History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia



MapAround 2000 BC, Chinese rice and millet farmers spread southwards into a region which stretched between Vietnam and Burma. There, they interbred with local hunter-gatherers in two main pulses, this being the first with the second taking place around the end of the first century BC. In 2017 a team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist, Mark Lipson, concluded that these population movements brought agriculture to the region and triggered the spread of Austroasiatic languages that are still spoken in parts of south and South-East Asia. Over the preceding twenty years, archaeology had already accumulated increasing amounts of evidence to support the emergence of rice farming in south-east Asia between 2,500-2,000 BC, accompanied by tools and pottery which revealed links to southern China.

Cambodia witnessed one of the earliest of the historical south-east Asian kingdoms to be formed. Despite the Chinese admixture into the ancestry of its people, culturally it was heavily influenced by India, and was essentially an indigenous culture which predated most of the later Chinese influences on the region. The first kingdom, Chen-La, dominated an area covering modern Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos.

Cambodia's historic past

(Additional information from External Link: Ancient Chinese farmers sowed literal seeds of change in south-east Asia (Science News).)

Cambodian Republics
AD 1970 - 1993

A period of turmoil, constant warfare to some extent, and of thousands of lives cut short. The conflict in South Vietnam seemingly spreads like a virus to drawn in the surrounding countries, first Laos and then Cambodia.

Cambodia's historic past

1970 - 1975

Prime Minister Lon Nol mounts a successful coup against King Sihanouk. The king organises a guerrilla movement from exile, but the First Republic is declared and the Lon Nol government rules the country. Supported by the US forces in South Vietnam, Cambodia quickly becomes mired in a civil war against the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces. The republic falls after Phnom Penh is captured.

Kim Phuc injured during Vietnam War
King Sihanouk visited Paris in 1946, and is pictured here with a bevy of French generals, but his reign came at a turbulent time in South-East Asian history

1975 - 1979

Lon Nol's fracturing government mirrors the state of the country as a whole, as the Khmer Rouge continue to advance upon the capital. The Second Republic is proclaimed by the victorious Khmer Rouge. In fact, the republic quickly turns into a communist dictatorship under the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. He and his forces become responsible for the notorious 'killing fields' and for returning the country to 'Year One'. The population is driven from the cities and is subjected to violent totalitarian rule in the countryside, while all technological advancements are banned on pain of death (although senior figures continue to enjoy many of the better trappings of life).

1975 - 1976

Norodom II Sihanouk

Prince & Head of State.

1979 - 1991

Following several border incursions and attacks on Vietnamese villages by the Khmer Rouge rulers of Cambodia, Vietnamese troops invade and conquer of much of it. The Khmer Rouge are pushed back from the heartland of the country and have to resume a guerrilla warfare approach to maintaining what positions they do retain. The pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party wins the Cambodian elections in 1981, forming the Third Republic, but its rule is not internationally recognised and later faces mounting guerrilla resistance. Vietnamese dominance in Cambodia lasts until 1991, although the last Vietnamese troops are withdrawn in 1989.

1991 - 1993

A peace agreement is signed in Paris in 1991, ushering in a power-sharing administration. An interim government is created that is headed by Prince Norodom II as head of state. This is supported by a United Nations mission.

Modern Cambodia / Kampuchea
AD 1993 - Present Day

Cambodia suffered a period of intense turmoil during the second half of the twentieth century. Temporarily stripped of its monarchy, the country decided to restore this ancient institution and is once again known as the 'Kingdom of Cambodia'. This largely Buddhist country is located in the southern part of the Indo-Chinese peninsula, and is neighboured by Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east, part of the Gulf of Thailand to the south, and the country of Thailand to the north and west.

Modern Cambodia is the heir to the ancient Khmer empire, which was founded at the start of the ninth century AD as a continuation of the older kingdom of Chen-La. The empire declined from the fourteenth century as a result of dramatic climate change in the region. A new capital had to be created at Phnom Penh to avoid the now-flooded Angkor Wat, and successive domination by several neighbouring kingdoms followed. In the nineteenth century French colonial rule largely displaced the ruling kings, until France was displaced itself during its eclipse in the Second World War. US influence gradually took over, to be ended by a crippling civil war in which Pol Pot's communist dictatorship return the clock to 'Year Zero'.

Following this period of total anarchy and destruction, Cambodia re-emerged into the modern world and benefited from two decades of relative stability between around 1995 to 2015. Painful memories still endure of the radical Khmer Rouge dictatorship, but the country seems finally to be on the road to recovery, with a new generation emerging that is making the most of its freedoms. The economy is dominated by garment-making, but tourism is expanding, and Cambodia hopes to tap into offshore oil and gas reserves and draw in overseas investment to replace aid. Corruption is still deep-rooted and Cambodia is still one of the world's poorest countries, with most of the workforce still employed in subsistence farming.

Cambodia's historic past

(Additional information by John De Cleene, from Washington Post (22 August 2023), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and East Asia Forum, and Deutsche Welle.)


General elections see the royalist Funcinpec party winning the most seats, with Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) coming second. A three-party coalition is formed, with Funcinpec's Prince Norodom Ranariddh as prime minister and Hun Sen as deputy prime minister. The monarchy is restored, with Sihanouk being returned to the throne. The country is re-named the 'Kingdom of Cambodia' in English, with most far eastern countries using 'Kampuchea' - both names are derived from Khmer.

1993 - 2004

Norodom II Sihanouk

Restored. Abdicated due to frustration with political system.

1994 - 1996

Thousands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas surrender under the terms of a 1994 government amnesty, although Pol Pot never surrenders and dies in his jungle hideout in 1998. Two years later, in 1996, Ieng Sary, deputy leader of the Khmer Rouge, forms a new political party and is granted amnesty by Sihanouk.

Hun Sen
Despite sometimes hardline tactics used in maintaining his hold on power, Hun Sen (centre, in green, shown during a visit to paddy fields) did a good job of cultivating a populist image which saw him making a huge number of site visits and attending ceremonies and special occasions of all types


Former communist Hun Sen - soon to be one of the world's longest-serving prime ministers - has been in power in various coalitions since 1985. Briefly a member of the Khmer Rouge he remains prime minister until 2023.

In 1997 he launches a coup to seize power from his co-prime minister, Prince Ranariddh, brother of the king. Now sole ruler, he apparently uses his office to become increasingly authoritarian, using a mixture of electoral fraud, corruption, and intimidation to maintain quasi-dictatorial rule.


The widely venerated and long-serving King Sihanouk abdicates in favour of his son. The decision is largely due to his frustration with Cambodia's political system in which little seems to be achieved, but poor health also plays a role.

Unlike previous kings under the old system, Sihanouk's role is largely a ceremonial one, with little political power to force through necessary reforms (the former king dies in 2012 following a heart attack at the age of eighty-nine).

2004 - Present

Norodom III Sihamoni

Son. Chosen by throne council one week later, on 14 Oct.

2014 - 2015

In January 2014, riot police clear a two-week opposition protest camp that has appeared in Phnom Penh. The camp is part of a long-running campaign against the government following the disputed 2013 election.

In July, 150,000 Cambodian workers return home from neighbouring Thailand after rumours circulate that the new military junta there will crack down on illegal migrants. Despite the protests and continued unrest in the country, in 2015 Hun Sen is able to celebrate thirty years in power.


Hun Sen resigns as prime minister after a 'reign' of thirty-eight years. His son, Hun Manet, takes over, in effect becoming the country's new ruler. Hun Sen does not retire from politics however. He continues to be active behind the scenes.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.