Monday, July 11, 2011

Essay on Cambodia


During this period of decline, two attempts to bring about social changes to the Cambodian kingdom were made. The first attempt to bring about social changes to Cambodia was made during the first quarter of the 19th century by the Vietnamese who had briefly occupied Cambodia. After receiving reports about the ways in which Cambodians conducted their daily lives from his general named Truong Minh Giang who was in charge of administering Cambodia at the time, Emperor Minh Mang of Vietnam, in 1839, wrote a detailed instruction to Truong Minh Giang to institute a reform and change the habits of the “barbarian” Cambodians. Perhaps unaware of the existence of the civilization and achievements accomplished by Cambodians in the past, Emperor Minh Mang embarked on what could be called a civilizing mission to lift Cambodia from its barbarian state. The mission included changing the ways they work the fields, how they should organize and govern themselves, and, most important of all, the dress codes for Cambodian officials should be modeled after those of the Vietnamese’s. These infringements on the Cambodian identity and their way of life triggered a massive backlash. A general uprising against the Vietnamese overlords was ensued. Needless to say, the mission was a disaster and an utter failure. Every cultural icon associated with Vietnamese was hated and the rift between the two cultures has forever widened. After the failure of the civilizing mission in Cambodia, General Truong Minh Giang committed suicide by poisoning himself upon returning to Vietnam. As for the Cambodians, they were left to pursue their interests according to what they saw fit for their lives, namely a relaxed, easygoing lifestyle which was the trademark of their society since time immemorial.
Toward the end of the 19th century, another attempt to bring about social changes to Cambodia was made. At this time, France which had just established colonial rule over the peninsula of Indochina, namely Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, saw a need to civilize the seemingly primitive people it governed. After successfully convincing the Vietnamese to adapt the Roman alphabets for the writing of their language, France turned its attention to civilize the Cambodians. The first step the French took was to reform the administrative infrastructure in Cambodia by limiting the King’s role in the affairs of the state. Furthermore, the French introduced a more “effective” collection of taxes from the Cambodian people payable in the form of either, cash, kind, or labor forces, which they thought could be used to support both the needs of the colonists and the improvement of Cambodia’s administrative infrastructures. Finally, toward the end of its colonization over Cambodia, the French made the Cambodians adapt the Roman alphabets for the writing of their language just as what the Vietnamese had done.
Needless to say, the French civilizing mission in Cambodia was invariably met with failure for the most part, for it touched on one of the most sensitive issues for the Cambodians—that is the changing of their way of life and their identities. Led mostly by Buddhist monks or former Buddhist monks (the Achar), rebellions and protests were to become a regular occurrence every time the French pushed the Cambodians to accept reforms.
The French eventually abandoned their civilizing mission in Cambodia and turned their attention to exploiting the country instead. As a punishment for Cambodian stubbornness, the French made little effort to build schools or institutions for the education of Cambodian children. Basically, education for the general Cambodian population was left to Buddhist monks to take care of.

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