There is an extremely important text for the conflict in the 1830s between “Vietnam,” “Siam” and “Cambodia” that I have never seen an historian use before, and that is the The Strategy for Pacifying the Siamese Raiders and Thuận Bandits (Tiễu bình Tiêm khấu Thuận phỉ phương lược 勦平暹寇順匪方略).
This text contains very detailed information about the conflict between “Vietnam,” “Siam” and “Cambodia” in the early 1830s; much more detailed information than the Nguyễn Dynasty chronicles, The Veritable Records of Đại Nam (Đại Nam thực lục 大南寔錄), contains.
And from those details, one can gain very interesting insights into that conflict.
One very interesting aspect about what historians have labeled “the Vietnamese annexation of Cambodia” in the 1830s is that from the perspective of the values that a lot of us uphold today one can see both “bad” and “good” elements in this period.
On the one hand, Nguyễn Dynasty emperor Minh Mạng did indeed have a long-term goal of incorporating Cambodia into his empire, and today we see such an effort to take over the sovereignty of another country/kingdom as “bad.”
On the other hand, Ming Mạng also ordered the implementation of certain policies that we value today, such as eliminating excessive taxes, establishing a government based on the concept of meritocracy rather than nepotism, and banning opium and gambling. In other words, some of the things that Minh Mạng wanted accomplished in Cambodia were things that we would today consider “good.”
Following up on the previous post, there is another source that mentions Cambodian officials and people wearing Vietnamese clothing – a Thai source known as The Battle between An Nam and Siam (Anam Sayam yut อานามสยามยุทธ).
This work was first published in 1907, and then republished in 1971, and was compiled by K. S. R. Kulap Kritsananon, a writer and publisher.
Kulap was a unique figure in that he was a commoner who wrote about history at a time when most historical writings were produced by people in the royal government. However, Kulap supposedly had access to the documents that had been earlier collected by Chao Phraya Bodindecha, one of the main Siamese military officials in the first half of the nineteenth century, and a figure who played a major role in the conflicts between Siam and the Nguyễn Dynasty at that time. (For more on this, see Craig Reynold’s “The Case of K.S.R.Kulap: A Challenge to Royal Historical Writing in Late Nineteenth Century Thailand.”)
The history of the relations between Cambodia and Vietnam is long and complex, and there are various elements of that history that make people today unhappy or angry when they think about them.
What common people think about the past, however, is not always the same as what historians can see and document about the past. As such, one important role that professional historians play is to try to explain what happened in the past as accurately as possible so that people can base their ideas about the past on an accurate understanding of what actually happened in the past.
That said, there is an issue from the history of Cambodia-Vietnam relations that makes Cambodians very angry that historians have not done a good job of explaining accurately, and that is the idea that during the time of Nguyễn Dynasty emperor Minh Mạng’s reign (1820-1841), Cambodians were forced to change their hairstyle and the way they dressed.
In 1834, Vietnamese and Cambodian forces succeeded together in driving the Siamese out of Cambodia, and King Chan, who had fled to Vietnam (see this post) was able to return to Phnom Penh.
In his A History of Cambodia, historian David Chandler writes that “When Chan returned to his battered, abandoned capital in early 1834, he found himself under more stringent Vietnamese control. Thai successes in their overland offences had shown Minh Mạng that he could not rely on the Khmer to provide a ‘fence’ for his southern and western borders. With the defeat of the rebellion, he now moved to intensify and consolidate his control.” (123-24 1st ed.; 149-50 4th ed.)
In the early 1830s the Vietnamese fought a war with the Siamese: There was a rebellion that broke out in southern Vietnam at that time (the Lê Văn Khôi rebellion) and the Siamese moved their troops through Cambodia to support this rebellion. This led to a war between Vietnam and Siam.
In the midst of that war, the king of Cambodia, King Chan, ended up in Vietnam.
How did that happen?
The “tax issue” concerning how people in Cambodia were taxed when it was under Vietnamese control in the 1830s is very complex, and therefore, also very interesting. I will return to that issue, but in order to do so, we need to first examine some other issues.
A couple of issues that we need to look at are the establishment of military colonies (đồn điền 屯田) in Cambodia and the issue of “Vietnamization.”
In the early 1830s a rebellion broke out in the Mekong Delta. The Siamese sent troops to support it, and then in 1834 the Vietnamese (i.e., the Nguyễn Dynasty), pushed the Siamese back. Afterwards, they tried to control the area of Cambodia, and did so until a major rebellion broke out at the end of 1840.
This period from 1834 to 1840 is referred to as “the Vietnamese annexation of Cambodia.” One of the first people to write in English about this period was historian David Chandler in his 1973 PhD dissertation, “Cambodia Before the French: Politics in a Tributary Kingdom, 1794-1848.”
In writing about that period, Chandler relied heavily on a Vietnamese source, the Đại Nam thực lục (Veritable Records of Đại Nam); a collection of Nguyễn Dynasty documents. Chandler praised this work in his dissertation, saying that “For several stretches in the early nineteenth century” this was “the most detailed and accurate source” for what transpired in Cambodia (13).