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What Is Kampuchea?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Kampuchea is part of the official name of Cambodia. Kampuchea is actually referred to as Preahreachanachak Kampuchea in legal documents or state addresses. Kampuchea is located in Southeast Asia, and lies between Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The country has been marked by unrest, extreme poverty and starvation. The Ankgor Wat Temple remains one of the last symbols that Kampuchea was once an advanced civilization with extraordinary power.

It is difficult to believe that Kampuchea once held extraordinary power in Southeast Asia as part of the Khmer Dynasty. Wars with its border countries, beginning in the 16th century, particularly with Thailand and Vietnam, eventually significantly weakened the dynasty. In fact, for 300 years, Cambodia was subject to invasions by one or the other of these two countries.

Kampuchea pleaded with France for an alliance that would afford the Cambodians better protection in the East. In the mid 19th century, the French agreed to protect Cambodia, through occupation. This protection lasted until World War II, when Kampuchea finally became independent of France. This did not, however, end the turmoil.

Kampuchea was re-established as a monarchy with a constitution in 1953. It sought neutrality during the US war in its neighbor country Vietnam. However, civil unrest, in addition to bombing runs by the US during the war led to destabilization of the country and subsequent takeover by the dictator, Pol Pot.

Tension between Vietnam and Kampuchea was extremely high, especially since the country began an ethnic cleansing of Vietnamese who had fled to Cambodia during the war. Pol Pot also ordered the execution of over a million Cambodians who had association with the previous government. Death estimates during this time range from over one million to three million Cambodians. Vietnam attempted to stop Cambodian raids and the further deaths of more Vietnamese by invading Cambodia in the late 1970s.

The United Nations was finally able to reach a cease-fire agreement in 1991 between Vietnam and Kampuchea. However, this was after over ten years of warfare between the countries. The former great nation of the Khmer Dynasty was left with few signs of their origins. Starvation had claimed the lives of many Cambodians and regaining political stability and any type of prosperity has been very difficult.

Political analysts suggest that though Kampuchea currently operates under democratic principals, it is still marked by corruption. This is particularly evident when donations made to help the Cambodian poor rarely reach their destination, but are instead pocketed by government officials.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon1001892 — On Jul 18, 2019

Pol Pot was funded by UK, France, and US. In fact, Pol Pot was educated in France. Moreover, Margaret Thatcher of the UK government mentioned that they wanted the Khmer Rouge to be the future government of Cambodia and even supported Pol Pot's genocidal actions at the United Nations. In addition, the US bombed Cambodia and planted land mines all over the country. In an effort to cover their tracks, the western countries (UK, France, US) used China as as a scapegoat for their horrific actions.

By anon1000229 — On Jul 13, 2018

Vietnam occupied Khmer territory and killed Khmer people for their land. The French worsened the Khmer genocide by their racism and favoritism towards the Chinese ethnic Vietnamese in which partly resulted the Khmer Genocide. Pol Pot was funded by the Chinese. All deaths, suffering, and poverty derived from China.

By anon1000228 — On Jul 13, 2018

This article is not based on facts given it has a slight bent in favor of Vietnam. The author failed to mentioned Vietnamese killed many Khmer, invaded, and occupied Khmer terrority. The French colonizers abated the Vietnamese with "giving" Khmer land to the Vietnamese after all the French gave the Vietnamese their language and the French racism was in favor for Chinese looking people.

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 28, 2012

I find it a little funny that France decided to "protect" this country in South East Asia by occupying it. From what I understand, usually an occupation isn't exactly a good thing. Even though the Cambodians may have originally wanted French protection, somehow I doubt being occupied agreed with many of them.

It's crazy that this country used to be such a power in the region, but I guess world politics change over hundreds of years. I mean, Spain used to be a huge naval power, and now they're not a very powerful country at all.

By sunnySkys — On Apr 27, 2012

@JaneAir - I didn't remember that Pol Pot targeted educated people as part of his "cleansing" efforts. I wonder if this is part of the reason Cambodia had such a hard time rebuilding? Their population was very thin, and they were missing the educated members of their society. (Not to say that educated people are "better" than anyone else, but to rebuild a society you definitely need all types of people.)

Anyway, I've never been to Cambodia, but I feel like I hear about the country a lot as a recipient of various aid and assistance. Which is good, considering that even now Cambodia isn't in very good shape.

By JaneAir — On Apr 26, 2012

I vaguely remember learning about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge when I was in school, but we didn't really spend that much time talking about it. I remember learning that he wanted to bring Cambodia back to a more pure, agrarian society, and killed a lot of people who were educated.

It was kind of crazy to me that we didn't spend more time learning about it, because it happened comparatively recently to other atrocities that are given a lot more attention. Although, the US wasn't directly involved with Cambodia during this time, so maybe that's why they don't talk about it in school much?

By anon85001 — On May 18, 2010

Cambodia is mispronounced or written by France.

The country named by our king as Kampuchea. Thanks,


Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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