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03 SEA NewEra.indd 45 6/4/10 3:30:15 PM 03 SEA NewEra.indd 46 6/4/10 3:30:15 PM 47 Sorpong Peou INTRODUCTION Bordering Thailand in the west, Laos in the north, and Vietnam in the east, Cambodia became a member of ASEAN in 1999. The country has a total population of 14,241,640 (2008 estimate) and a land area of 181,035 square kilometres. As one of the few kingdoms left in the world, it has a long history and rich cultural traditions, but still faces numerous challenges on the socioeconomic and political fronts. Early in the 1990s, it institutionalized economic and political reforms by moving away from socialism and in the direction of capitalism and liberal democracy, i.e., a political regime based on a competitive multi-party electoral system. Cambodia remains one of ASEAN’s poorest members. In recent history, it has made remarkable progress as a weak illiberal democracy and has contributed to regional peace and stability. However, it still has a long way to go before it can reach its potential as a stable democracy and a significant member of the envisioned ASEAN community defined in security, economic, and socio-cultural terms. A NATION WITH A LONG HISTORY Cambodia was an ancient kingdom that reached its height during the Angkor era (802–1431). Prior to this period, it had not emerged as a united kingdom but remained a collection of small states or principalities that traded among themselves, but also invaded one another for spoils, such as slaves. The Chinese referred to Cambodia as Funan. This lasted until the sixth century, but Funan gave way to a new powerful but not centralized state known as Chenla. 3 Cambodia 03 SEA NewEra.indd 47 6/4/10 3:30:16 PM Reproduced from Southeast Asia in a New Era: Ten Countries, One Region in ASEAN edited by Rodolfo C. Severino, Elspeth Thomson and Mark Hong (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at SOUTHEAST ASIA IN A NEW ERA: Ten Countries, One Region in ASEAN 48 In the tenth century, Cambodia finally emerged as a unified kingdom under a new name — “Kambuja” — the term first popularized abroad by the Portuguese. ANGKOR The state of Angkor, which later adopted the name Kambuja, emerged in the early ninth century, when it became renowned under King Jayavarman II (r.802–850), who started to build a unified kingdom. He and his twelve Angkorean successors built numerous temple-mountains. King Suryavarman II (r.1113–c.1150) built the most famous of these, known today as Angkor Wat. He ruled over a unified kingdom and was the first Angkorean king to establish diplomatic relations with China. Angkor’s glory did not last, however. The empire failed to build effective institutions, including an army. Zhou Daguan observed, “The soldiers … go naked and barefoot. In their right hand they carry a lance, and in their left hand a shield. They have nothing that could be called bows and arrows, trebuchets, body armor, helmets, or the like … when the Siamese attacked, all the ordinary people were ordered out to do battle, often with no good strategy Zhou Daguanʼs Record of Cambodia During his visit to Cambodia from 1296 to 1297, a young Chinese envoy by the name of Zhou Daguan (1270–1350) wrote a detailed account of Angkorʼs everyday life. He found a mighty ecclesiastic capital called Angkor Thom in the centre of Bayon, a great gold tower, and Bapuon, an even taller bronze tower. According to one translation, “In the centre of the kingdom is a gold tower [Bayon]. … To the east of it is a golden bridge flanked by two gold lions, one on the left and one on the right. Eight gold Buddhas are laid out in a row at the lowest level of stone chambers. About a li north of the gold tower there is a bronze tower [Bapuon]. It is even taller than the gold tower, and an exquisite site. At the foot there are, again, several dozen stone chambers.” Observing one marvel after another during his stay in the kingdom, Zhou put down these words in his record: “I suppose all this explains why from the...


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