Queen Ang Mey and Vietnamization in Cambodia

Queen Ang Mey and Vietnamization in Cambodia




By ខែ្មរវឌ្ឍនកម្ម

Queen Ang Mey

Khmer history during Oudong Era (1620-1863) --from a reign of King Chey Chettha II to King Norodom-- is known as a dark age when her two rival neighbors--Thailand and Vietnam--had wrestled to control Cambodia.  As Vietnam gained upper hand over Thailand on the three wars, Vietnamization program was imposed by Vietnamese Emperor during Queen Ang Mey's reign (r.1834-1841).  Although  Khmer kings during this period were groomed and brought to the throne by Thailand, frequent dispute over succession of the throne had brought outside power interventions, and  those interventions also created occupations over Cambodia.

The Vietnamese victory over three wars with Thailand on Cambodian territory (1811-1812, 1831-34, and 1841-45) had maintained Vietnam influence and occupation over Cambodia nearly a half a century, from 1806 to 1848.  When King Ang Chan II (r. 1806-1834) died in 1834, there was no heir apparent to the throne, for he had no son but four daughters.  Though his brothers Ang Duong and Ang Im immediately laid claim to the throne, the Vietnamese emperor did not approve.  Also, Ang Chan's eldest daughter Princess Baen was passed over due to her being sympathetic to Thai and her refusal to marry Emperor Gia Long's son.  Finally, Princess Ang Mey was an alternative to her sister, Princess Baen.

In May 1835, Princess Ang Mey was crowned by Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang; she faced north toward the emperor's letter authorizing her to reign.  The ceremony bore no resemblance to traditional Khmer coronation.  Then, the emperor provided Queen Mey at least 100 body guards ostensibly to protect her safety.  In fact, the body guards were assigned to ensure that she stayed faithful to the emperor and did not defect.  On the other hand, a Thai source claimed that the Vietnamese had also tried to persuade Queen Mey to marry the son of emperor Gia Long, but they dropped that proposal when they had learned strong objection from many Khmer noblemen.

Although Vietnam failed to cement its rule through political marriage as it had done with King Chey Chettha II, Vietnamization was enforced in full-scale.  According to Khmer and Thai sources, the Vietnamization program affected all aspects of Khmer life.  All Khmer women were ordered to wear pyjamas instead of sampots or sarongs, and they had to grow their hair long in Vietnamese style. All market were allowed to sell only Vietnamese food, and Khmer traditional dances had assimilated elements of Vietnamese tradition while government officials had to don Vietnamese ceremonial garbs or fashions.  Khmer Wats were destroyed; srok names and Choavay srok were replaced with Vietnamese names and officials.  For instance, Phnom Penh was renamed to "Tran Tay" or the Western Commandery--a district or city ruled by the commander, and during that time General Truong Minh Giang was a commander of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia and a governor of Phnom Penh.

According to Professor David Chandler, Emperor Minh Mang sent convicts and prisoners--if kept in jail, would prove useless--to live among Khmer and to teach them lessons. In Minh Mang's words, "The barbaric Khmer have become my children now, and you [Gen. Truong Giang] should teach them our customs, language... teach them to use oxen, to grow more rice, to raise pigs, chicken, ducks... if there is any out-dated custom, repress it."  Such an unfeasible Vietnamization had drawn fierce resistances from all levels of Khmer people in the country.  Many Khmer Okhna and their followers revolt against Vietnamese authorities. The rebellions had made Emperor Minh Mang suspicious about Queen Ang Mey loyalty, and he demoted the Queen and her sisters.  In 1841, they were arrested and sent to Hue.  Princess Ang Baen who was suspected of collaboration with the Thai was tortured and thrown into Mekong River, and many other royal family members were imprisoned.

As battles between the Thai and Vietnamese troops around Oudong was in a stalemate, negotiation between the Thai and Vietnamese had reached a compromise, allowing both King Ang Duong backed by Thai and his niece, Queen Ang Mei backed by the Vietnamese to rule the country together as the co-sovereigns.  Then King Ang Duong officially succeeded his niece in 1848, but he had to balance of the two patrons by paying tributes to both courts--Bangkok and Hue regularly. Eventually, Cambodia became a joint vassalage of Thai and Vietnamese courts; such a condition had forced King Ang Duong secretly to search for help from European powers.

 Ironically, Khmer history always repeated itself; Emperor Minh Mang stripped off Queen Mey title and imprisoned her at Hue in 1841. Then he rearranged her to be the co-rulers with her uncle King Ang Duong backed by Thai in 1844.  And look at this interesting parallel story!  In 1981, Pen Sovann was sacked by the Vietnamese and imprisoned in Hanoi, and in 1993 Vietnam arranged Hun Sen to be the co-prime minister with Prince Ranaridh before Ranaridh was toppled, and Vietnam solely has controlled Cambodia through its arranged leader, Hun Sen until today.  This time was not under the Nguyen Lord dynasty but the Communist Ho Chi Minh dynasty, the most dangerous one. 

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