About prehistoric Cambodia, conclusions have mainly been drawn on the basis of the prevailing language conditions. It seems that the monkhmer languages represent an older and widespread population layer in Southeast Asia; it is also the Khmer people who have dominated Cambodia’s history. The country has not been infiltrated by neighboring peoples as much as neighboring people. The neolithic discoveries made during excavations in recent decades show a culture of agriculture and livestock management, concentrated in the river valleys. Like the language conditions, the finds link the area to an Austronesian context. Metal finds mainly belong to historical times, from the time after the beginning of our time calculation, as well as demonstrable exchange with the west.
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The earliest known kingdom on mainland Southeast Asia is Funan. It is mentioned for the first time in Chinese sources from the 100 century AD. and consisted of about 550. Funan was under the continuous influence of Indian culture. The capital Vyadhapura, on the Mekong River near Ba Phnom in present-day Cambodia, was linked to the port city of Ec Eo in the Gulf of Thailand, which had contacts with the Mediterranean, for example, through the Asian trade network. A 200 km long canal system has been found to tie together a dozen urban centers. It is an important archaeological site. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Cambodia.
Khmer Kingdom of Angkor was founded in the early 800s in northwestern Cambodia. From its peak during the 12th and 13th centuries, there is the magnificent Hindu temple of Angkor Vat and hundreds of smaller temples preserved. It has been widely believed that the economy relied on an advanced and centralized irrigation system. However, recent research indicates that the sophisticated irrigation system was rather decentralized and based on a large number of smaller ponds and with lower central control than previously assumed. However, the irrigation structure made the population of about one million people resident and possible to control and tax. The subjects are linked to the idea of the divine ruler with roots in an Indian-influenced cosmology. An extensive network of temples handled administration and tax collection.
Angkor weakened during the 1300s. Several explanations have been given. One is that the transition to Theravada Buddhism dissolved the ideological-ritual kits of the state, another that the earth was not used sustainably and a third that internal conflicts split and weakened the power structure. A fourth, more speculative, is malaria, which emerged in Southeast Asia at this time. The direct cause was the repeated invasions of the Thai Ayutthaya kingdom during the decades around 1400. Angkor was abandoned in 1431, and gradually a more diffuse center was established around today’s Phnom Penh. Since then, Cambodia’s history has been characterized by the area being squeezed between two larger and more populous areas with more powerful state formation, Thailand and Vietnam.
The centuries after Angkor’s fall, from which little source material is preserved, were marked by Thai and Vietnamese ravages. The unilateral focus on intensive rice cultivation was partly replaced by extensive nature conservation. Most of the population lived in isolated villages in small villages during the 18th century and the relatively few external contacts were mediated by Chinese merchants, Buddhist monks and the guardians of the chiefs. During the last half of the 19th century, pressure increased again from the rival Thai and Vietnamese dynasties. The Cambodian rulers were forced in various rounds to seek protection from both parties, which thus came to dominate Cambodia.
During the 19th century, France established its colonial position in Indochina, and Cambodia became the French protectorate in 1863. Initially, the French ruled with the help of the domestic court, but came after an uprising in 1885-86 to increasingly establish direct control. The royal family remained, while the colonial state was expanded during the 20th century. Rice, rubber and pepper were grown for export. A new domestic elite with Western education emerged, and an anti-colonial movement with nationalist forefront took shape at the time of the Second World War.
Independence and the Red Khmer
During the Japanese occupation of 1941-45, the French continued to administer Cambodia but under Japanese supervision and with King Norodom Sihanouk as head of state. After Japan’s capitulation in 1945, France struggled for nine years to regain its former position. The resistance was primarily mobilized by the communist-inspired Khmer Issarak guerrilla, which controlled large parts of the countryside in the early 1950s. The king then launched his own liberation struggle with diplomatic means. The country was guaranteed independence by France in 1953, which was also formally realized in 1954. Sihanouk abdicated in 1955 to become Prime Minister and Foreign Minister that year.
The armed resistance subsided. Sihanouk took the lead and approached Thailand to balance Vietnam. He led a conservative domestic policy and an increasingly anti-Western foreign policy. Financial aid was mobilized from both the Western and Communist blocs. However, towards the end of the 1960s this position became unsustainable. Sihanouk broke with the United States in 1965, and in 1967 the challenge from the left increased, most clearly manifested in the Samlot uprising. Widespread popular dissatisfaction and the escalated war in Vietnam led to an increasingly militarily active Communist Party which was also inspired and supported by the communists’ successes in Vietnam.
Sihanouk was overthrown in 1970 by a right-hand led by Sirik Matak (1914-75) and Lon Nol; the latter came to become the prime minister of the new regime and then president. At Sihanouk’s direct call from his exile in China, large sections of the rural population took a stand against the new regime and joined the communist movement which would later become known as the Red Khmer. Civil war broke out, which was further exacerbated by US bombings during the period 1969-73. Large parts of rural areas in eastern and central Cambodia were destroyed. Communist forces defeated the Lon Nol regime and captured Phnom Penh in 1975.
The victories were divided. The Falang around Pol Pot, inspired by the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76), took power. Democratic Kampucheawas formed, backed by China. The cities were emptied of residents, schools, hospitals and shops were closed. Post, money and other modern institutions were abolished. People were forced out into the countryside. The aim was to create a closed, egalitarian society; an idealized version of the peasant society that existed during the Angkor period, before the pernicious, as the Red Khmer experienced it, Western influence destroyed the country. Political opponents were killed, and educated people were executed as class traitors. Others died of starvation, illness and overwork, including in labor camps and so-called work squadrons. Violence in all its forms came to characterize the system, and the country’s population was greatly reduced (see the section Population). The country was invaded by Vietnamese forces at the end of 1978. The red Khmer collapsed and offered only occasional resistance. The Vietnamese forces captured Phnom Penh, and soon controlled much of the country.
People’s Republic of Kampuchea
A new communist regime came to power and founded the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, ruled by the Cambodian Communist Party and led by Heng Samrin and people who fled Pol Pot’s purges. The Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia for ten years. Pol Pot and the Red Khmer retreated to the jungle of western Cambodia and across the border to eastern Thailand. Supported by China, Thailand and indirectly by the United States, they were reconstituted and joined together with Sihanouk and Son Sann, former prime minister during Sihanouk’s era, to form an exile government and establish military resistance. During the Cold War, the Heng Samrin regime was supported by Vietnam and the Soviet Union and the exile government of the Western powers, China and the UN.
During the 1980s, the country was slowly rebuilt, at the same time as the authoritarian regime existed. The government depended on support from Vietnam and the Soviet Union, and attempts were made to build a strict planning economy. However, the economic system was reformed and liberalized as early as 1985-86. As the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, the contradictions between the warring parties eased. In the fall of 1991, a peace treaty was presented which meant that the UN would ensure that free and fair elections could be held.
The decision led to the UN’s most extensive international operation to date. In 1992, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was established, which meant that over 20,000 UN military and civil servants took over the administration of Cambodia with the aim of preparing and conducting an election that would ensure peace and democracy in the war-torn country. This election was held in May 1993 and resulted in a coalition government led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh (born 1944) and his party FUNCINPEC.
In September 1993, a constitution was adopted that made Cambodia a constitutional monarchy, ending the UN mission. The new constitution was signed by two of the parties that were previously members of the exile government and the Vietnam-backed regime in Phnom Penh. The fourth party, the Red Khmer, left the settlement even before the election. They continued to fight the elected government and also made attempts to return to power in other ways but after Pol Pot’s death in 1998 they died out as a political movement.
Since the 14th century, Cambodia’s history has been shaped by the country’s location between powerful, expansive neighbors. More recently, Sihanouk, Lon Nol and Pol Pot have tried to solve the problem mainly through alliances with major powers outside the region. The violence in the latter half of the 20th century was a continuation of a multi-hundred-year history, while population growth and weapons technology exacerbated human suffering. What began as a peaceful decolonization led to a series of wars and a long period of conflict and violence. It was not until the political agreement in the autumn of 1998 that Cambodia could begin to break out of this pattern. However, introducing democracy and respect for human rights in the war-ravaged country in depth has proved difficult.
The dominant politician since the mid-1980s is Hun Sen, leader of the Cambodian People’s Party and prime minister since 1985. Prior to the 2018 election, Cambodia’s national rescue party, which threatened the regime’s electoral victory in 2013, was accused of conspiring against the government and dissolved by the country’s highest court. After this, Cambodia is in practice a one-party state with Hun Sen as dictator.
During the 2000s, China increased its influence in the region and built on the close relations it had with Cambodia throughout history, including during the time of the Red Khmer regime. China, which does not attach much importance to the rule of law, has become a dominant factor in the Cambodian economy through extensive investments, debt relief and aid projects. In return, China can count on Cambodian support in the territorial disputes with other countries in Southeast Asia, and in the case of the oppression of the Uighur minority in western China.