-East Asia. Many people in the world know Cambodia through Angkor Wat, a famous stone temple from the 12th Century. Cambodian students learn that there are around 1080 temples with different ages in Cambodia, spreading in different provinces in this country. The most beautiful temples are located in Siemreap province. Cambodian temples attract many people around the world.


For about nine decates, Cambodia was under French colony. The country was very much influenced by French people and culture. As result, Cambodians call every white long-nosed expatriate as Barang (translated: French). It was observed that French influences in Cambodia were somewhat decreased in the last few decates, and new generations prefer to learn and study English instead of French.


Cambodia was led by the Khmer Rouge regime for three years and eight months (1975-79), to that time people in Phnom Penh were evacuated to leave the Capital to leave in rural areas. Two million people (especially the intelligent) were killed, and thousand of traumas and extremely fearful memories were left behind.


Every Cambodian, who survived from the Khmer Rouge, is affected by post traumatic stress left by it, which often leads to many mental issues such as sleeping problems, memory loss, depression, stress, aggression and violent behaviors etc. Those issues are difficult for Cambodian to unlearn, and as results, they loss of self-confidence, fear, lack of trust, lack of initiatives, and resist to change. Even the regime already gone for nearly 30 years, the trauma reminds very powerful in people’s minds, and also transferred to their next generations.


Click on a picture to enlarge it.

The Vietnamese troops forced the Khmer Rouge from the Country in 1979, and then, a new government supported by Vietnam was set up.  It was observed that Vietnam has significant influence to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge downfall.   


From mid 20th century, there were at least eight different regime changes in Cambodia. A person, who was born in 1970 has experienced six different regimes. It was observed that most regimes changed from good to bad. During the regime changes, the civil war was happened throughout the history, in which many people have learned to shoot and kill, and many Cambodians were killed or died through diseases and mine accidents.


Cambodia’s economic development is different from other countries as it started in the early 1950s as a free market economy, then turned into socialist (central planned) economic form, and finally returned to free market economy. Currently, Cambodia is still one of the poor countries in the world.


The majority of people living in Cambodia are Cambodian, with rich of ethnic minorities such as Islamic (Cham), Chinese, Vietnamese, Pnorng, Kouy, Charay etc. In the last three decades, many Vietnamese immigrated into Cambodia. In the last three decades, Cambodians were/are educated to treat the Vietnamese with “gratefulness and respect” even in the reality they have different mentality that seems not be able to go well along with each other.


Except above 10% of the people, who live in the Capital city, the majority of Cambodians live in rural areas, performing traditional agricultural activities. They use oxen and buffalo to plow their rice field, and the activities are very much depending on natural rain water. Rice is the most important food for Cambodians throughout the country. People used to benefit from natural forest and other natural sources for their living such as fish, frogs, crabs, snails, and vegetables and tropical fruits. There are also some traditional handicraft activities in the villages such as silk production, bamboo bag, fishing instrument, music instruments etc.


There were many political tendencies and orientations in Cambodia. Cambodians experienced a range of political leaders, such as French colony, Kingdom, USA oriented, genocide communist, dictators, socialist, Vietnamese supported, and a young democratic oriented country. The influence from China and Vietnam was/is significant. In the last 14 years, there were more than 30 political parties joined the election process, and three of them were on the top, who were elected by Cambodian people, and have their representatives in the National Assembly. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been in power since 1979, and is seen as a dominant party up to now.


It was observed that the main agenda for election campaign undertaken by CPP, the ruling party, is the win of Khmer Rouge on 7 January 1979, after which Cambodian people owed life to the party (the party’s emphasize). Khmer Regime was often considered as a baseline to compare/ measure the Country’s development. For the opposition parties, the hot agenda observed during their campaign was the statement of a “constant flow of illegal Vietnamese immigrants” into Cambodia.


Currently, there are many hot discussions about “Kampuchea Kraum”. It was mentioned that Kampuchea Kraum was former Cambodia land, but since over 50 years, the French leader (as French colonized Cambodia) submitted that land (with approximately 12 millions Cambodians) to be controlled by Vietnam until now. This aspect represents another part of the Cambodian history.


Source: http://www.camlefa.org/cambodian.html


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