Mad, bad and French

Michelle Vachon

Frédéric Thomas-Caraman (right), late 1870s. Photograph: Marie Therese Thomas Caraman Archives

When Cambodia’s King Ang Duong passed away in October 1860, a series of events was triggered that would lead to France agreeing to protect Cambodia from foreign incursion and eventually managing the country as one of its colonies.

On his death, civil war erupted as King Norodom’s brothers contested his right to the throne. The king restored peace with the support of Siam — as Thailand was then known — and to curb further Siamese interference, sought an alliance with France. Following the signing of the Protectorate Treaty in 1863, the French government embarked on what would be portrayed in France as its mission civilisatrice.

In keeping with the beliefs of the time in Europe, the French meant to bring Western-style civilisation to this nation, which they saw as being essentially primitive. They also intended the venture to benefit France, a goal that would become the driving force behind its policy.

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