Monarchical Manipulation in Cambodia

France, Japan, and the Sihanouk Crusade for Independence

Geoffrey C. Gunn

  • Published: 2018
  • Pages: 448 pp.
  • illustrations
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 141
ISBN Hardback: 978-87-7694-237-3, £65 (June 2018)
ISBN Paperback: 978-87-7694-238-0, £25 ()

About the book

• First book to explain the agency of Cambodian monarchs in the face of broader colonial manipulation and international power plays. • Explores the historic interplay of charismatic power and political patronage in Cambodia. • Focuses on the tumultuous wartime and early post-war events surrounding Sihanouk’s ‘crusade’ for Cambodia’s independence.

One figure strides across modern Cambodian history – Norodom Sihanouk. From his accession to the throne of Cambodia in 1941 until his extravagant funeral ceremony in 2013, the prince turned ‘king father’ in later life never dodged controversy. But this is not a biography of Sihanouk; the focus is upon the final decades of the French protectorate, the rise of a counter-elite and winning of Cambodia's independence.
     Manipulation of the 1,000-year-old monarchy comes to the heart of this book, as does indigenous resistance, Buddhist activism, French cultural creationism, the rise of radical republicanism, Thai recidivism and wartime Japanese machinations. Carried through into the postwar period, the seeds of Cambodia's own destruction were being sown in the jungle perimeters, rubber plantations, schools and monkhood, and even in the classrooms of prestigious French institutions.
     Deeply embedded Khmer cultural conventions and the interplay of charismatic power and patronage are not irrelevant to this discussion, indeed inform us as to the future and even present-day patterns of political behaviour. The skill of the young Sihanouk in navigating between Vichy France, Japanese militarists, republican opportunists, armed rural insurgency and French proconsuls is brought to life by a range of new archival documentation. A book is also a work of premonition as much inquiry, exploring how did a country of such grace and natural bounty come to be associated with the worst excesses of mass murder and genocide experienced in the twentieth century. The long political prelude as exposed in this book makes the now clichéd ‘tragedy of Cambodian history’ much more comprehensible.

About the author

author image not supplied

Geoffrey Gunn is an emeritus professor at Nagasaki University. He is a widely written scholar in Asian history, most notably on the independence struggles in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. His works on Southeast Asia include Political Struggles in Laos, 1930–1954, Rebellion in Laos, and Rice Wars in Colonial Vietnam.

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by Matthew Jagel
From journal: Pacific Historical Review (2019) 88 (3)

“…Gunn has made an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the French and Japanese periods of Cambodian history in his latest book.”

by Julio A Jeldres
From journal: French History, Volume 34, Issue 1, March 2020, Pages 122–123
“Monarchical Manipulation in Cambodia: France, Japan and the Sihanouk Crusade for Independence is a wide-ranging history of the French Protectorate of Cambodia (1863–1954) and the shorter Japanese occupation (1941–45), as well as what Gunn suggests was the manipulation of the Cambodian monarchy by both the French and Japanese. (…) This study is based on largely unexploited archival sources in Australia, Cambodia, France and Japan, showing the author’s great skills in finding historical documentation in Archives, which have only recently been open for research.”