It has been said that Cambodia is a country without a history. Certainly one of
the most painful and lasting legacies of the Pol Pot regime's three-year, eight-month
and twenty-day reign of terror was the near destruction of Khmer intelligentsia who
were either executed, died from disease or starvation, or fled abroad. Even today
the Kingdom's educational system suffers greatly from this sad chapter in Khmer history.
Many teachers lack the necessary qualifications to carry out their responsibilities
effectively and Khmer-language textbooks are in short supply. In general, the average
citizen may have only a vague understanding of the history of his country.
In this issue, the Post begins a series on Cambodian history covering events during
the latter half of the 19th century. The material has been exerpted from The French
Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia by Australian scholar Milton E. Osborne. Originally
published in 1969 the book remains "one of the few studies to examine in detail
the impact of colonialism in southern Vietnam and Cambodia during the first five
decades of the colonial period", according to the introduction in the most recent
version published in 1997 by White Lotus Co. Ltd. in Bangkok.
On August 11, 1863 a Protectorate Treaty was signed between the French and King Norodom,
the chief figure in Cambodian history in the second half of the last century. The
extract which follows begins just after King Norodom succeeded his father Ang Doung
and ends with tensions rising between himself and the French.
Norodom's court was cosmopolitan.
Siamese occupied important positions within the court and, as late as 1889, the palace
cavalry was composed of Siamese. His father had had close associations with some
of the Chinese who worked in and about the Siamese court.
A number of these men accompanied Ang Duong back to Cambodia and continued to be
associated with his son. Also linked with Norodom, in a relationship difficult to
analyze, was a motley group of Europeans who blended occasional business relationships
with a curious camaraderie. Caraman, one of the earliest French settlers in Cambodia,
lived for decades in partial amity with Norodom, now supplying him with European
luxuries, now in dispute with the king over the nonfulfilment of a contract.
Le Faucheur, another early settler, was involved in the early commerce of Phnom Penh
and at the same time an associate, of sorts, of Norodom.
There were others: the widow Marrot and her son, to whom Norodom was said to owe
large sums of money; Ternisien, a creole from Guadeloupe who had once been a magistrate
in Cochinchina; and Blanscubé, the French spokesman in the Colonial Council
of Cochinchina for the Indians resident in that colony. These and other European
expatriates, such as German businessmen in Phnom Penh, were associates, if not friends,
Of the principal Cambodian figures at court in this period it is difficult to say
very much. In the early years of the protectorate, Norodom, his half brothers, and
to a lesser extent the queen mother, still living in a world of rigid traditionalism
at the former capital of Oudong, stand out as the main participants in events.
Possibly the French observers reporting on these early years had not yet gained sufficient
sense of the inner workings of the court to provide any detailed account of its lesser
figures. Not until the final decades of the nineteenth century is it possible to
write in detail about leading Cambodians officials.
One exception to this general observation was the kralahom, the minister of the navy,
who is revealed as a supporter of the French presence in Cambodia through a record
of conversation prepared by Moura in 1875. This Cambodian official felt that the
protectorate meant peace in the land, but his views were not, he noted always shared
Since Cambodia is under the protection of France it is peaceful within and sheltered
from foreign invasions.... Formerly, there was always war.... Today the officials
have homes built of masonry which they never dared have before; thoughtful men are
setting themselves up in a more comfortable fashion; the chief monks are rushing
to erect suitable pagodas... But the people do not have enough of your advice and
counsel in matters connected with administration and finance. You have the whole
people for you... you also have some honest and intelligent officials who know your
intentions, but you cannot hide from yourself the fact that you are an obstacle for
the majority of the officials who most certainly wish that you would close your eyes
to their conduct and would only appear to shoot down the people. when, by chance,
they cry out against the injustices and spoilations to which they are subjected today.
From the early 1870s onward, French concern for and reform led to more frequent confrontations
with Norodom. A counterpoint to this theme was the developing discussion of who should
succeed Norodom, either at his death or in the event of a forced abdication. In 1870,
Sisowath was installed, as La Grandière had earlier proposed, as obbareach.
The country was at peace and Moura rarely interfered in the affairs of the kingdom
so as "not to excite the susceptibilities" of the king.
By 1874, however, French preoccupation with effecting reforms in Cambodia had triumphed
over the earlier reluctance to interfere. Two principal motivations lay behind this
developing policy. The practical result of the existing Cambodian administration,
in French eyes, was actual and threatened rebellion.
The French considered heavy taxes the cause for recurrent uprisings in the provinces,
and blamed Norodom. The turbulent history of the fifty years before the arrival of
the French had left much of Cambodia ravaged and desolated, and had weakened the
control of the court over the outlying regions, so further encouraging rebellion.
The French administration, particularly after the Poucombo revolt, knew that any
real challenge to Norodom would have to be put down by French forces. This alone
was sufficient to lead them to consider urging reform. More general considerations
of the French civilizing role came into play when they observed the continuing institution
of slavery and urged its abolition,
The problem of how to institute reform remained. Norodom showed no inclination to
alter the administration that he had inherited. But the Frenchmen who puzzled over
the issue noted that the situation could be expected to change when he no longer
occupied the throne. During 1872, Admiral Dupré had given advice that should
Norodom die, Sisowath was to succeed only after he had accepted French advice to
establish a civil list and surrendered control over the finances of the kingdom into
French hands. In 1874 came the first of the many crises in Norodom's health which
were to bring hope, and then disappointment, to the French administration. Although
it was not clear whether or not Norodom was really close to death, the possibility
was sufficient to evoke a lively correspondence between the French representatives
in Cambodia and Cochinchina and the home ministry.
The initial reaction, which Moura supported, was that, despite the grave faults of
the situation, nothing should be done in the king's lifetime. The governor of Cochinchina,
Krantz, noted that once Norodom was dead, and Sisowath on the throne, it would be
different; Sisowath, though "just as prodigal and just as given to vice,"
did not have "a taste for absolute power." Certainly Moura had given his
superior a gloomy picture of the administration of the kingdom. Norodom, Moura asserted,
was isolated from his people and even from his own ministers, relying on palace women
Norodom was not to die yet, however, and Krantz's successor as governor of Cochinchina,
Admiral Duperré, was inclined to be tolerant of the manner in which Norodom
governed his country.
Whether through calculation or a passing phase of resignation, Norodom presented
himself to Duperré as ready to cooperate with Moura on all issues. Moreover,
Duperré observed, if Norodom was at times uncooperative, he had substantial
grievances to level against the French in relation to the frontiers of his kingdom.
Apart from the disputed provinces of Battambang and Siemreap, the French had never
held to their engagement to rectify the frontier situation near Chau-Doc and Ha-Tien,
where large numbers of Cambodians lived, previously under Vietnamese, and now under
French, control. Finally, it seemed unlikely that Norodom's reign could last much
longer in view of the state of his health.
In the meantime it was possible to intrigue for the future. On Duperré's orders,
Moura engaged Sisowath in a long and confidential discussion of the events likely
to occur on the king's death. A full record of the conversation has been preserved,
transcribed by Moura immediately after the interview in the form of a dialogue.
It leaves no doubt about Sisowath's attitudes and his readiness to work with the
French to achieve the Cambodian throne. The interview opened with Moura stating Duperré's
concern to establish good administration in Cambodia. Another concern of the admiral
was the state of the king's health, and Moura had been asked to report on who would
be the most worthy candidate for the throne when "an unfortunate event might
To this blunt, if slightly veiled, opening gambit, Sisowath replied: "I cannot
commit myself before the right moment comes, but if the Admiral really wishes to
support my rights to the throne, I promise to act according to his wishes."
But Moura eloquently disclaimed any wish to have commitments from the king's half
brother. He himself was not in a position to make any commitment from the French
side. Reacting to Sisowath's reply, he pointed out that the obbareach's succession
was not absolutely assured. Norodom might press to have one of his sons succeed him,
and according to the rules of succession, it was more normal for a son to succeed
his father than a half brother his half brother.
The choice would depend on the great officials of the kingdom-and the French. The
record goes on:
The second king: I know this, and I know most importantly that it is you [the French]
who will propose who will be king.
The representative: I am convinced of this, too, and so much the better for the kingdom!
But I do not think that the French government would ever give its protection to a
prince who did not recognize in advance the necessity to make changes in the treaty
[of 1863] and in the administration of the country, which I am going to outline to
The reforms that Moura outlined had already been discussed in correspondence with
Paris: control of the kingdom's finances, the establishment of a council of government
of which the French representative would be a member, the institution of a civil
list. As the demands were listed, Sisowath's responses brought him further and further
into the French web. Some of his closing comments, and those of Moura, complete the
picture of French intrigue, and Sisowath's overpowering desire to gain the throne:
The second king: Indeed, I can say to you, from this moment, I find these propositions
too reasonable and the changes that you speak of too necessary not to accept them
if I am ever king.
The second king: The system that you have just succinctly outlined, if it is put
into action in Cambodia, will transform the country in four or five years. Cambodians
are very easy to administer, and if one places them under such a wise and equitable
system, they will be grateful and there will be unending peace in a country which
has only known revolutions.
The representative: Remain, therefore, with these good attitudes, and then count
on us. I will not speak to you again about these matters, which must stay just between
us.... I recommend you to find a way to gain again the popularity which you have
previously enjoyed in Cambodia and Cochinchina and above all to merit the esteem
and the affection of the French authorities.
The vigor of Sisowath's response to Moura's propositions encouraged Admiral Duperré
to suggest that a secret convention should be prepared for Sisowath to sign, indicating
his approval of the reforms required by the French. Doubts about the wisdom of such
an action among officials in Paris prevented this.
There was a brief period of calm until, one year later, a new rising against Noro-dom's
authority broke out in the country. Si Votha had returned to Cambodia. Begging the
pardon of the king of Siam for his unauthorized departure, Votha left Bangkok, swiftly
passed through Battambang, and traveled onward to the higher regions of the Mekong.
He had little difficulty in quickly raising a large band of supporters and began
to harry the officials loyal to his half brother Norodom. He besieged the provincial
capital at Kompong Thom and ranged through the turbulent province of Kompong Svai.
Forces dispatched under Norodom's order failed to apprehend him.
The situation gave the French authorities a particularly attractive bargaining position.
The reforms that they had long wished to implement, but had postponed rather than
face a confrontation with Noro-dom, could be demanded against a promise to aid the
king in resisting his half brother.
Duperré, analyzing the reports that reached him in Saigon, argued that the
real cause of the revolt was the great dissatisfaction that Norodom's policies had
aroused in the country. In the circumstances, Du-perré saw "no urgency
to support King Norodom, who has remained deaf to our advice for so long." Help
would be given if he accepted the recommended reforms.
The apparent ease with which those who challenged Norodom's authority were able to
recruit supporters demands some explanation. Frenchmen such as Admiral Duperré
- and even those closer to the events, such as Moura and Aymonier - insisted on the
limited popularity of Norodom. Yet, in the uprising of 1885-1886 it was Norodom's
prestige that ultimately brought resistance to French forces to an end.
Votha was able to embarrass the king and gain recruits so quickly in large part through
his personal qualities, which inspired loyalty to the end of his life. Moreover,
fifty years of internal strife and foreign war had destroyed the network of internal
The king's temporal power did not stretch far beyond his capital. This left the control
of provincial regions in the hands of the governors, who added their own exactions
to the taxation demands of the central authority. This situation, together with the
generally unsettled state of the country, probably goes far to explain Norodom's
difficulty in meeting Votha's challenge. When he traveled in the countryside, the
king's semidivine status brought respect approaching worship, but when he was confined
to Phnom Penh, challenges emerged in the outer areas.
As 1876 drew to a close, Duperré acted on his thoughts and demanded reforms
from Norodom. He wrote to the king requiring changes, to no immediate effect.
Votha remained in revolt, now striking at an outpost of Norodom's government, now
slipping back to his sanctuary among the Stiengs, one of the tribal groups on the
fringes of Cambodian society. The French were inclined to do nothing. Duperré
remained convinced that Norodom's life was ending and that when a new monarch gained
the throne it would be on French terms. For the moment it was desirable to leave
the Cambodian king "in the grip of the rebellion that he has provoked."
During the latter part of 1876 Moura had been on leave from Cambodia, his place having
been taken by Philastre. In December he returned. His knowledge of the court and
of Norodom led to the reopening of negotiations for change, and these were brought
to what appeared to be a successful conclusion in January 1877. On 15 January Norodom
proclaimed a series of reforms, and in return the French now bent their efforts to
The French authorities did not achieve all the desired reform, but Norodom accepted
several important changes. He agreed to abolish the special position accorded the
obbareach and the queen mother on the death of the incumbents. The title of abjoreach,
previously accorded to a king who had abdicated, was eliminated, and the powers of
officials serving other members of the royal family other than the king were ended.
In order to improve the process of government, the French insisted that matters of
state should be discussed in a council composed of the five principal Cambodian ministers,
sitting apart from the king. Decisions would then be placed before him for approval.
No new tax could be instituted without this council's approval. Slavery was to be
eliminated by degrees; to begin with, no person was henceforth to be enslaved for
life, and the possibility of purchasing freedom was to be open to all debt slaves.
Even more significant than the proclaimed reforms was a secret convention concluded
between Norodom and Duperré. This provided that the French representative
in Phnom Penh could, "when he expressed the wish," sit as a member of the
council of ministers with a "consultative voice." His presence was obligatory
when such matters as finance, the legal system, foreign trade, and internal disturbance
were discussed. This agreement was not quite as far-reaching as the provisions regulating
the British residential system in Malaya, but it clearly foreshadowed an arrangement
in which "advice" had to be accepted.
French-led troops suppressed Si Votha's rebellion but failed to capture the prince.
He was sighted during an engagement in February 1877 but escaped, mounted on an elephant.
Calm returned to the countryside, and the French awaited indications that changes
had been effected in the administration of the kingdom.
The new governor of Cochinchina, Admiral Lafont, noted that Norodom had received
him courteously and vowed his attachment to France, but doubt remained that any real
progress towards change was being achieved. There was good basis for this doubt.
Not only was Norodom unready to take action to effect the changes that the French
desired; he had begun to look for ways to counterbalance the overwhelming French
influence over Cambodia. The result was the mysterious Spanish treaty affair, which
caused concern to the French for more than four years.
Diplomatically, the issue was without result. The affair commands attention for the
indication that it gives of Norodom's continuing efforts to elude or counter control
of his kingdom. As with the secret treaty Norodom concluded with Siam in December
1863, news of the kings negotiations did not reach the French until after a treaty
had been concluded.
The preserved documents leave many unanswered questions and testify to the embarrassment
it caused. The government of Spain disavowed the treaty, leaving the impression that
the maneuvering had been on the personal initiative of the Spanish consul in Saigon.
At some point in 1877, Norodom had entered into secret contacts with this consul.
Writing in the early 1880's, French observers believed that an interpreter working
for Norodom ( a Spanish national ) may have provided the link between the king and
the consul. It was also thought possible that Spanish businessmen resident in Phnom
Penh played some part in the affair.
Without a text of the treaty to consult, it is difficult to give any precise account
of its terms. In Paul Collard's view it would have involved nothing less than Cambodia
entering into direct relations with Spain, quite without regard for French rights.
This may be an overstated interpretation, since any contact that Norodom developed
would have infringed France's position.
The impressionistic accounts of the intrigue suggest that Norodom wished, at least,
to reach some commercial agreement with Spain and, if possible, to gain the right
to have a Spanish consul accredited to his court. In this, Norodom misjudged the
French. Only a few months before negotiations began, the French had been ready to
see him threatened by rebellion when he failed to cooperate with them. Yet, as Le
Myre de Vilers remarked in 1881, Norodom's decision to seek relations with another
European power was in the true Cambodian tradition of attempting to balance one power
against another. Previously Cambodia had sought to play Siam against Viet-Nam. With
Spanish encouragement, it may have seemed just as reasonable to attempt to play France
By the time Le Myre de Vilers' instructions were prepared in Paris in 1879, as he
prepared to take up his post as governor of Cochinchina, the French government was
aware in broad terms of Norodom's essay at independence. The governor was instructed
to make perfectly clear to Norodom that agreements with powers other than France
would not be tolerated. Le Myre de Vilers faithfully followed his brief. Convinced
in 1879 that secret negotiations were still in progress, he forbade the king to receive
a visit from a special Spanish diplomatic mission then traveling in the Far East.
This led to the exquisite irony, fully appreciated by the French and deeply resented
by Norodom, that gifts from the Spaniards had to be passed on to the king by the
French representative, Aymonier. It was a bitter moment for Norodom. There are suggestions
in the correspondence for 1880 and 1881 that Norodom may still have looked for a
way to develop a link with Spain, but watched over by the French, there was little
he could do.
Resentment of Norodom's intrigues played a large part in the hardening of French
attitudes clearly apparent in the early eighties. Thus, well before the climactic
events of 1885, the French authorities and the Cambodian king consistently found
themselves in opposition. The changes in personnel on the French side were important.
Moura had left Cambodia in 1879, never to return, and he was succeeded by men without
his long experience with the court and Norodom. Now at the head of the colony of
Cochinchina, and so in charge of France's relations with Cambodia, was Le Myre de
Vilers, a man preoccupied with order and a firm supporter of France's civilizing
mission. As he surveyed the "prodigality" of Norodom's court, a clash became
Reports from Cochinchina that stressed the parlous state of Cambodia and recorded
Norodom's refusal to honor the agreements of 1877 had their effect in Paris. It was
more than French pride could accept. Norodom had entered secretly into relations
with Spain, and may have attempted to do so again. Contrary to his undertakings,
he had allotted the rights of the country's opium farm without consulting the French
representative, noting by way of apology that he was drunk at the time.
Such conduct was sufficient, at some stage during 1880, for Le Myre de Vilers to
consider proposing to Paris that Sisowath should be placed on the throne forthwith
and Norodom exiled to Tahiti or Reunion Island. The minister of the colonies shared
Le Myre de Vilers' concern, and late in 1881 the governor received instructions calling
for a stronger line with Norodom.
The next year, Le Myre de Vilers acted to impose France's will. To counter Norodom's
failure to control the kingdom's finances, the governor forced the king's agreement
to meeting the cost of the protectorate. He warned Norodom that failure to agree
would lead to a French decision to end the 1863 Protectorate Treaty. Against such
a threat Norodom had no defense, except to register his discontent with Paris. This
he did in a letter addressed to the president. He accused Le Myre de Vilers of requiring
him to make concessions under threat and without justification. The governor's actions
impaired his traditional rights, for not only had he insisted that Cambodia meet
the cost of the protectorate, but he had also eliminated the king's rights to taxes
from Vietnamese living in Cambodia and on markets and ferries, traditional sources
It was a brave protest, but to no avail. Le Myre de Vilers was acting with the support
of his home government against a state that, short of a direct act of arms against
the French, had no real way to withstand any demands.
The French were aware of the divisions within the royals and ready to exploit them
to their advantage. There was little sympathy among official Frenchmen for the "fantasies"
of the Cambodian king. Moreover, the governor of Cochinchina had a talent for describing
the Cambodian court in terms that made it repugnant to minds wrapped in European
prejudices and values.
In a long report, which he prepared towards the end of his posting, Le Myre de Vilers
observed that until 1877 there had been virtually no check on Norodom's actions.
The agreements negotiated in that year had not been executed. At the same time, the
country sustained the evils of oriental rule in its worst forms:
- Hunting after and sale of human beings is still carried on among the Phnongs [a
generic and pejorative Cambodian word for hill peoples] and the Stiengs;
- the officials, who are unpaid, continue their exactions and live by pillage;
- the venality of the magistrates has not diminished;
- instances of brigandage multiply;
- public services exist only in name;
- the roads and bridges, through lack of maintenance, have become impassable.
By contrast, the expenses of the court increase each year and the king, through vanity,
has allowed himself to join the refinements of European comfort to the luxury of
Asia (such as):
- Filipino bands and Cambodian orchestras;
- carriages of all sorts and two hundred and fifty elephants, driven and looked after
by numerous slaves;
- a flotilla of steam-driven vessels and innumerable boats of all sorts;
- a Filipino bodyguard and a Cambodian bodyguard, infantry, cavalry, artillery, bodyguards,
pages, etc... in the European style;
- European servants, Chinese, Annamites, Filipinos, Cambodians, Phnongs, etc.;
- immoderate acquisition of diamonds and jewels;
- finally, and to crown everything, a harem, made up of 400 women, which becomes
larger each year through the recruitment of young girls in Siam through the intermediary
of an Indian, Ibrahim, who is (also) an English subject.
It may be asked whether when Governor Thomson succeeded Le Myre de Vilers he read
beyond this catalogue of failings to the qualification to the denunciation. It would
be unwise, Le Myre de Vilers added, to strip all power from Norodom. If the king
believed that the honor of his position was truly threatened, he might very well
withdraw into the interior of the country. The population would rally to him, for
"the Cambodian is profoundly attached to the monarchic form."
Le Myre de Vilers saw a better way to attack the problem, and his recommendation
points to one of the significant accompaniments of the first twenty years of French
rule in Cambodia. It was in France's interest, he noted, to give even greater encouragement
to the immigration of Vietnamese into Cambodia.
The continual seepage of Vietnamese into the regions about Ha-Tien and Chau-Doc had
transformed those areas into Vietnamese territory. The same could happen throughout
No precise figures exist for the Vietnamese immigration into Cambodia that took place
in the nineteenth century, following the establishment of the protectorate. There
had been earlier settlements during the grim days of the thirties and forties, when
a Vietnamese general ruled in Phnom Penh, and certain commercial endeavors had already
become Vietnamese monopolies before the French arrival. The biggest fishing enterprises
on the Great Lake, for instance, were in Vietnamese hands.
The Catholic missionaries noted the spread of Vietnamese settlement along the Mekong
as far north as Chhlong. Nothing would be simpler, Le Myre de Vilers argued, than
to profit from this immigration into Cambodia. Indeed, it was in France's fundamental
interest to do so. He believed that within fifty years the Vietnamese would constitute
the most important element of Cambodia's population. When that had been achieved,
Cambodia, and the Cambodians, would no longer present a problem:
Faced with the resistance of Norodom and his court to the French, Le Myre de Vilers,
whose whole career in Indochina showed action and vigor, chose not to attempt early
change. He did negotiate some conventions with Norodom, such as the guarantee that
Frenchmen involved in legal disputes with Cambodians would have a hearing before
a mixed Franco-Cambodian tribunal, but his interference in internal affairs did not
go as far as enforcing the 1877 agreements.
He displayed no great concern to institute educational reforms. There was a small
French-directed school in Phnom Penh by the early eighties, but it catered chiefly
for Chinese and Vietnamese children. As its director observed, there was such a marked
antipathy between Cambodians and the children of other nationalities that very few
Although his allusion to the threat of a national revolt if Norodom was removed was
a brief one, Le Myre de Vilers apparently considered this sufficiently likely for
him to hold his hand. French power in Cambodia was enough to meet local challenges
to Norodom's authority, and in moments of stress it could be used to coerce the king
into accepting French advice. But it was still not sufficient in the early 1880's,
at least in Le Myre de Vilers' judgment, for France to risk the dangers of a full-scale
revolt. Moreover, from 1880 onwards, France was increasingly engaged in efforts to
assert its position in Tonkin. This aroused domestic political controversy and strained
the resources of the colonial civil service. So long as the outcome of events in
the north of Viet-Nam was uncertain, it must have appeared inadvisable to take risks
in Phnom Penh.
Yet it would be wrong to underestimate the effect of Cambodian resistance to change
in forcing Le Myre de Vilers to postpone action. The kingdom was a pale shadow of
its glorious past, and the ruler at times seemed little more powerful than the governors
of his most important provinces but he was the king.
Attended by more than three hundred pages, his word was law within the palace and
for the Cambodian population of Phnom Penh. When a horseman came to the palace wall,
he dismounted and walked until he had passed the royal sanctuary, making obeisance
to the physical symbols of royalty. The importance of royalty was such that only
a member of the royal family or a person who claimed to be could mount an effective
rebellion against the king. The weakness of the king and the generally disordered
state of the kingdom had led to a more than usual number of these challenges in the
first twenty years of Norodom's reign.
French involvement in Cambodia had begun reluctantly and been directed initially
to strategic and commercial interests. Once established, however, the protectorate
slowly encompassed a greater sphere of activity as the French sought to impose their
will on Norodom.
Recognizing the existing tensions within the royal family, the French turned these
to their own advantage. Stubborn resistance and intrigue were the only weapons left
to Norodom. Faced with dire French threats, he would feign agreement. This he did
in 1877, turning to Spain with the hope of countering the pressure of French officials.
He resented his position deeply. The exalted state of Asian kingship had eluded him
for nearly four years at the start of his reign while he waited for conditions to
permit a coronation.
When he was crowned, he was ecstatic. He protested that the reforms urged upon him
would undermine his traditional rights. The West's new technology intrigued him,
but he had no time for new standards of behavior. He was intelligent, but he did
not perceive that his obstinacy could one day lead to a total disregard for his feelings
In contrast, Sisowath sensed the power and resources of the European newcomers and
placed his fate in their hands. When the major clash between Norodom and the French
came, it revealed miscalculation on both sides. The restraints on Norodom's power
had not eliminated his capacity to rally support. But this was not understood by
a governor of Cochinchina who placed the implementation of a rational administration
above all else. In resisting to the point where he risked deposition, and later giving
his approval, at the very least tacitly, to the anti-French rising in 1885, Norodom
revealed a faith in the capacity of traditional institutions to reverse events. His
judgment was partially vindicated in the years immediately after the rising took
place, but that vindication only lent bitter urgency to the later efforts of French
officials to assert their will in the tragic closing years of the king's life.
© Milton E. Osborne
The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia.