‘1620’, A Cautionary Tale
by Michael Vickery
The rivalry between Cambodia and Siam during the 17th century.
Publication: Michael Arthur Aung-Thwin & Kenneth R. Hall, eds., New Perspectives on the History and Historiography of Southeast Asia, Continuing Explorations (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 157-166.
Author: Michael Vickery
Language : English
Diverging from prevalent historical approaches, such as David P. Chandler´s thesis, the author presents a much more balanced ratio of power between Cambodian and Siamese rulers from 1593-4, when the Ayuthya forces invaded the Lovek kingdom, and a more nuanced picture of the respective Siamese and Vietnamese influences in Cambodia at that time.
For instance, "Cambodia offered an alternative to Siam for the procurement of sapppanwood and deer hide, both in great demand on the Japanese market, and thanks to its convenient and regular traffic with Guangnam [Nguyên Viet Nam] it could provide Vietnamese silk which was highly valued in Japan", notes the author; "thus, far from isolating Cambodia, the Nguyên contact in mid- and late 17th century was of commercial benefit for Cambodia, and may have been instrumental for maintaining Cambodia’s relatively high position among Southeast Asian ports."
He adds: "We see some of the confusion in modern scholarship about the events of the 1620s. But what were the basic facts? Cambodia had quickly recovered from an Ayutthayan invasion of Lovek in 1593-94, which itself was perhaps conflict over domination of maritime relations with China and Japan. Prince Suriyopear/soriyopoa/ (sūryavarma) returned to Cambdia with Thai support in 1601/1602. He was king until he abdicated in 1618 for his son Jay Jettha. The capital was in Udong. Suriyopear was successful in reuniting Cambodia and making it a prosperous and strong kingdom."
This latter Cambodian king married a Vietnamese princess under these circumstances: "Vietnam was divided into two kingdoms after 1570, the Trịnh in the North and the Nguyê˜n in the South, and they were at war from about 1620 to 1670. Contact between Cambodia and Vietnam (South Vietnam of the Nguyên) began between 1613 and 1620, just when the two Vietnamese kingdoms began their war. The first official contact was a request from Vietnam for war elephants from Cambodia to fight against the Trịnh in the North. In exchange the Nguyên king sent a Vietnamese princess to marry the Cambodian King Jay Jettha."
Vietnamese Female Costumes in the 17th century (Nancy Duong, 2013)
About the Author
Michael Vickery (April 1 1931, Billings, Montana, June 29 2017, Battambang, Cambodia) was an American historian and lecturer with a passion for Cambodia.
His doctoral thesis research in Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia lasted from 1970 to 1977, when he completed it under the title Cambodia After Angkor: The Chronicular Evidence for the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries. That same year, Vickery received a Doctor of Philosophy in history from Yale University.
Known for his liberal views, he later specialized in history of modern Cambodia, contributed numerous columns for the Phnom Penh Post from 1992 to 2007. He also taught Ancient History at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Phnom Penh.