Between The Elephant And Dragon Part 3: Indochina

This is Part Three in the series exploring the history between Cambodia and neighbors to the east and west.

French Cambodia (1886-75)

Cambodia, now under French protection, was soon discovered to be of little value to the Empire colonial français once the Mekong expedition of 1866–1868, under the leadership of captain Ernest Doudard de Lagrée, reported back that the river was unnavigable. Upstream of Kratie were the Sambor rapids, the Prépatang and the Khone Falls in southern Laos, where at the Si Phan Don Islands (known now as Don Det and the 4000 Islands) the river split into numerous channels with formidable rapids and waterfalls.

King Norodom was mostly left to his own devices for the first two decades of the protectorate, which, according to French commentators, consisted of his fondness for opium, women, dirty jokes and gaudy fashion sense. Notre roitelet ‘our little king’, as he was referred to by the Europeans, had less interest in ruling his country, exasperating French officials who said of him “‘Without aim and purpose, he pushes ahead but does not wonder where he is going; undecided about everything, of a marvelous duplicity, caprice serves as his only guide”.

The French also recorded how indigenous tribes were being enslaved in the northeast, state officials went unpaid and resorted to plundering from the peasantry, Norodom’s funding of his expensive tastes drawn directly from the state revenue, and his harem of over 400 women. This was at total odds to the mission civilisatrice that was core to the newly established Third Republic in Paris.

French occupation of Trat, 1904

The Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 had seen the end of Napoleon III’s Second Republic, but following the Treaty of Frankfurt, a new scramble for colonies across the globe began in earnest.

Follow the story at

Between The Elephant And Dragon Part 2

Back to top button