History of Cambodia, Including the Pol Pot Term Paper

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¶ … history of Cambodia, including the Pol Pot Regime and Angkor Wat. Cambodia is an Asian country located between Vietnam and Thailand with a coastline on the Gulf of Thailand. In the 1860s, it became a colony of France, and it became a free nation in 1953. Cambodia's modern history revolves around the notorious Pol Pot Regime in the 1970s, and tourism and textiles today.

Cambodia may be most known for the horrendous Pol Pot Regime of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, a period when at least 1.7 million Cambodians were systematically executed by the Regime. However, Cambodia's history goes back centuries, to a land that supported bands of hunter-gatherers who eventually settled in areas and began farming the rich lands. The first major settlement known in the area is Angkor in about the ninth century. Many historians believe the society was closely modeled on Indian society (Tully 7-8). Residents traded goods with China, Europe, and India, and they wrote in Sanskrit and worshipped in the Hindu religion, but there were influences of Buddha, as well (Tully 12-13).

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Cambodia is known for the ancient temples at Angkor, which are the largest ancient complex of temples in the world, and they are the only ones that can actually be seen from space (Tully 16). The Angkor complex was a huge city; many historians believe a million people may have lived there at one time. It was the ruling seat of the Kingdom of Funan, and the ruler, King Suryavarman, began building the city, and his sons, who ruled after him, continued the building. There is little written information about this early period of Cambodian history, because the Cambodians wrote on palm-leaf paper, and it has long since been destroyed. They had a very advanced civilization, with libraries, temples, and such, but much of what is known about the early history of the country comes from travelers who visited there.

Term Paper on History of Cambodia, Including the Pol Pot Assignment

The most famous buildings in the Angkor complex are the temples of Angkor Wat, which are both a temple to Buddhism and a monument to the rulers who lived in and built the city over a period of three centuries. In actuality, Angkor Wat is only one of many temples in the Angkor area, but many people believe the entire area is called Angkor Wat, because of the temple's size and fame. Angkor Wat is a testament to the engineering and building techniques of the Khmer people. Like other elements of Cambodian culture, the buildings at Angkor were largely influenced by Indian architecture and design. Initially, the temple was built to honor Vishnu, one of the primary Hindu gods, but it also honored the king, who was the representative of the gods on earth, according to the Cambodians.

The temple building process had to be laborious and extremely difficult, because there are stones in Angkor Wat that weigh up to eight tons (Tilly 30). The temple is known for the five highly decorated stone towers that reach up from the central roof, and for the bas-relief carvings all over the temple that tell an intimate story of life in the Angkor complex. The temple is constructed of brick, sandstone, and laterite, another stone native to the area. Laterite is extremely hard and strong, so it was used for the base of the temples, while the sandstone was used for areas that would eventually be decorated with the bas-relief carvings.

Building the temples was extremely difficult because the stones had to be moved long distances to the site. Historians believe the temple was built largely by slave labor, and that the massive stone blocks were moved to the site via human power and rollers placed on the ground to facilitate the movement of the stones. Historian Tilly continues, "The blocks were dressed on site and a close fit was achieved by grinding the blocks against each other; joints are rarely at right angles and there are rarely perfect flat planes" (Tilly 31). Historians also believe the builders used lifting gears and slings to maneuver the blocks into place in the walls of the temple.

There were other challenges, as well. The Angkor Wat Web site notes, "Sandstone blocks were prepared carefully to fit together, but vertical joints were allowed to run on top of one another making walls very unstable. So, often a whole wall fell if one stone near the base became dislodged. No mortar was used; just a good fit, weight, and gravity was thought sufficient" (Editors). Even the moat around the temple is a building masterpiece; it is over four miles long and 570 feet wide. The temple was not used for religious services, but it is open to the public today. The bas-relief carvings throughout the temple are said to be some of the finest examples of this art in the world. Photos indicate these decorations are extremely detailed and realistic, and they depict everything from Hindu myths to the techniques used in building the temples. Today, they are under protection by various worldwide agencies because they have been subject to damage from erosion and temple collapse (Editors).

The remains of the Angkor complex, which had been abandoned in the 16th or 17th century, were discovered in 1860 by French explorer Henri Mahout (Editors). Since then, the site has undergone significant study, and archaeologists studied the bas-relief carvings and Sanskrit writings in the temple to learn more about the history of the Cambodian people and how the temple complex was constructed.

In 1863, the French claimed Cambodia as a French protectorate, and ruled their until 1953, except for a period during World War II when the Japanese invaded and took over the country. In 1953, Cambodia gained its freedom, and it officially became known as the Kingdom of Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk, installed by the French, ruled the country until 1970, when a major opponent, Lon Nol, deposed Sihanouk, and brought an alternative government into power, and Sihanouk retreated to China, where he formed a government in exile. During the 1960s, a rival political power, the Khmer Rouge, became active against Sihanouk, but he subdued them. They retuned to fight the Lon Nol government, and gained control of the government in 1975, taking the capital city, Phnom Penh, on April 1. They called this "year zero," and renamed Cambodia the Republic of Democratic Kampuchea. The Angkor Wat Web site notes, "Pol Pot, who was trained as a Buddhist monk and educated at a French university, becomes the foremost leader of the Khmer Rouge when he is made premier. Khieu Samphan, another important Khmer Rouge leader, is named head of state" (Editors). The first order of business of the new regime was to empty out Phnom Penh, sending all of its residents to their "home" villages in the country.

The new society was to exist without money, and would be based on agriculture, with all the residents working in the fields in the country. The Khmer Rouge hated the city and its residents, feeling that they sympathized with the U.S. "imperialists" fighting in Vietnam, and that they were "responsible for the sufferings of the peasantry" (Tilly 176). Pol Pot envisioned a "utopia" that would transform his society, but what happened instead was the systematic murder of millions of Cambodians, thought to be "enemies" of the new regime, along with millions of other deaths due to starvation and disease. The regime also massacred many Buddhist monks, and forced the remaining monks to work in the fields growing rice (Editors). Pol Pot and his henchmen ruled until 1979, when the Vietnamese government sent in troops and took over the country. There was widespread fighting throughout the country for ten years, until the Vietnamese finally withdrew in 1989. It was not until 1991 when Prince Sihanouk returned and finally set up a new government, so the country's modern history has been one of turmoil, failed governments, and strife.

Today, Cambodia has barely recovered from the decades of turmoil in the country. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its two basic sources of income are tourism and textiles. Most of the tourists entering the country come to see the amazing ruins at Angkor Wat, and it is estimated that at least half -- a million tourists enter the country each year. If tourists stop traveling because of a week dollar or the high cost of transportation, Cambodia could suffer a loss in tourist dollars, and that, combined with a downturn in their other major industry, could spell disaster for the country.

The textile industry is huge in Cambodia, and a source of much of its export dollars. Many U.S. manufacturers use Cambodian textile mills to create their lines, including the Gap and a large number of the population are dependent on the industry. A reporter notes, "The industry makes up approximately 80% of the country's total exports and employs a large number of people. Some estimates claim that up to a million people --out of a population of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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