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(kămbō`dēə), Khmer Kampuchea, officially Kingdom of Cambodia, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 13,607,000), 69,898 sq mi (181,035 sq km), SE Asia. Cambodia is bordered by Thailand on the west and north, by Laos on the north, by Vietnam on the east, and by the Gulf of Thailand on the south. Phnom PenhPhnom Penh
or Phnum Penh
, city (1994 est. pop. 527,000), capital of Cambodia, SW Cambodia, at the confluence of the Mekong and Tônlé Sap rivers. Phnom Penh was founded in the 14th cent. and was made the Khmer capital after the abandonment (1434) of Angkor.
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 is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

The heart of the country is a saucer-shaped, gently rolling alluvial plain drained by the Mekong River and enclosed by mountain ranges; the Dangrek Mts. form the frontier with Thailand in the northwest and the Cardamom Mts. and the Elephant Range are in the southwest. About half the land is tropical forest. In general, Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate, with the wet southwest monsoon occurring between November and April and the dry northeast monsoon the remainder of the year. During the rainy season the Mekong swells and backs into the Tônlé Sap (Great Lake), increasing the size of the lake almost threefold. The seasonal rise of the Mekong floods almost 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) around the lake, leaving rich silt when the waters recede.

One of the few underpopulated countries of Southeast Asia, Cambodia is inhabited by Cambodians (or Khmers), who comprise about 90% of the population. About 5% of the people are Vietnamese and 1% are Chinese; other ethnic groups include the Cham-Malays and the hill tribespeople. Theravada Buddhism is the state religion, but religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. About 95% of the people are Buddhists; the Cham-Malays are Muslims. Khmer is the official language, but French and English are widely used.


Cambodia is one of the world's poorer nations, although its economy has recovered significantly from the effects of the civil war that racked the country during the latter part of the 20th cent. Conditions are ideal for the cultivation of rice, by far the country's chief crop. Livestock raising (cattle, buffalo, poultry, and hogs) and extensive fishing supplement the diet. Corn, vegetables, cashews, tapioca, peanuts, tobacco, cotton, and sugar palms are widely cultivated.

Rice and rubber historically were the principal exports of Cambodia, but exports fell sharply after the onset (1970) of the civil war, which put most of the rubber plantations out of operation. By the 1990s, however, rubber plantings had been undertaken as part of a national recovery program, and rubber and rice were again being exported. The fishing industry also has revived, but some food shortages continue.

Until recently, inadequate transportation hampered exploitation of the country's vast forests, but by the mid-1990s timber had become a major export. Mineral resources are not abundant, but phosphate rock, limestone, semiprecious stones, and salt support important local mining operations. Garment manufacturing for export is now an extremely important economically; many of the country's other industries are based on the the processing of rubber and agricultural, fish, and timber products. Tourism also contributes significantly to the economy.

Cambodia is connected by road systems with Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam; waterways are an important supplement to the roads. The country has two rail lines, one extending from Phnom Penh to the Thai border and the other from Phnom Penh to Kompong Som (Sihanoukville). Clothing, timber, rubber, rice, fish, tobacco, and footwear are the main exports; petroleum products, cigarettes, gold, construction materials, machinery, motor vehicles, and pharmaceuticals are the main imports. The chief trade partners are the United States, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and China.


Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy governed under the constitution of 1993, as amended. The king, who is head of state, is chosen by the Royal Council of the Throne from among the members of the royal family. The government is headed by the premier, who is chosen by the head of the National Assembly and appointed by the king. The bicameral parliament consists of the popularly elected 123-seat National Assembly and the 61-seat Senate. Two members of the Senate are appointed by the monarch, two are elected by the National Assembly, and 57 are indirectly elected. All members of the parliament serve five-year terms. Administratively, Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces and four municipalities.


Early History to Independence

The Funan empire was established in what is now Cambodia in the 1st cent. A.D. By the 3d cent. the Funanese, under the leadership of Fan Shih-man (reigned 205–25), had conquered their neighbors and extended their sway to the lower Mekong River. In the 4th cent., according to Chinese records, an Indian Brahmin extended his rule over Funan, introducing Hindu customs, the Indian legal code, and the alphabet of central India.

In the 6th cent. Khmers from the rival Chen-la state to the north overran Funan. With the rise of the Khmer EmpireKhmer Empire
, ancient kingdom of SE Asia. In the 6th cent. the Cambodians, or Khmers, established an empire roughly corresponding to modern Cambodia and Laos. Divided during the 8th cent., it was reunited under the rule of Jayavarman II in the early 9th cent.
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, Cambodia became dominant in SE Asia. AngkorAngkor
, site of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, north of Tônlé Sap, NW Cambodia, for about five and a half centuries (9th to 15th), the heart of the empire.
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, the capital of the Khmer empire, was one of the world's great architectural achievements. After the fall of the empire (15th cent.), however, Cambodia was the prey of stronger neighbors. To pressure from Siam on the western frontier was added in the 17th cent. pressure from AnnamAnnam
, historic region (c.58,000 sq mi/150,200 sq km) and former state, in central Vietnam, SE Asia. The capital was Hue. The region extended nearly 800 mi (1,290 km) along the South China Sea between Tonkin on the north and Cochin China on the south.
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 on the east; the kings of Siam and the lords of Hue alike asserted overlordship and claims to tribute. In the 18th cent. Cambodia lost three western provinces to Siam and the region of Cochin ChinaCochin China
, Fr. Cochinchine, historic region (c.26,500 sq mi/68,600 sq km) of Vietnam, SE Asia. The capital and chief city was Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Cochin China was bounded by Cambodia on the northwest and north, by the historic region of Annam on the
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 to the Annamese.

Intrigue and wars on Cambodian soil continued into the 19th cent., and in 1854 the king of Cambodia appealed for French intervention. A French protectorate was formally established in 1863, and French influence was consolidated by a treaty in 1884. Cambodia became part of the Union of IndochinaIndochina,
Fr. Indochine, former federation of states, SE Asia. It comprised the French colony of Cochin China and the French protectorates of Tonkin, Annam, Laos, and Cambodia (Cochin China, Tonkin, and Annam were later united to form Vietnam). The capital was Hanoi.
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 in 1887. In 1907 a French-Siamese treaty restored Cambodia's western provinces. In World War II, under Japanese occupation, Cambodia again briefly lost those provinces to Siam.

In Jan., 1946, France granted Cambodia self-government within the French UnionFrench Union,
1946–58, political entity established by the French constitution of 1946. It comprised metropolitan France (the 90 departments of continental France and Corsica); French overseas departments, territories, settlements, and United Nations trusteeships; French
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; a constitution was promulgated in May, 1947. A treaty signed in 1949 raised the country's status to that of an associated state in the French Union, but limitations on the country's sovereignty persisted. King Norodom SihanoukSihanouk, Norodom
, 1922–2012, king of Cambodia (1941–55, 1993–2004), b. Phnom Penh. Sihanouk was educated in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and Paris and was elected king by a royal council in 1941.
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 campaigned for complete independence, which was finally granted in 1953. Early in 1954, Communist Viet MinhViet Minh
, officially Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh [League for the Independence of Vietnam], a coalition of Communist and nationalist groups that opposed the French and the Japanese during World War II.
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 troops from Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The Geneva Conference of 1954 led to an armistice providing for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Cambodia. An agreement between France and Cambodia (Dec., 1954) severed the last vestige of French control over Cambodian policy. Cambodia withdrew from the French Union in 1955 and was admitted into the United Nations later that year.

Cambodia under Sihanouk

King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated in Mar., 1955, in order to enter politics; his father, Norodom Suramarit, succeeded him as monarch. Sihanouk subsequently formed the Popular Socialist party and served as premier. After Suramarit's death in 1960, the monarchy was represented by Sihanouk's mother, Queen Kossamak Nearireak. Sihanouk was installed in the new office of chief of state. Throughout the 1960s, Sihanouk struggled to keep Cambodia neutral as the neighboring countries of Laos and South Vietnam came under increasing Communist attack (see Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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). Sihanouk permitted the use of Cambodian territory as a supply base and refuge by North Vietnamese and Viet CongViet Cong
, officially Viet Nam Cong San [Vietnamese Communists], People's Liberation Armed Forces in South Vietnam. The term was originally applied by Diem's regime to Communist troops (about 10,000) left in hideouts in South Vietnam after the Geneva Conference of 1954,
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 troops while accepting military aid from the United States to strengthen his forces against Communist infiltration.

In 1963, Sihanouk accused the United States of supporting antigovernment activities and renounced all U.S. aid. Following a series of border incidents involving South Vietnamese troops, Cambodia in 1965 severed diplomatic relations with the United States. Sihanouk remained on friendly terms with the Communist countries, especially Communist China, and established close relations with France. Economic conditions deteriorated after the renunciation of U.S. aid, and North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops continued to infiltrate. In the spring of 1969 the United States instituted aerial attacks against Communist strongholds in Cambodia; these bombings, carefully kept secret from the American people, later became an important issue in U.S. politics. As Communist infiltration increased, Sihanouk began to turn more toward the West, and in July, 1969, diplomatic ties with the United States were restored. Relations with South Vietnam and Thailand, after years of border disputes and incidents, began to improve.

In Aug., 1969, Lt. Gen. Lon Nol, the defense minister and supreme commander of the army, became premier, with Sihanouk delegating considerable power to him. Sihanouk began negotiating for the removal of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops, who now numbered over 50,000 and occupied large areas of Cambodia. His actions, however, were not enough to ease the growing concern of many army leaders. Discontent with Sihanouk's rule was further heightened by rising inflation, ruinous financial policies, and governmental corruption and mismanagement. On Mar. 18, 1970, while Sihanouk was in Moscow seeking help against further North Vietnamese incursions, premier Lon NolLon Nol
, 1913–85, Cambodian general and political leader. He became defense minister and army chief of staff in 1955 in Norodom Sihanouk's government. He served as premier (1966–67) under Sihanouk.
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 led a right-wing coup deposing Sihanouk as chief of state. Sihanouk subsequently set up a government-in-exile in Beijing. Soon after the coup, Cambodian troops began engaging Communist forces on Cambodian soil.

Civil War

In Apr., 1970, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops entered Cambodia to attack Communist bases and supply lines. U.S. ground forces were withdrawn by June 30, but South Vietnamese troops remained, occupying heavily populated areas. The actions of the South Vietnamese troops in Cambodia and the resumption of heavy U.S. air bombings in their support, with the inevitable destruction of villages and killing of civilians, alienated many Cambodians and created considerable sympathy for the Communists. The number of Cambodian Communists (known as the Khmer Rouge) increased from about 3,000 in Mar., 1970, to over 30,000 within a few years. Most of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops were able to withdraw, leaving in progress a raging civil war fought by Cambodians but financed by the United States, North Vietnam, and Communist China.

On Oct. 9, 1970, the national assembly declared Cambodia a republic and changed the country's name to the Khmer Republic. By that time, however, the national government controlled less than one third of Cambodia's total land area: Phnom Penh, most of the provincial capitals, and the central plain S of Tônlé Sap. Despite extensive U.S. military aid, the Khmer Rouge retained firm control of the northeast provinces and most of the countryside. Eventually, more and more territory fell into Communist hands, despite intensive U.S. bombing attacks which persisted until the halt imposed by the U.S. Congress in Aug., 1973.

The government's military position became desperate, with government forces concentrating primarily on keeping communications open with an increasingly beleaguered Phnom Penh. In Sept., 1972, severe food shortages in Phnom Penh sparked two days of rioting and large-scale looting, in which government troops participated. Lon Nol, aided by his brother Lon Non, exerted an increasingly oppressive rule, with massive political arrests and newspaper seizures. The Khmer Rouge insurgents launched a large-scale attack against Cambodia's third largest city, Kompong Cham, in Sept., 1973, and shelled Phnom Penh in 1974 and 1975, inflicting heavy casualties.

The Khmer Rouge and After

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol PotPol Pot,
1925–98, Cambodian political leader, originally named Saloth Sar. Paris-educated, and a Khmer Communist leader from 1960, he led Khmer Rouge guerrillas against the government of Lon Nol after 1970.
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, seized control of Phnom Penh and overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge renamed the country the Democratic Kampuchea, and established Pol Pot as the premier. Immediately following the takeover, Phnom Penh was evacuated, and the entire population of the country's urban areas was forced to move to rural areas and work in agriculture. Most of the country's vehicles and machines were destroyed because the new regime was opposed to technology and Western influence. It is estimated that about a million and a half people were executed by the Khmer Rouge over the next four years. Members of the upper, middle, or educated classes, as well as suspected enemies of the Khmer Rouge, were victims of the genocide.

In 1978, after Pol Pot refused offers of negotiation and international supervision, the Vietnamese army invaded and seized Phnom Penh in 1979. Prince Sihanouk, who had been imprisoned in his palace by the Khmer Rouge, again fled to Beijing. The Khmer Rouge was driven into the western countryside, but the Kampuchean People's Republic, led by Pol Pot, was still recognized by the United Nations as the country's legitimate government. Throughout the 1980s various guerrilla factions formed and skirmished with the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge. One such group was a coalition force led by Sihanouk, who was still recognized by many Cambodians as the country's true leader.

In 1987 talks began in Paris to try to settle the civil war, and in 1989, Vietnam announced plans to withdraw its occupying troops from Cambodia. A peace treaty was signed by all of Cambodia's warring factions (including the Khmer Rouge, Hun SenHun Sen
, 1952–, Cambodian political leader, premier of Cambodia (1985–93, 1998–; second premier, 1993–98). A member of the Khmer Rouge from 1970, he fled to Vietnam with Heng Samrin and other Communists in 1977.
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's Vietnamese-supported government, and Prince Sihanouk's faction) on Oct. 23, 1991. As agreed in the treaty, the United Nations assumed (1992) the government's administrative functions and worked toward democratic elections. However, provisions calling for disarmament of all factions were resisted by the Khmer Rouge, who resumed guerrilla warfare. Sihanouk denounced the Khmer Rouge, aligned himself with Premier Hun Sen, and again became head of state.

Cambodia's first-ever democratic elections were held in May, 1993, supervised by a large UN peacekeeping mission. Royalists won the largest bloc of national assembly seats (58 out of 120); Hun Sen's party came in second, and a coalition government with co-premiers—Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen—was formed. The government administration remained populated largely by bureaucrats who had operated under the Hun Sen regime. The Khmer Rouge, who had boycotted the elections, continued armed opposition, retaining control of substantial territory in the N and W parts of the country. A new constitution reestablished the monarchy, and in Sept., 1993, Sihanouk became king. Attempts at mediation with the Khmer Rouge failed, and fighting continued.

In 1996 the Khmer Rouge split into two factions, one of which made an accord with the government. Pol Pot was ousted and imprisoned by the remaining Khmer Rouge in 1997 and died in 1998; the Khmer Rouge subsequently lost most of its remaining power and support. Following fighting in July, 1997, between the factions of Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh, Hun Sen's forces declared victory and Ranariddh fled the country; he was replaced as first premier by Ung Huot. Prince Ranariddh returned to Cambodia in Mar., 1998, and became an opposition candidate in the legislative elections held in July. Hun Sen's party (the Cambodian People's party) was the official winner of the disputed election (with 64 seats out of 122), and he became the sole premier. Prince Ranariddh became the president of the national assembly, but Hun Sen further consolidated his control of the country.

Cambodia joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999. Elections in July, 2003, failed to give Hun Sen's Cambodian People's party (CPP) the two-thirds majority needed to govern without a coalition, but the liberal and royalist opposition parties denounced the results, rejected a two-party coalition, formed the Alliance of Democrats, and insisted that the alliance be the cornerstone of a three-party coalition. The deadlock remained unresolved until June, 2004, when Prince Ranariddh's party agreed to a renewed coalition with the CPP. A 186-member cabinet, the seats in which were reportedly sold for large sums in the expectation that they would yield corrupt profits, was formed.

The king abdicated in Oct., 2004, in favor of his son Norodom SihamoniSihamoni, Norodom,
1953–, king of Cambodia (2004–). A son of King Norodom Sihanouk and his fifth wife, Norodom Sihamoni was trained as a dancer and taught dance (1981–2000) in Paris, choreographed, and directed his own dance company.
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, despite the fact that the constitution made no provision for abdication. In Feb., 2005, the national assembly lifted opposition leader Sam Rainsy's parliamentary immunity, subjecting him to potential defamation lawsuits from the governing coalition, which he had accused of corruption. He fled Cambodia, and was subsequently convicted of defamation. Other members of his party also were tried and convicted in trials that international human-rights groups said were shams, and subsequently independent human-rights activists were arrested.

A political truce in early 2006, due in part to pressure from international aid donors, resulted in a pardon for Sam Rainsy and others and in Rainsy's return to Cambodia. In Mar., 2006, the constitution was amended so that future governments could be formed with the support of a majority of the members of parliamemt instead of two thirds of the members. Evidence of corruption led the World Bank to suspend funding for three Cambodian development projects in mid-2006. In July, 2006, a tribunal staffed by both Cambodian and international judges was formed to try former Khmer Rouge leaders; the event marked the culmination of nearly nine years of negotiations concerning such trials. The first trial began in 2009 and resulted (2010) in the conviction of the former prison chief. Other former leaders were tried beginning in 2011; Khieu Samphan, a largely figurehead former head of state was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2014. In Oct., 2006, Prince Ranariddh was ousted as leader of the royalist party while he was out of the country. He was subsequently convicted (2007) in absentia of fraud in the sale of the party's headquarters; Ranariddh denounced the conviction as politically motivated; he was pardoned by the king in 2008.

Tensions flared between Cambodia and Thailand in July, 2008, over the Preah VihearPreah Vihear
, Thai Phra Viharn , Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, N central Cambodia near the Thai border. Situated on the edge of a plateau overlooking the N Cambodian plain, the temple was begun in the 9th cent. and completed in the 11th cent.
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 (Phra Viharn) temple on their border. Claimed by both nations but awarded to Cambodia in 1962, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Thai government support for that distinction became a Thai domestic political issue, sparking strong nationalism in both nations and creating a crisis between them. The reinforcement of troops along the border near the temple also led to concern over possible fighting, but in August both sides withdrew most of their forces from the area. Tensions increased in September, however, and there was a brief outbreak of fighting the following month; clashes erupted again in Apr., 2009, and recurred in subsequent years. A demilitarized zone was established around the temple in 2012; most of the disputed area was awarded (2013) by the International Court of Justice to Cambodia. Relations with the Thais worsened again in Nov., 2009, when Hun Sen appointed Thaksin ShinawatraThaksin Shinawatra
, 1949–, Thai business executive and political leader, b. Chiang Mai. Born into a wealthy merchant family, he went into the Thai police service in 1973 and continued his criminal-justice education in the United States.
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, Thailand's deposed prime minister, as an adviser.

Cambodian parliamentary elections in July, 2008, resulted in a landslide for Premier Hun Sen, whose party received nearly 60% of the vote. International observers termed the election flawed but the result largely valid; Cambodian opposition parties, however, denounced the result as manipulated but ultimately accepted the outcome. Government corruption remains a significant problem in Cambodia. In Jan. and Sept., 2010, opposition leader Sam Rainsy was convicted in absentia on charges relating to his actions concerning the marking of the Cambodia-Vietnam border; he had questioned the government's marking of the border, saying it encroached on Cambodian territory, and had removed border markers during a political protest. There was a significant and deadly border clash between Thai and Cambodian forces at the Preah Vihear temple in Feb., 2011, and there and at other sites in April. In Dec., 2011, both sides agreed to withdraw their forces from the disputed areas around Preah Vihear. Cambodia experienced significant flooding during the 2011 monsoon season; by October, three quarters of the country's provinces had been affected by floodwaters.

In the July, 2013, elections, Hun Sen's party won a majority of the seats, but the government was accused of fraud by Sam Rainsy and his party. Sam Rainsy, who shortly before the election was pardoned and had returned to the country, led a parliamentary boycott and protests against the results that continued into 2014, when the government also faced strikes by garment workers and others. In Jan., 2014, the government violently crushed protesting strikers and also dispersed and banned opposition protests. In July, 2014, Sam Rainsy reached an agreement with the government that ended the opposition's year-long boycott, but his party again boycotted parliament for several months in late 2015 after thugs attacked two opposition lawmakers.


See M. F. Herz, A Short History of Cambodia (1958); M. Leifer, Cambodia, The Search for Security (1967); M. Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia (1969); D. A. Albin and Marlowe Hood, ed., The Cambodian Agony (1987); K. D. Jackson, ed., Cambodia, 1975–1978 (1989); D. P. Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Power, War and Revolution Since 1945 (1992); C. Riley and D. Niven, ed., The Killing Fields (1997); D. Pran, Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors (1997).



Cambodia is a state in Southeast Asia, on the Indochinese Peninsula. In the west and northwest it is bounded by Thailand, in the north by Laos, in the east and southeast by Vietnam, and in the south and southwest by the Gulf of Siam. Area, 181,000 sq km. Population, 7 million (1970). The capital is Phnom Penh.

Administratively, Cambodia is divided into the provinces (khet) of Batdambang, Kampong Spoe, Kampong Thum, Kam-pong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kampot, Kandal, Kaoh Kong, Kracheh, Mondol Kiri, Otdar Meanchey, Prey Veng, Pouthisat, Preah Vihear, Rotanokiri, Svay Rieng, Siemreab, Sto-eng Treng, and Takev. The cities of Bok Kou, Keb, Kampong Saom, and Phnom Penh form separate administrative units.

A large part of the country is occupied by the low-lying Cambodian Plain, composed chiefly of alluvial and lacustrine deposits. The coast along the Gulf of Siam is about 300 km in length. In western Cambodia are the Kravanh (Cardamomes) Mountains, with a maximum elevation of 1, 813 m (Mount Aoral), which are composed chiefly of sandstone. In the north are the southern spurs of the sandstone Dangrek Mountains, and in the east are found the western spurs of the Annamite Mountains, which are formed predominantly from crystalline rocks.

Cambodia has a subequatorial monsoonal climate, with humid summers and relatively dry winters. The hottest month is April (temperatures 29°-30°C on the plain) and the coolest month is December (25°-26°C). Annual precipitation varies from 700 to 1, 500 mm on the plain to 2, 000 mm in the mountains.

The country has a dense river system. The largest river is the Mekong, part of whose lower course flows through Cambodia. The Mekong’s water level fluctuates sharply with the seasons (12-15 m in the mountains and 7-9 m in the lowlands), with maximum discharge occurring in early autumn. The size of Tonle Sap, a large shallow lake in western Cambodia, also varies greatly.

Forests and thinly wooded areas occupy about three-fourths of Cambodia. In the east are deciduous tropical forests, and the mountains are covered with evergreen forests of valuable wood (sal, teak, and varnish and camphor trees), growing on lateritic soils. In the remainder of the country the prevailing vegetation is savanna with sparsely wooded areas and dense thickets of bamboo and shrubs. Mangrove forests grow on the coast along the Gulf of Siam. A considerable part of the Cambodian Plain has fertile alluvial soils.

The fauna is abundant and varied. There are tigers, panthers, black bears, and elephants in the mountains. Crocodiles arefound in the Mekong and its tributaries, and the numerouswaterfowl include pelicans and flamingos. Lake Tonle Sap is richin fish.


The Khmer, or Cambodians, who number about 6 million (1970, estimate) and constitute 85 percent of the total population, live mainly in the central lowland. In the cities, the Mekong Valley, and the regions around Lake Tonle Sap there are about 200, 000 Vietnamese, about 400, 000 Chinese, and about 150, 000 Cham and Malays; about 100, 000 Upland Khmer (Kui, Mnong, Stieng) live in the northeast and about 30, 000 Lao in the east. About 3, 000 French live for the most part in the cities. The official language is Khmer, but French is also widely spoken. The Khmer and the majority of the Upland Khmer are Theravada Buddhists (some of the Upland Khmer have preserved their traditional beliefs), the Chinese are Confucianists and Mahayana Buddhists, the Cham and Malays are Sunni Muslims, and the French and some of the Vietnamese are Catholics.

The Gregorian calendar is the official calendar, although a lunar-solar calendar is also widely used.

The annual population growth rate has been estimated at 2.5 percent. Males constitute 50.2 percent of the total population and females 49.8 percent. In 1970 about 76 percent of the economically active population was engaged in agriculture, fishing, and forestry. The average population density is about 40 per sq km, with the highest density occurring in the Mekong Valley, around Phnom Penh, on the shores of Lake Tonle Sap, and in the coastal lowlands (250 or more per sq km). Northern and western Cambodia is very sparsely populated (two per sq km). Urban dwellers account for more than 12 percent of the total population. The largest cities are Phnom Penh (over 1.2 million in 1972), Batdambang, and Kampong Cham.


Narody Iugo-Vostochnoi Azii. Moscow, 1966.

To the mid-19th century. Information about the earliest settlement of Cambodia dates from the early Neolithic period (fifth millennium B.C.), by which time tribal organization had already arisen and the population had begun to farm, fish, and hunt. By the middle of the first millennium B.C. the ancestors of the Khmer had developed a distinctive Bronze Age culture. The working of iron began at the end of the first millennium B.C., when the tribal system had disintegrated among the people of the fertile valleys of Cambodia and the Mekong Delta and the formation of a class society had begun.

The first state known to have existed on the territory of Cambodia was Funan, which flourished in the Mekong Delta between the first and sixth centuries A.D. The economic base of this society was the commune; its principal occupation was wet rice cultivation. The cities were large craft and commercial centers, and Funan maintained trade and cultural relations with southern India and China. Funan was a monarchy. Ancient Cambodia was strongly influenced by Indian culture, including Hinduism and Buddhism. A class society developed in the central and northern parts of present-day Cambodia between the first and fifth centuries. The states that arose in these regions recognized Funan’s suzerainty until the middle of the sixth century, after which they became independent.

In the seventh and eighth centuries the states of Land Chenla and Water Chenla were established in Cambodia. In this period the economic position of the landed aristocracy weakened, such new forms of exploitation as corvee and mortgage appeared, the sale of land became widespread, and a free peasantry arose. Middle-level landholders in the service of the state became a more important element in Cambodian society. The civil service gradually merged with the higher ranks of the Hindu priesthood and acquired a hierarchical structure. Indigenous elements began to dominate the culture, and a written Khmer language developed. The Kambuja empire began to form in the Mekong Delta and adjoining regions in the ninth century, becoming the largest state on the Indochinese Peninsula by the 11th century. From the 11th through the 13th centuries Khmer feudal lords several times conquered Champa, waged wars with Dai Viet (Vietnam), and reached the borders of Pagan. Cambodian territory was greatly expanded. Prolonged warfare and the construction of many temples, such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thorn, and Bayon, were accompanied by a further subjugation of the communal peasants. Class struggle, manifesting itself in peasant uprisings, intensified. By the late 13th century the Kambuja empire had disintegrated, and by the end of the 14th century the theocratic power of the monarch had disappeared. The core of the ruling class comprised feudal chiefs without landed estates, whose payment for services was a share of the taxes collected from the communal peasants. When land ownership by temples (which had arisen in the ninth century) was abolished in the late 14th century, the number of peasants directly dependent on the state increased. A temporary economic stabilization of feudalism led, especially in the first half of the 16th century, to a growth of the productive forces of society—improvements in the irrigation system and expansion of rice fields. The 16th century saw the development and growing importance of cities, including Phnom Penh (which had become the capital in 1443), Lovek, Pursat, and Oudong. The royal government promoted the dissemination of Buddhism, and enormous statues of Buddha were erected. In the late 16th century Thai armies ravaged the western part of the country.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Cambodia’s social structure rested on peasant communes that were as a rule under direct state control. There were few large feudal landholdings or small manors. In the early 18th century Cambodia’s growing weakness brought it under the domination of Siam and Vietnam.

French colonial rule (from the mid-19th century to 1953). In the mid-19th century France, which had embarked on a policy of conquest in Indochina, sought to extend its colonial rule to Cambodia. In 1863 it imposed a protectorate treaty on Cambodia, which in 1884 was superseded by a still more oppressive treaty making Cambodia virtually a French colony. The Khmer monarchy, placed under the control of a French governor-general, retained only executive power in local affairs. In 1887, Cambodia, Annam, Tonkin, and Cochin China became part of the Indochinese Union, which the French colonialists established in order to centralize the colonial administration; Laos was later incorporated into the union. The Khmer economy came under the control of the French, who abolished the king’s ultimate ownership of land and created a “concessionary reserve” out of which agricultural land was allocated to French citizens and to members of the bureaucratic elite who collaborated with the colonialists. Cambodia’s domestic market was opened to the unlimited and tariff-free import of French goods, which delayed national industrial development. In addition to retaining such long-standing feudal taxes as the head tax and the land tax, the colonialists also introduced a number of new taxes, including taxes on livestock, on peasant homes, and on sugar and coconut palms. Direct taxes accounted for 50 percent of the income of the state budget, the bulk of which was spent on maintaining the colonial administration and army and on subsidizing French planters and entrepreneurs. The people resisted the subjugation of Cambodia and waged an armed struggle for the restoration of independence. The largest uprisings took place in the 1860’s under the leadership of Atiar Sua and Pu Kombo and in the 1880’s and 1890’s under the leadership of Prince Si Vattha. The 1890’s saw the beginning of the systematic colonial exploitation of Cambodia by French capitalists. During World War I (1914-18) the French imperialists increased their export of raw materials, and Khmer soldiers fought in Europe. In the 1920’s there was a still greater influx of French capital into the Cambodian economy and an increase in the cultivation of rubber (about 60 percent of all French investments in Cambodia), corn, rice, coffee, and pepper, which were produced for export. In the late 1920’s and the 1930’s from 15, 000 to 20, 000 tons of rubber, from 150, 000 to 250, 000 tons of rice, and from 300, 000 to 400, -000 tons of corn were exported annually. An extensive network of highways was built. Industry developed slowly and there were only a few small mining and light industrial enterprises. French capital dominated industry and trade.

The major forms of exploitation were the rent-tax and the state corvee. Usury flourished, and from 80 to 85 percent of the peasant households were almost permanently indebted to moneylenders. Except on plantations, only a small fraction of the agricultural output was produced for the market, and there was little stratification among the peasantry. Buddhism dominated the Cambodians’ outlook. The independence struggle continued in the form of peasant uprisings, the largest of which, the uprising in Kampong Chhnang Province under Atiar So (1926), was cruelly suppressed by punitive expeditions. In the 1930’s many progressive representatives of the Khmer working people and intelligentsia joined the Communist Party of Indochina, which was founded in 1930. The national liberation struggles of the Khmer and Vietnamese peoples were closely intertwined. The national liberation struggle gathered momentum in 1937 and 1938 under the favorable conditions created by the accession to power of the Popular Front government in France. In World War II (1939-45), the Japanese occupied Cambodia (1940). Although the country formally remained a French protectorate, the Japanese occupation forces turned Cambodia into a military base, forced the population to construct military installations, intensively exploited the country’s natural resources, and exported agricultural raw materials. The Cambodian people rose up against the intensified imperialist oppression. The insurrections that began in 1943 against the foreign imperialists—the movement led by the priest Hem Chieu and the armed uprising in Phnom Penh—were cruelly suppressed. In March 1945 the Japanese military command announced the dissolution of the French protectorate and the restoration of Cambodia’s “independence.” The resistance movement against the Japanese imperialists arose under the leadership of the patriotic organization Free Khmer (Khmer Issarak). After 1945, when the French imperialists landed troops in Cambodia in an attempt to restore their rule, the resistance movement turned against the French. On Jan. 7, 1946, the French colonialists forced the royal government to accept an agreement (modus vivendi) restoring the French protectorate over Cambodia. Between 1946 and 1949 the Khmer Issarak movement spread to the southeastern, southwestern, and northwestern regions; partisan bases were created; and people’s committees operated in some of these regions.

The upsurge of the patriotic movement in Cambodia and throughout Indochina, primarily resulting from the defeat of the Japanese imperialists, compelled the French colonial administration to grant the country “internal autonomy.” Elections to a constituent assembly were held in Cambodia in September 1946. The assembly ratified a constitution, the first in Cambodia’s history, which took effect on May 6, 1947. The constitution confirmed Cambodia’s “autonomy” within the French Union and laid the foundation for a bourgeois democratic regime. Cambodia was proclaimed a constitutional monarchy, and bourgeois democratic freedoms were guaranteed. The supreme legislative body was a parliament (the National Assembly) elected for four years by universal, direct, and secret balloting. All Cambodian subjects who had reached the age of 20 were granted the right to vote, with the exception of monks and servicemen and their wives. The constitution provided for the Council of the Kingdom as the second house of the National Assembly. The supreme executive body was the Council of Ministers.

Under the Franco-Cambodian treaty signed in Paris on Nov. 8, 1949, France recognized de jure the independence of Cambodia as an “associated state” within the French Union. The Cambodian legislature, however, refused to ratify the treaty because France in actuality retained the entire administration of the country. The national liberation movement in Cambodia was growing in strength, and a congress of people’s representatives of all strata of the population convened in April 1950 on the initiative of the Khmer Issarak leadership. The congress formally approved the creation of the National United Front (Nekhum Khmer Issarak) and its program and by-laws and elected the Central Executive Committee. The congress also formed the Central Liberation Committee and adopted the Declaration of Independence of Free Khmer. To rally anti-imperialist forces and to coordinate the struggle of the peoples of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos to drive out the French colonialists, their common enemy, the creation of a united liberation front of these three countries was formally approved in March 1951. In June 1953 the French government recognized Cambodia’s sovereignty in foreign affairs, and in August of that year agreements were concluded for the transfer to the government of Cambodia of full control over foreign policy and the judiciary. On Nov. 9, 1953, an official ceremony was held in Phnom Penh marking the end of French rule and the withdrawal of French troops. This day was declared a national holiday, the Independence Day of Cambodia.

Independent Cambodia. At the Geneva Conference on Indochina in 1954 the Cambodian delegation announced that its country would not join any military alliances and would not permit any foreign bases on its soil. The following year Norodom Sihanouk, who had become king on Apr. 25, 1941, abdicated in favor of his father Norodom Suramarit in order to found and lead the political organization, the People’s Socialist Community (Sangkum). The Sangkum was victorious in the general elections for the National Assembly held on Sept. 11, 1955. The National Assembly voted on September 25 to replace the phrase in the 1947 constitution “Cambodia is an autonomous state belonging to the French Union as an associated state” with the phrase “Cambodia is a sovereign and independent state.” The first Sangkum government, formed in October 1955, carried out various social reforms, including granting women the right to vote and recognizing their social equality with men (law of Dec. 6, 1955); voters were given the right to recall deputies. The government adopted a policy of developing the national economy, eradicating the consequences of colonial rule, and reducing the country’s dependence on foreign economic aid (see below: Economic geography). At the same time monarchical groups within the country attempted to restrict the role of the progressive forces.

Cambodia pursued a foreign policy of neutralism and peaceful coexistence, joining the UN in 1955 and establishing diplomatic relations with the USSR on May 13, 1956. In 1957 a neutralist foreign policy was provided for by law.

When King Norodom Suramarit died in 1960 the throne remained vacant. The position of head of state was established on June 12, 1960, and invested with great power under the constitution. Norodom Sihanouk became the head of state of Cambodia. In 1962 the government proposed that foreign powers recognize Cambodia’s neutrality and territorial integrity and give it international guarantees. In view of the increased subversive activities of US imperialism, the Cambodian government rejected American aid in November 1963 and requested that all American missions and services in Cambodia connected with American aid programs be closed.

On Mar. 18, 1970, a coup d’etat took place in Cambodia, removing Norodom Sihanouk, who was abroad at the time, from his position as head of state. General Lon Nol became the leader of the Phnom Penh regime that resulted from the coup d’etat. The armed aggression of the USA in Cambodia began in late April 1970. Under the pretext of eliminating the “threat to the lives of American soldiers in South Vietnam,” large units of American and Saigon troops (20, 000 men) invaded Cambodia from the south. Their strength increased to 80, 000 by late May.

Cambodian patriots responded to the aggression with efforts to consolidate the progressive national forces, and the National United Front of Cambodia (FUNK) was created in May 1970. The FUNK emphasized in its political program that it would coordinate its actions with the struggle of the Vietnamese and Laotian peoples against American aggression on the Indochinese Peninsula. The Royal Government of National Union of Cambodia, headed by Penn Nouth and Khieu Samphan, was established at the same time. The patriotic forces of Cambodia created the Cambodian People’s National Liberation Armed Forces, which began an armed struggle against the American and Saigon interventionists and the troops of the Phnom Penh regime.

The pressure of public opinion in the USA and other countries forced the American government to withdraw its troops from Cambodia on June 30, 1970, although tens of thousands of soldiers of the Saigon puppet regime remained in the country and the US Air Force carried out heavy bombings of Cambodian areas held by the patriotic forces. The USA increased military and financial aid to the Phnom Penh authorities.

On Oct. 9, 1970, the Lon Nol regime in Phnom Penh proclaimed the Khmer Republic. In March 1972 Lon Nol disbanded the parliament and government and declared himself president of the republic. A new constitution was adopted by a referendum held in Phnom Penh on Apr. 30, 1972. A presidential election was held on June 4, and members of the National Assembly were elected on September 3 and the Senate on September 17. The Central Committee of the FUNK declared all these measures to be illegal. While pursuing in Cambodia a policy of “Vietnamization” (the essence of which was to make Asians fight Asians), the USA continued its military and financial aid to the Phnom Penh regime, and the US Air Force actively supported the operations of the Saigon and Phnom Penh troops against the patriotic forces.

Led by the FUNK, the Cambodian national liberation forces, composed of regular and regional units of various sizes and partisan detachments, gained strength. In 1971 and 1972 they were victorious on all major strategic points of the Cambodian front and were able to paralyze the operations of the Phnom Penh troops. By late 1972 the patriotic forces of Cambodia had liberated a large part of the country.

By 1972 the FUNK comprised the Peasant Alliance, the Association of Patriotic Teachers and Intelligentsia, the Union of Khmer Writers, the Association of Democratic Youth, representatives of national minorities and of the Buddhist leadership, several student organizations outside Cambodia, and other organizations.

The struggle of the people of Cambodia against the aggression of American imperialism was supported by all progressive forces, above all by the socialist countries. The statements of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and of the government of the USSR of May 4, May 10, and July 15, 1970, condemned the aggressive actions of the USA in Cambodia. The heads of government of the socialist countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Poland, Rumania, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia) declared on May 14, 1970, that their governments would continue to render all necessary aid to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In the address of the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU (1971) entitled “Freedom and Peace to the Peoples of Indochina!” it was stated that the Soviet Union “consistently and vigorously supported and supports the liberation movement of Laos and Cambodia, which makes an outstanding contribution to the cause of peace and the national independence of peoples.” The statement of the Political Consultative Committee of the member states of the Warsaw Pact (January 1972) expressed support for the Cambodian patriots. In 1975 the Cambodian patriotic forces gained a decisive victory and liberated the country’s entire territory.


Hall, D. Istoriia Iugo-Vostochnoi Azii. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from English.)
Dement’ev, Iu. P. Politika Frantsii v Kambodzhe i Laose, 1852-1907. Moscow, 1960.
Sochevko, G. G. Sovremennaia Kambodzha (1941-1965). Moscow, 1967.
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Briggs, L. P. The Ancient Khmer Empire. Philadelphia, 1951.
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Bibliografía Iugo-Vostochnoi Azii. Moscow, 1960. Pages 173-75.


The National United Front of Cambodia (FUNK) was founded in 1970.

During the protectorate period, Cambodia served as a source of agricultural raw material for France. Since 1953, during the years of independence, the country has been gradually overcoming the legacy of colonialism. A two-year plan (1956—57) and a five-year plan (1960-64) for developing the national economy were adopted and essentially fulfilled. The economy comprises a state sector (industrial enterprises, the power industry, irrigation, communications, transportation), a national private capitalist sector, and a mixed sector in which both national and foreign capital participate. The government bought up some of the assets of the French companies, nationalized foreign trade and commercial banks in 1963, and established the National Bank in 1965. But foreign capital remains important in the economy; French capital is especially significant in the rubber industry. After the events of 1970 (see above: Historical survey) the country’s economy was in an extremely difficult situation, and the American and Saigon aggression caused great economic damage.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. According to UN data for 1966, agriculture, forestry, and fishing accounted for about 41 percent of the gross national product; industry, power production, and construction for about 17 percent; and trade, transportation, and other branches for about 42 percent. Farms of small and middle landowners predominate. Between 1956 and 1959, in order to reduce capitalist exploitation of the peasants, the government encouraged the development of supply and marketing cooperatives and expanded government credit in the countryside. There were 1, 200 tractors in 1970. In 1967 agricultural land covered 3.6 million hectares (ha), or 20 percent of Cambodia’s total area, of which 2.8 million ha, or 78 percent, were under cultivation and about 0.6 million ha, or about 17 percent, were pasture.

Crop cultivation is the leading branch of agriculture; the principal crop is rice, covering 66 percent of the cultivated area. It was estimated in 1971 that 1.9 million ha were planted to rice, chiefly on the alluvial land along the Mekong River and Lake Tonle Sap, and that the total harvest reached 2.7 million tons. Corn (94, 000 ha sown, 122, 000 tons harvested in 1971), sweet potatoes and yams, and soybeans are important food crops. Cambodia also produces sugar palms, coconut palms, sugarcane, black pepper, peanuts (15, 000 tons harvested in 1970), tobacco, cotton, jute, sesame seeds, cassava, ramie, and kapok (coarse plant fiber). Among important fruit crops are oranges and tangerines (40, 000 tons), bananas (141,000 tons), and pineapples (41,000 tons). The growing of hevea has become very important, and 35, 000 tons of natural rubber were produced in 1971. Livestock is raised primarily to provide draft animals. In 1969-70, Cambodia had 3.3 million head of cattle, including 0.9 million water buffaloes.

The annual production of commercial timber is about 400, 000 cu m. Other forest products include cardamom, gutta-percha, and lacquer. Fishing is especially developed on Tonle Sap. In 1968, 171,000 tons of fish were caught in inland waters and the Gulf of Siam.

Industry for the most part utilizes local agricultural raw materials. Mineral resources have been inadequately studied. Phosphorite, magnesite, iron ore, nonferrous metal ores, precious stones, marble, and basalt are extracted on a small scale. Electricity is supplied mainly by thermal power plants; 133 million kW-hr were produced in 1970. The principal processing industries include flour milling, rice husking, sugar refining, tobacco curing, fish packing, and the making of alcoholic beverages. Rubber processing and woodworking are also significant. Between 1956 and 1968 relatively large metalworking, woodworking, paper, textile, cement, food, and petroleum-refining enterprises were built in the state sector. The output of building materials has increased. Several industries were built with the help of socialist countries, including textile and paper factories, a plywood plant, a cement plant, a tractor and automobile assembly plant, a tire plant, a brewery, and a sugar refinery. Industry is concentrated in Phnom Penh, Batdambang, and Kampong Saom. Small-scale industry is found throughout the country, mainly in the private sector, and supplies the population with consumer goods and food products.

In 1970 the country had 652 km of railroad and about 5,000 km of paved highways. Waterways, especially the lower Mekong, are important in transport. Phnom Penh is a major center of river and ocean transport and has a freight turnover of more than 0.5 million tons. The seaport of Sihanoukville (Kampong Saom) was built in 1960 on the coast of the Gulf of Siam. Pochentong international airport is near Phnom Penh. Cambodia exports rice, natural rubber, corn, lumber, sesame seeds, kapok, black pepper, fish, and fish products; its chief imports are machinery, equipment, textiles, metals, and metal products. Its leading trade partners are France, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, the USA, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Great Britain. The monetary unit is the riel.


Exact demographic data for the birth rate, mortality, and infant mortality are not available. Infectious, primarily parasitic, diseases predominate. Cambodia has a high incidence of helminthiasis—ankylostomiasis, ascariasis, and trichocephalosis. About half of the population lives in regions in which malaria is endemic. Diseases that are found everywhere include trachoma, amebiasis, typhoid fever, paratyphoid, fungus diseases, and arbovirus infections (dengue and the chikungunya), and there are frequent cases of mite rickettsiosis (tsutsugamushi).

In the central lowland region there is a high incidence of ankylostomiasis (especially in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the region), ascariasis, and trichocephalosis; salmonellosis and cutaneous mycosis are widespread. Cases of fasciolopsiasis have also been recorded in the lowland area, as well as clonorchiasis and opisthorchiasis (in the northern part of the region). Malaria is endemic in the mountain regions surrounding the lowland; cases of Japanese encephalitis have been recorded here, and also of wuchereriasis (in the foothills of the Kravanh Range) and taeniasis (in the northeast). Between 1956 and 1960 the USSR built a 500-bed hospital with outpatient facilities in Phnom Penh as a gift to the Cambodian people. In 1965, Cambodia had 70 hospitals with 4, 700 beds (0.7 beds per 1,000 population), 273 doctors (one per 25, 000 population), 13 dentists, 31 pharmacists, and about 2, 700 auxiliary medical personnel (more recent data are unavailable).


Veterinary services. Infectious, especially parasitic, diseases predominate among farm animals. Leptospirosis and tuberculosis are major diseases of water buffalo. Many cattle are afflicted each year, especially during the rainy season, by pasteurellosis. Rabies (14 cases in 1971) and foot-and-mouth disease (five outbreaks in 1971) have been recorded. Melioidosis is enzootic and most frequently encountered among pigs; it is transmitted by rodents. There were 40 veterinarians in the country in 1971.


The first secular schools arose in the mid-19th century with the coming of the French colonialists. In 1953 the country had only 980 state primary schools with 173, 000 students, about 1, 500 primary temple schools with about 100, 000 students, seven secondary schools, and one institution of higher learning. By the end of the colonial period about 80 percent of the population was illiterate. After independence, the educational system was greatly expanded. In 1965 the proportion of illiterates among persons over the age of 15 had declined to 67 percent. In 1967 state allocations for education amounted to 1.4 billion riels, or 21.6 percent of the budget.

The public education system comprises the six-year free primary school (two levels, three years each), the collège (four years of instruction), and the lycée (seven years of instruction, divided into two levels of four and three years respectively). The curricula of the collège and of the first level of the lycée are identical; at the second level of the lycée students may specialize either in the humanities or in the natural sciences and mathematics. Graduates of a lycée receive the “full baccalaureate,” which carries the right to enter an institution of higher learning. In 1965-66 the public education system comprised 1, 129 state schools, 1, 531 temple schools, and 93 secondary schools (20 lycées and 73 collèges). In 1968-69 there were 998, 000 pupils in the primary schools and 107, 000 students in the secondary schools. Vocational and technical education is provided by vocational schools and technical collèges, which admit graduates of primary schools. Skilled workers are trained by vocational centers. In 1966 there were 23 vocational and technical schools, as against five in 1954, the largest of which were the National School of Art and Crafts in Phnom Penh and a technical collège in Kampong Cham. In 1967-68, 5, 800 students were receiving vocational and technical training. Teacher training is provided by pedagogical centers and the National University. Cambodia had nine institutions of higher learning, with 14, 500 students in 1968-69. The largest of these institutions are the National University, which was founded in 1960 and has departments of medicine, pedagogy, law, commerce, letters and humanities, and the social sciences, and the Royal Technical University in Phnom Penh. Between 1962 and 1964 the USSR built the Higher Technological Institute in Phnom Penh as a gift to the Cambodian people.

In Phnom Penh are the National Library (31,000 volumes), the National Museum (founded in 1917, with a collection ofKhmer art from the sixth to the 20th centuries), and the museumof the royal palace.


The earliest traces of Cambodian literature of the pre-Angkor period (second to ninth centuries) are the Sanskrit inscriptions on the walls of the Vo-canh temple in present-day Vietnam (third century) and of the Tonle-Bati temple (sixth century). The first inscriptions in ancient Khmer date from the early seventh century. During the Angkor period (802-1433) there was a flowering of Khmer culture, which developed under the influence of Brahmanism and Mahayana Buddhism. Important writers who used Sanskrit were Yasovarman II, Kavisvara, Eukindra, and Subhadra, and major authors who wrote in Khmer included Kaosathitpadey Kau, Duong, Tieu Non, Neakpang, Samphear, and Phokdey. Some literary works of the Angkor period were written in Pali. Among important works are the lyrical narrative poem Indravedi and the epic Reamker, both written in Khmer and using themes from the Indian Ramayana. The most significant event in the literature of the middle period (1434-1862) was the folk narrative poem Turn and Teav (15th century) about a boy and girl’s tragic love. Under the French colonial regime (1863-1953) Sottan Preytya En, Saom Loth, and Nu Khan continued to create traditional works. One of the best works of this period is the narrative poem Sratop Tyek by Bamrae Utey Ngyng, using themes from ancient legends. The 1930’s and 1940’s saw the appearance of the first novels with a humanistic orientation: The Rose of Paili (1936) by Nyok Thaem, Sophat (1938) by Rim Kin, and The Wilted Flower (1947) by Nu Hat. The Union of Khmer Writers was established in 1955, soon after the country attained independence. The works of such writers as Tuy Ol, Hel Sumpha, Suon Soren, and Nop Savan raised important social and political problems. Folklore is being collected and published.


The most ancient works of Cambodian art are decorated ceramics of the Neolithic period and bronze articles from the middle of the first millennium B.C. The shrines (prasats) built in the sixth century in Angkor Borei and in the seventh century in Sambor Prei Kuk are rectangular brick towers divided by pilasters and crowned with a pyramid of pseudostories: the walls are decorated with stucco ornamentation and pseudoportals. In the sixth century Indian influence produced statues having soft and generalized modelling. The statues of the seventh and eighth centuries—graceful, elegant, full of life, and at the same time majestic—are more distinctly Cambodian. In the ninth century Cambodian architecture developed the complex of shrines and auxiliary buildings, surrounded by an enclosure (with a gopuragateway) and later also by galleries and canals (the Preah Ko in Roluos, ninth century; the Banteay Srei, tenth century). At the same time there arose the temple mountain—a terraced pyramid surmounted by one or five shrines and surrounded by galleries and canals (the Bakong in Roluos, ninth century; the Prang in Koh Ker, tenth century). In the tenth century laterite and sandstone replaced brick, and there was a florescence of ornamental carving in which dense floral designs were interwoven with figures of deities, heavenly maidens, animals, and monsters. The frontal statues of the ninth to 13th centuries are monolithic, with powerful contours and graphic, stylized detail.

The immense Angkor complex, built between the ninth and 13th centuries, encompasses many richly ornamented temples and palaces. The most important of the Angkor structures are the mighty Angkor Wat temple mountain (c. Ill 3-50), architecturally the most perfect, and the capital of Angkor Thorn (late 12th to 13th century), an integrated and majestic architectural ensemble with huge faces of deities on numerous towers. The endless rows of reliefs in the galleries of the Angkor temples are outstanding for their lively and expressive depiction of battles and scenes from everyday life and for their rhythmic quality and lithe contours.

In the 14th century stone architecture declined, and the ancient cities were abandoned. Wood was used for the construction of palaces and Buddhist temples (for example, the royal palace and the “Silver Pagoda” in Phnom Penh) with galleries, roofs ending in sharp points, carving, molding, and gold painting on lacquer. Bell-shaped stupas of stone were built. In sculpture, stone gave way to wood and bronze (Buddha statues; statuettes of dancing girls and epic heroes), and relief was superseded by paintings (with size paint) on themes from Buddhist legends.

The buildings erected in the cities since the second half of the 19th century are in the style of French eclectic architecture. In the murals and paintings of Okna Tep Nimit Tlaka (early 20th century) decorative stylization is combined with the realistic portrayal of faces. The proclamation of independence in 1953 was followed by the planned development of cities, such as Kam-pong Saom (built 1957-1960) and Bok Kou (built 1962). Concrete buildings have been erected in cities, some using indigenous traditions, such as galleries, towers, and steeply sloping roofs (architect, Vanmolivan), and others employing the modern style, with loggias and sunshades. Many frame houses, often with porches, are being built in the cities and countryside. Among the traditional folk crafts are manual silk weaving, batik, carving in wood and ivory, metal engraving, painting on pottery, embroidery, and leather cutting (openwork panels, figures for the shadow theater). Painting and the graphic arts are developing (Ngok Dim and Sam Yun).


The musical culture, classical musical system, and instruments of the Khmer have their roots in antiquity. Orchestras and various instruments are represented on the bas-reliefs of the ancient Angkor temples. The Khmer classical musical system reached its culmination in the Angkor period and since then has remained almost unchanged.

Khmer music is based on a pentatonic scale. Its structure is determined by rhythm, and therefore the most important part of the orchestra is the percussion section, including drums (sam-pho, chkhayam), double kettledrums (skor-thom) defining the rhythm of the dances and songs, and cymbals and gongs “singing” the accompaniment. The melody is played by the oboe (pei o, pei-pok, pra pei) or the reed flute (khlui), and the tonic is performed by stringed instruments, which were introduced in the 12th century and which comprise lutes (sadieu, chapei, and takhe) and fiddle-like instruments (tro-che, tro-sao, tro-kmae).

Performances of the court ballet are accompanied by a largeclassical orchestra differing from the popular orchestra only inthe number of instruments. The Institute of Fine Art, foundedin Phnom Penh in 1966, trains professional actors, musicians, and dancers. The institute collects instrumental, song, dance, and literary folk art, and adaptations of these folk forms arepresented in temporary open-air theaters. A concert hall hasbeen built in Phnom Penh.


Inscriptions giving the names of women dancers, singers, and musicians, as well as wall representations of jesters and buffoons, have been preserved in the ancient temples. There are three main types of theatrical performances—the court ballet, the shadow theater, and the folk theater. The court ballet draws on the tradition of medieval Cambodian ballet from the Angkor period. It is known as Siamese ballet because the actors were formerly of Thai nationality and the dancers were accompanied by choral singing of ballads in Thai; since the early 20th century theatrical performances have been given in Khmer. The subjects of these dance-dramas are ancient legends and fairy tales. About 30 such subjects are known. The main roles are played by women, and the troupe has two male dancers who take the parts of demons, jesters, and animals. The men wear masks, and the women perform without masks but use stylized make-up.

The shadow theater is usually presented during religious holidays. The themes and silhouettes of the puppets must conform strictly to tradition. The performances are accompanied by the narration of an actor standing behind the screen. The folk theater enjoys great popularity. There are usually two actors, and no costumes or sets are used. The performances consist of short scenes similar to the farces of medieval Western Europe. The dialogue is improvised, and there is much singing. There are permanent troupes in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and other cities. In the early 1960’s an attempt was made in Phnom Penh to create a modern theater offering adaptations of plays by Shakespeare and Racine, among other writers. The State Dramatic Theater, which was founded in Phnom Penh in late 1955, strives to create a modern national repertory. The Cambodian Court Ballet toured the USSR in 1964 and 1969.


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“Liste des manuscrits khmers.” Bulletin de l’Ecole française dExtrême-Orient, 1902, vol. 2, no. 4.
Leclère, A. Les Livres sacrés du Cambodge. Paris, 1906.
Coedès, G. Inscriptions du Cambodge, vols. 1-6. Hanoi-Paris, 1937-54.
Coral-Remusat, G. de. LArt Khmer. Paris, 1951.
Maspero, H. “Les Langues Mon-Khmere.” In Les Langues du monde (new edition). Paris, 1952.
Thiounn, S. Ch. Danses cambodgiennes, 2nd éd., Phnom Penh, 1956.
[11-717-3; update]


Official name: Kingdom of Cambodia

Capital city: Phnom Penh

 Internet country code: .kh

Flag description: Three horizontal bands of blue (top), red (double width), and blue with a white three-towered tem­ple representing Angkor Wat outlined in black in the cen­ter of the red band; only national flag to incorporate an actual building in its design

National anthem: “Our Country”

National motto: “Nation, Religion, King”

Geographical description: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos

Total area: 69,900 sq. mi. (181,040 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; rainy, monsoon season (May to Novem­ber); dry season (December to April); little seasonal tem­perature variation

Nationality: noun: Cambodian(s); adjective: Cambodian

Population: 13,995,904 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, other 4%

Languages spoken: Khmer (official) 95%, French, English

Religions: Theravada Buddhist 95%, other (Islam, Christian, and indigenous religions) 5%

Legal Holidays:

ChristmasDec 25
Constitution DaySep 24
Former Queen Mother's BirthdayJun 18
Independence DayNov 9
International Human Rights DayDec 10
International Labour DayMay 1
International Women's DayMar 8
King's Coronation DayOct 29
New Year's DayJan 1
Victory DayJan 7


a country in SE Asia: became part of French Indochina in 1887; achieved self-government in 1949 and independence in 1953; civil war (1970--74) ended in victory for the Khmer Rouge, who renamed the country Kampuchea (1975) and carried out extreme-radical political and economic policies resulting in a considerable reduction of the population; Vietnamese forces ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and set up a pro-Vietnamese government who reverted (1981) to the name Cambodia; after Vietnamese withdrawal in 1989 a peace settlement with exiled factions was followed in 1993 by the adoption of a democratic monarchist constitution restoring Prince Sihanouk to the throne. The country contains the central plains of the Mekong River and the Cardamom Mountains in the SW. Official language: Khmer; French is also widely spoken. Currency: riel. Capital: Phnom Penh. Pop.: 14 482 000 (2004 est.). Area: 181 000 sq. km (69 895 sq. miles)
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