Trudy Jacobsen's article (PPPost, March 10, 2006) generally distorts the historical
I disagree with her assertion that "explanations of Cambodian ill-will toward
the Vietnamese are vague and unsatisfactory." The "ill-will" is, in
fact, well documented even back in the 17th century.
First of all, according to a Khmer chronicle, the Collection of the Council of Kingdom
(1951) and Vietnamese sources, King Suryapeur (1603-1618) did not marry his son (King
Jaya Cheastha II 1613-1628) to a Vietnamese lady Chov, or Ngoc Van, a daughter of
Lord/Viceroy Nguyen Phuc (or Vuong Sai, 1613-1635) before he died, as Jacobsen claims.
King Suryapeur died in 1619 and Cheastha II married Chov in 1620 for the reasons
of mutual defense and trade interests (Vuong Sai needed him because of Champa's threat
in the south and Emperor Le's threat to the North. Cheastha II needed Vuong Sai because
of the constant threat from Siam).
Contrary to the general misunderstanding being also compounded by Jacobsen, Cheastha
II was not "young and inexperienced." Like his successor son, he was a
nationalist, a scholar and was 42 years of age by the time he married Chov. He already
had had four wives, having been married since the age of 26. Chov was his last wife,
after a Laotian wife, Bous.
In 1623, Cheastha II gave permission for five years only to let the Vietnamese build
commercial centers in "Prey Nokor" and Kampong Krabey and to collect tax
from Vietnamese-Chinese traders in addition to building military training camps to
prepare for wars with Champa and Emperor Le of then Dai Viet (now Vietnam).
He did not give permission to allow Vietnamese to settle in Cambodia. Additionally,
the 1623 permission might not have been as a result of an invasion, but it was smart
coercion by the Vietnamese at a time when the King/Cambodia was engaging in wars
defending against Siamese aggressions on two fronts: Siamese naval attacks in the
south by the sea on Banteay Meas (Ha Tien) and on land from the west. A Vietnamese
envoy showed up at the Royal Palace at Udong presenting a letter from Lord Vuong
Sai seeking the above permission. Fearing what might come if he rejected it, the
Five years later, the year he was supposed to get the land back, the King died. In
1638, his successor, King Angtong Rajathirajthipadey (1635-1639), asked for the return
of the territories, but he was asked to delay for a while.
When King Ramathipadey (Ang Chant) in 1641 demanded the return of the land, the former
Queen of Cheastha II intervened again seeking a delay. Perhaps to divert the King's
attention, in 1658 the Queen openly supported the pretenders (young princes Angton
and Utey) to the throne. To the Queen's disbelief, after their victory, Angton and
Utey attacked the Vietnamese and demanded the return of the land.
Wars and rebellion broke out again in 1699, 1731, 1739 and up until the French arrived
in 19th century. Sensing the French were about to invade Vietnam, King Ang Duong
dispatched a letter dated November 25, 1856, to Napoleon III warning him that the
territories from Dong Nai down to the islands of Koh Tralach (Con Dao) and Koh Trol
(Phu Quoc) belong to Cambodia. "If by chance", the King stated, "Anam
[Vietnam] would offer any of these lands to Your Majesty, I beg Him not to accept
them for they belong to Cambodia." In 1859, the King sent troops to retake the
lands. The King died in 1860 and his mission failed.
Prey Nokor's proper name was Preah Reach Nokor which, according to a Khmer Chronicle
means a "Royal City"; later became locally "Preykor" meaning
"kapok forest" (from which "Saigon" was derived). It was not
a "Wild City" or sparsely populated as Jacobsen claims. Jacobsen ignores
the fact that there were two other Khmer provinces, Kampong Srakartrei (Dong Nai)
and Baria, to the north bordering Champa state. A part of the pre-Angkor capital
Vyadhpura, it was a main Khmer seaport city, a center of trade for many years.
The Vinh Te canal event occurred during the reign of King Angt Chan (1797-1835),
and was one of the most horrific examples of the Vietnamese treatment of the Khmer.
I am appalled that Jacobsen trivializes the magnitude of the suffering. It was not
just "two Vietnamese overseers" who picked out three Khmer "from the
Cambodian contingents" and used their heads to cook the Yuon masters' tea. In
fact, it was a national humiliation.
The K5 Plan (1979-1990) is not a valid comparison. The Vinh Te Canal Plan (which
lasted four years) saw 10,000 people perish in awful circumstances, according to
a British Envoy John Crawfurd's report (1830).
In 1820, the King, being an absolute hostage of the Vietnamese army, managed to engineer
a rebellion led by the Venerable Kae Kong and two of the King's top officials. The
rebellion failed. To avoid death, Ang Chant was forced to cede three districts of
Chau Doc province to Vietnam. While in Kampuchea Krom Father Le Fevre noted the suppression:
about 3 million were "subjected Cambodians" (1847).
Like the appellation of "Kling" for the Indians and "Seam" for
the Thai, "Yuon" has been traditionally used by Khmer to mean "Vietnamese"
for the past 2000 years. During this time "Vietnam" changed its name constantly.
The term "Yuon" appears in Khmer traditional songs, poems, laws, historical
Before its invasion, in 1978, in its campaign to demonize the KR, Vietnam politicized
the terms "Yuon" and "Anam" as being pejorative. Pre-war Vietnamese
settlers in Cambodia knew the term was not pejorative, but the new Vietnamese settlers
who came to Cambodia in 1979 got caught up in this political nonsense. With Vietnam's
foreign cronies' assistance, the Khmer are now trashed for using a traditional term
that was made negative by the Vietnamese themselves. Further, "Yuon," which
appears in Khmer ancient inscriptions (inscription K105 of King Suryavarman I) refers
to what is recently known as "Vietnamese" and certainly not "Javanese"
as Jacobsen claims: (Post 10/2/06). The term "Javanese" is Anglicized.
The Khmer have always used the term, "Chvea," or Java. "Chvea"
appears in three Angkorian inscriptions mentioning Jayavarman II from Java.
Jacobsen is also wrong to say past Khmer kings supported by Vietnamese "are
loathed," but kings placed on the throne by Thais are "lauded". The
truth is Cheastha II's father King Suryapeur was forced to abdicate because people
thought he was too influenced by the Siamese (for instance, wearing Siamese royal
costumes). King Suryapeur's predecessor was ousted because his mother was Laotian.
Bora Touch - Sydney
Truong Mealy - former Cambodian Ambassador to Japan