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The Cultivation of a Nation, 18601945

Penny Edwards

Publication Year: 2007

This strikingly original study of Cambodian nationalism brings to life eight turbulent decades of cultural change and sheds new light on the colonial ancestry of Pol Pot’s murderous dystopia. Penny Edwards recreates the intellectual milieux and cultural traffic linking Europe and empire, interweaving analysis of key movements and ideas in the French Protectorate of Cambodge with contemporary developments in the Métropole. From the naturalist Henri Mouhot’s expedition to Angkor in 1860 to the nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh’s short-lived premiership in 1945, this history of ideas tracks the talented Cambodian and French men and women who shaped the contours of the modern Khmer nation. Their visions and ambitions played out within a shifting landscape of Angkorean temples, Parisian museums, Khmer printing presses, world’s fairs, Buddhist monasteries, and Cambodian youth hostels. This is cross-cultural history at its best. With its fresh take on the dynamics of colonialism and nationalism, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation will become essential reading for scholars of history, politics, and society in Southeast Asia. Edwards’ nuanced analysis of Buddhism and her consideration of Angkor’s emergence as a national monument will be of particular interest to students of Asian and European religion, museology, heritage studies, and art history. As a highly readable guide to Cambodia’s recent past, it will also appeal to specialists in modern French history, cultural studies, and colonialism, as well as readers with a general interest in Cambodia.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

Historians are ventriloquists, giving voice to plural pasts. We’re also soliloquists. Throughout this project, my inspirational and irresistible husband, Peter Bartu, and our radiant children, Benjamin, Maxine, and Lorenza, have all pulled me incessantly out of the past with their zest for the present, bringing light and fresh insights ...

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Introduction: Originations

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pp. 1-18

In 1952, two years before Cambodia gained independence from French rule, a letter comparing democracy and diamonds appeared in the Khmer-language press, under the nom de plume “The Original Khmer” (Kmae daem).1 The writer would assume other names, but his self-identification as a Kmae daem was not so easily shrugged off. ...

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1. The Temple Complex: Angkor and the Archaeology of Colonial Fantasy, 1860-1906

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pp. 19-39

In 1860, a team of Chinese coolies and Siamese guides escorted a young French naturalist named Henri Mouhot through the dense jungle undergrowth surrounding the former seat of the Khmer Empire at Siem Reap, named after the decisive battle that had seen its annexation by Siam in the fifteenth century. ...

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2. Urban Legend: Capitalizing on Angkor

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pp. 40-63

On moving from Phnom Penh to the Métropole in the 1910s, a teenager of royal descent named Atman (Khmer for “soul”) wrestles a fit of depression encapsulating many of the contradictions inherent in colonial and postcolonial visions of the Cambodian nation. As she travels through the streets, eyeing major monuments, ...

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3. Les Fid

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pp. 64-94

Crossing the rural landscape for the first time, Son Diep is filled with a certain melancholy. Later, his heart lifts. The dancing girls, exotic angels descended from paradise, fill his dreams. Heavenly creatures on the stage, they are no less “superb” on the streets. He finds their faces magnificent, their bodies like the kinnari, the feather-bodied, ...

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4. Colonialism and Its Demerits: Bringing Buddhism to Book, 1863-1922

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pp. 95-124

The identification and authentication of a national religion, or sasana-jiet, for Cambodge was a complex process. Khmer monks, sponsors of reform within the Khmer court, French-educated notables, and French scholars and museologists collectively mapped the contours of a particular type of Buddhism as the national religion ...

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5. Violent Lives: Disengaging Angkor, 1907-1916

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pp. 125-143

Penned by the distinguished poet Oknya Suttantaprija In (1859–1924) in his verse Journey to Angkor Vat (Nirieh Nokor Vat), commemorating King Sisowath’s visit to Angkor in 1909, the above description of French conservation is serene and orderly.1 We see the newly appointed curator to Angkor, Jean Commaille, portrayed as poetry in motion, ...

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6. Copy Rites: Angkor and the Art of Authenticity

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pp. 144-165

What is a nation?” asked a Khmer contributor to the scouting magazine Servir, writing under the pseudonym Yuvan Boraan (Ancient Youth) in 1942. “A nation is all things that are Khmer, . . . the territory on which Khmers live, . . . the conservation of our handicrafts, ancient customs,” and the sites holding the bones of the ancient ancestors ...

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7. Secularizing the Sangha, 1900–1935

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pp. 166-182

Outside the rarefied domain of Buddhist studies, colonial perceptions of the sangha were colored by a deeper ambivalence than that shaping the scholarly mistrust of erratic scribes and inaccurate scriptures. In the 1860s, the entrepreneur L. Faucheur felt nothing short of repulsion for Cambodge’s ubiquitous monks ...

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8. Holy Trinity: Chuon Nath, Huot Tath, and Suzanne Karpeles

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pp. 183-209

It is the first time Cambodian monks have gathered in Paris in such numbers. They are seated in the inner hall of a temple, where barefoot men and women also sit, dwarfed by a statue of Buddha in beatific pose. Their heads are bowed and palms joined in a samp’ea, a gesture of respect that European onlookers will readily translate as prayer. ...

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9. Traffic: Setting Khmerism in Motion, 1935-1945

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pp. 210-241

“An aging mind, a used soul can find refuge in religion. . . . But a mind, a soul of tender years is anchored in passion.” Or so was “the opinion of the students of the Lycée Sisowath, in the years leading up to the Second World War.” “All these youngsters thought, perhaps wrongly and not quite fairly, ...

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10. Past Colonial?

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pp. 242-256

On 9 November 1953, France granted full independence to Cambodge, an act marked by the closure of colonial departments and functions operating in Cambodge and the withdrawal of colonial military troops. While this political and military withdrawal was relatively straightforward, cultural disengagement was far more complex. ...


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pp. 257-316


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pp. 317-324


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pp. 325-340


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pp. 341-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861759
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829230

Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cambodia -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Cambodia -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Nationalism -- Cambodia -- History.
  • Cambodia -- History -- 1863-1953.
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