Research Subjects: Government & Politics


Right and Identity in XIXth Century Cambodia

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

Introduction

This essay brings to light a little-known historical tidbit – this time it is the story of Ang Chan II, who ascended to the throne of Cambodia in the late 18th Century.  The countries of Europe were not the only hotbeds of royal intrigue during this period.  Cambodia also suffered usurpers to the throne of their nation when Ang Chan’s brother, Snguon, tried to usurp the throne with the help of Bangkok. His story illuminates the timeless human conditions of intrigue, greed and struggle for power, even among families. It also points to the timeless strife between different political philosophies regardless of which culture or nation is involved.

The Varman Dynasty

In the year 1797, Brhat Pada Samdah Brhat Rajankariya Brhat Udayarajadhiraja Ramadipati Brhat Sri Suriyapura Parama Surindra Maha Chakrapatiratta Paramanatha Bupati Sadithpen Isvara Kambujaratta Chau Brhat Jatha Varavarman Damramsa Krung Kambuja Adipati Sri Sudhana Negara Indrapati Kururajapuri Rama Uda Maha Sadhana (Udayaraja IV, or Ang Chan II) ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

On November 18th, the six-year-old child had succeeded on the death of his father.

Because of his minority – he was born at Bangkok in 1791[1] – the child king received private education and partially co-reigned under the Regency of Samdach Fa Thalaha Ekka-Mantri Abayibiriya Brhat Krum Phaha (Pok) until 1806, the year of his mentor’s death.

On 26 July 1806, the coronation ceremony followed at Bangkok.[2]  On January 1807, Ang Chan married his first wife[3] at Oudong:  Anak Munang Devi (Tep), the daughter of H.H. Chau Phaya Abhai Bupati Visesa Sangram Rama Narindhrapati Abayibiriya Berhat Krum Phata (Ben), who had retained the position of Prime Minister.[4]

The Usurpation Crisis

In 1811, H.M. the King of Cambodia Ang Chan II had to quickly flee to northern Vietnam to secure military assistance in order to regain the throne.  His brother Snguon had plotted to usurp the throne (worth mentioning is that the support provided from a foreign power – Bangkok – was fairly consistent); because of a sudden military invasion, Ang Chan II was compelled to leave his kingdom and to rush to reach the cityof Saigon.

Seemingly perturbed, and with growing apprehension of Chan’s most friendly entente cordiale with Vietnam and to his Emperor Gia Long (1762-1820)[5], the Siamese  King Phra Phutthaloethla – Rama II (1768-1824) – had decided to have a more acquiescent ruler to his imposing geo-political asset; therefore, he resolved to oust Ang Chan by military pressure. 

However, Vietnamese army units which were a powerful military deterrent, were sent to support Ang Chan II, thus causing Siam to withdraw from the arena without sustaining major fighting on ground.

Because of the new warfare mobility – Ang Chan took Oudong supported by allied military units,[6]   Vietnam proved instrumental in reinstating the legitimate monarch   over Cambodian territories and its people.

Thus, Ang Chan regained the throne, and Gia Long became the preferential political patron and privileged relationship (i.e. autorithy) to Cambodia as well.  It is ascertained that Cambodia , hoping to keep peaceful terms within its boundaries, had to keep an economic compromise (sending tribute) with both Siam and Vietnam .

The Khmer Kingdom proved weak; it alternated as a vassal to both the Thai (Siamese) and Vietnamese kings.  Although the ascendancy gained over Cambodia was assured, there were short-lived periods of semi-independence between this protectorate and Vietnam (i.e. the military authority of Saigon).

Chronological references

1775 - August 1779: Ang Non II (b. 1739-d. 1779)

1779 - 5 May 1796: Ang Eng (b. 1773-d. 1796)

1796 - 1806: Interregnum: Vietnamese and Siamese do not allow king Ang Chan II to be crowned; Pok-Regent

1806 - 1811: Ang Chan II (first time)

1811 - 1812: Ang Em (b. 1794- d. 1844)

1812 - 13 May 1813: Ang Snguon (b. 1794-d. 1822)

13 May 1813-1835: Ang Chan II (second time).

Conclusion

The present essay illustrates how the matrix of constituted political power and its exercize are often conditioned by elements of a non-political character.  The Cambodia case and its historical cognizance are necessary for better comprehension on the political characters in the early XIXth Century.   This research paper equally shows how the legittimate political authority (regency) was forced by upcoming conflicts originated by the expansionist logic and by the offensive moves of the stronger military powers in the Southeast Asian.

Local intrigue and foreign interferences at the court of Ang Chan II and in the heart of the Cambodia territories was also present.   Unable to confront with its mighty neighbours, Cambodia could neither rely on a well-formed, prepared military establishment nor on the structural support of organized popular forces.

Her only survival capabilities were through political mediation and subordination to foreign powers. How Cambodia turned into a military protectorate is not a matter of discussion in this essay.

The court had to consider a new way of political transition –  surrendering part of its sovereignty to its powerful neighbors: Vietnam and Siam Cambodia took advantage in the military protection, and the silent arrangements turned effectual to retain its sovereignty.

However, Cambodia was able to maintain a degree of independence and its country’s inhabitants were not required to become nationals of the foreign States.

Another major insufficiency lay instead in the fact that Cambodia had no access to diplomatic channels, and because of its poor position had no profitable resources to mitigate the attempts at increased control.

All of this greatly resembles the logic of ancient feudal powers of the Middle Ages.

Thanks

The author would like to express his thanks to Mrs. M. Whitehead.

Notes:

[1] He died of dysentery while staying aboard the Phreah Tineang neavea (the ship was anchored at the island of Po-phreah-bat); it was the 7th January 1835.  Four sons and two daughters of Brhat Ong Chau rank by his principal consort (Thongyu) survived to him.  To this progeny were added further twelve sons and ten daughters.

[2] It was only in 1813 that he succeeded moving the capital to Phnom Penh, which would be thereafter known as the capital.

[3] He married three further wives; the second named Anak Munang Krachap; she was the elder sister of Pe. The third, was Anak Munang Yos. The fourth: Anak Munang Pen, Krachap’s younger sister.

[4] He was also the Governor of Battambang.

[5] Nguyen Anh; enthroned in the year 1802 as emperor of Annam ( Vietnam ).

[6] However, the Northern provinces were ceded to the Kingdom of Siam for compensation.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2007

 

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