Item description for Facing the Cambodian Past: Selected Essays 1971-1994 by David Chandler...
These 19 essays cover a range of themes and problems as perceived by a leading student of Cambodia's past. They include studies of the leper-king myth at Angkor, post-Angkorean normative poems, nineteenth century perceptions of the moral order, and royally sponsored human sacrifices in rural Cambodia in the 1870s. Other essays deal with aspects of the colonial period and the revolutionary era (1975-1979). The collection closes with two essays, written sixteen years apart, that deal with what the author calls "the tragedy of Cambodian history".
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"A trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler still more so." Jun 5, 2008
This book presents the reader with a fine selection of scholarly articles by a key expert in Cambodian History, David Chandler. Almost all of these articles have appeared before in various academic journals in the 1970's and 1980's, but "Facing the Cambodian Past" brings them all together in a handy volume mostly untouched except for a few modest hindsights by the author looking over his work years later and putting them in context. The tone is quite academic as is to be expected, and the primary intended audience Chandler has in mind is clearly fellow scholars and students of Cambodian history specifically and Southeast Asian history more generally. That said, as an interested non-expert myself with only cursory familiarity gleaned from a general history source (A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival (Short History of Asia series, A)), I found the assortment of articles quite interesting and reasonably comprehensible. Each of them directs a brilliant spotlight on intriguing, thought-provoking details and aspects of Cambodian history--instead of a sweep of development, brief pauses of careful and minute observation. Many of these in turn are very much concerned not just with history but historiography, exploring what gets highlighted and what ignored according to different approaches and cultural assumptions--and how later issues influence the retrospective remembrance and reconstruction of past events. All of which has the salutary effect of shaking up one's own settled presuppositions in the bargain.
The book is unfortunately marred by a few misprints and typos as well as a few dated projections (historians make terrible prophets, as Chandler himself would doubtlessly agree), but on the whole "Facing the Cambodian Past" is indispensable for experts in this field of inquiry and reasonably interesting and useful for the rest of us with an interest in this subject. ~~ The book's contents are as follows:
Part I: Angkor and Memories of Angkor 1. "Folk Memories of the Decline of Angkor in Nineteenth Century Cambodia: The Legend of the Leper King" (1978) 2. "An Eighteenth Century Inscription from Angkor Wat" (1970) 3. "Maps for Ancestors: Sacralized Topography and Echoes of Angkor in Two Cambodian Texts" (1975) Part II: Cambodia before the French 4. "Normative Poems (Chbap) and Pre-colonial Cambodian Society" (1982) 5. "An Anti-Vietnamese Rebellion in Early Nineteenth-Century Cambodia" (1973) 6. "Songs at the Edge of the Forest: Perceptions of Order in Three Cambodian Texts" (1978) 7. "Going through the Motions: Ritual Aspects of the Reign of King Duang of Cambodia (1848-1860)" (1979) 8. "Royally Sponsored Human Sacrifices in Nineteenth-Century Cambodia: The Cult of Nak Ta Me Sa (Mahisasuramardini) at Ba Phnom" (1973) Part III: The Colonial Era 9. "The Assassination of Resident Bardez (1925): A Premonition of Revolt in Colonial Cambodia" (1981) 10. "The Duties of the Corps of Royal Scribes: An Undated Khmer Manuscript from the Colonial Era" (1975) 11. "The Kingdom of Kampuchea, March-October 1945" (1985) 12. "Cambodian Royal Chronicles (Rajabangsavatar), 1927-1949: Kingship and Historiography at the End of the Colonial Era" (1976) Part IV: Cambodia since 1975 13. "Transformation in Cambodia" (1976) 14. "Revising the Past in Democratic Kampuchea: When Was the Birthday of the Party?" (1982) 15. "Seeing Red: Perceptions of Cambodian History in Democratic Kampuchea" (1982) 16. "A Revolution in Full Spate: Communist Party Policy in Democratic Kampuchea, December 1976" (1982) 17. "Cambodia in 1984: Historical Patterns Reasserted?" (1984) Part V: History and Tragedy 18. "The Tragedy of Cambodian History" (1979) 19. "The Tragedy of Cambodian History Revisited" (1994)
Deference and fatalism Dec 29, 2003
The bulk of the essays in this book are treating more specialized items, like the Cambodian Royal Chronicles, pre-colonial normative poems, the assassination of a French tax collector or the duties of the Corps of the Royal Scribes. They are more intended for the Cambodian scholar.
The whole book sketches a good impression of the general Cambodian mentality: deference and fatalism rather than rebelliousness. What changed the whole picture and became a tragedy for the country was the fact that it became a football in the deadly Cold War game between, on the one side, China and the US(!) who supported the Red Khmer and, on the other side, the USSR who supported Vietnam.
The Pol Pot regime was an exceptional phenomenon imported from the West, because all the men in charge of Angkar were recruited and 'educated' in France by the Stalinist PC.
Some essays contain more general comments on the Pol Pot regime and the more actual Cambodian situation, but readers interested in those problems should read prof. Chandler's main works 'The Tragedy of Cambodian History', 'Brother Number One' and 'Voices from S-21'.