French Protectorate of Cambodia (History Summary)

Cambodia The French Colonial Period, 1887-1953

In October of 1887, the French announced the Union Indochinoise, often known as the Indochina Union. This union included Cambodia in addition to the three core areas of Vietnam known as Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina. After gaining its independence from Thai suzerainty in 1893, Laos became a member of the Indochina Union. A resident general, also known as a résident supérieur, was Cambodia’s top colonial official. This position was accountable to the governor general of the Union and was filled by the French Ministry of Marine and Colonies in Paris. Residents, sometimes known as local governors, were placed in charge of each of the major provincial cities. In 1897, the current resident general protested to Paris that Norodom was no longer capable of reigning, and as a result, he was granted permission to take the king’s power to issue decrees, collect taxes, and appoint royal officials. As king of state and as patron of the Buddhist faith, Norodom and his successors were only given empty, figurehead positions to fulfil. The colonial administration had a fast expansion. Even in the bottom rungs of the bureaucracy, Cambodians had little chances because the colonial authorities chose to recruit Vietnamese instead of Cambodians. Obviously, French nationals occupied the top posts in the bureaucracy.

After Norodom’s death in 1904, the French chose Sisowath, Norodom’s older brother, to succeed him as King of Cambodia (1904–1927). Because Norodom was seen as partly responsible for the uprisings of the 1880s and because Norodom’s favourite son, Prince Yukanthor, had stirred up publicity abroad about French colonial injustices, the branch of the royal family that belonged to Sisowath was viewed as being more cooperative than the branch that belonged to Norodom. This was due to the fact that Sisowath was the monarch during the 1880s and that Norodom had been in power during During their relatively tranquil reigns, Sisowath and his son Monivong (1927-41) were compliant tools of French power. This was especially true during Sisowath’s reign. It was a sign of the kings’ rank that the French were ready to provide them free rations of opium on a yearly basis. This was done as a gift. One of the few bright spots during Sisowath’s reign was the French government’s achievement in persuading King Chulalongkorn of Thailand to sign a new treaty that returned the provinces of Batdambang and Siemreab to Cambodia in 1907.

The French Protectorate

In the nineteenth century, France’s interest in Indochina came out of its competition with Britain, which had barred France from entering India and had virtually blocked France’s access to other portions of the mainland of Southeast Asia. In addition to this, the French wanted to establish trade in an area that held the promise of so much undiscovered wealth, and they also wanted to put an end to the persecution of Catholic converts by the Vietnamese state, as the welfare of these individuals was an official objective of French foreign policy. The Nguyen dynasty’s repeated refusal to establish diplomatic relations, as well as the violently anti-Christian policies of the emperors Minh Mang (1820-41), Thieu Tri (1841-47), and Tu Duc (1848-83) compelled the French to engage in gunboat diplomacy, which led to the establishment of French dominion over Saigon and over the three eastern provinces of the Cochinchina (Mekong Delta) region in 1862.

Cambodia was seen as an interesting frontier country by the French authorities in Paris. After being persuaded by a missionary envoy to seek French assistance against both the Thai and the Vietnamese, King Ang Duong requested a French diplomatic mission to visit his court. King Ang Duong’s palace was under attack by both nations. However, the Thai put a lot of pressure on him to say no to meeting with the French when they eventually arrived in Odongk in the year 1856. The well-known travels of the naturalist Henri Mouhot, who, between the years 1859 and 1861, travelled to the Cambodian court, rediscovered the ruins at Angkor, and journeyed up the Mekong River to the Laotian kingdom of Luang Prabang, sparked French interest in the purportedly vast riches of the kingdom as well as the value of the Mekong as a gateway to China’s southwestern provinces. Mouhot’s adventures A peace contract was signed between the French and Norodom, who succeeded Ang Duong, in August of 1863. (1859-1904). As part of this deal, the Cambodian monarch received French protection in the form of a French official known as a résident, which literally translates to “resident,” in return for granting the French the rights to explore and utilise the mineral and forest resources of the Cambodian kingdom. The crowning of Norodom in 1864 was a contentious event since it was presided over by both French and Thai delegates. Despite the Thai people’s best efforts, the French continued to grow their sphere of influence, while the Thai’s own sway over the monarchy shrank with time. The French and the Thai came to an agreement in 1867 that resulted in the Thai relinquishing all claims to suzerainty over other areas of Cambodia in return for control over Batdambang Province and Siemreab Province, both of which were given to the Thai by the French. He was indebted to the French for their assistance in quelling an insurrection led by a pretender to the throne, despite the fact that the loss of the provinces in the northern part of the country greatly distressed him.

In June of 1884, the French governor of Cochinchina travelled to Phnom Penh, Norodom’s capital city, and demanded approval of a treaty with Paris. This treaty promised significant changes, such as the abolition of slavery, the institution of private land ownership, and the establishment of French résidents in provincial cities. Norodom refused to sign the treaty, and the French governor returned to Cochinchina. The monarch grudgingly accepted the deal because he was concerned about a French warship that was moored in the river. Local elites, on the other hand, were opposed to its provisions, particularly the one that dealt with slavery; as a result, they stoked unrest throughout the nation during the next year. Despite the fact that the rebellions were put down and the treaty was approved, the Cambodian people’s lack of active opposition delayed the execution of the changes that were outlined in the treaty until after Norodom had passed away.

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