‘THE LAND OF VIETNAM’I recently came across this piece on BBC Vietnamese related to how Vietnamese scholarship views on history of the Mekong delta.
Since some Cambodian politicians are drawing more attention to their provocative comments on Vietnamese-Cambodian border and territory, I think this article can be useful for some to get the idea on what kind argument is being made by Vietnamese historical scholarship. So I make a quick translation into English.To a large extent, it reflects popular argument of Vietnamese historians in dealing with the topic. Others usually take the story back to the Funan period (1st -7th. AD) and argue that Funan and Chenla are two distinct kingdoms, established by different group of peoples, and Chenla invaded Funan in the Lower Mekong, not the other way around (based on Chinese sources).
“THE LAND OF VIETNAM”
In a recent interview with BBC, Mr. Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition party in Cambodia, accused Vietnam of annexing some parts of Khmer land. BBC contacted with Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau, a veteran historian on cadastre and history of exploitation of the Southern Vietnam regarding to this topic.
BBC: Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau, in a recent interview with BBC, Mr. Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodian opposition party condemned Vietnam to “occupy the Khmer land”. What do you think about that?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: There was part of Cambodia that was swamp and very scatterly inhabited. The Cambodian (Nguoi Khmer) stayed in the upland, the Angkor Wat. Mien Nam (The Southern Vietnam) in the past belonged to another kingdom which known as Funan. Prior to the 16th and the 17th centuries, the Vietnamese spontaneously came to settle and make their living.
Mr. Mac Cuu was an anti-Qing figure (as the Han did not accept the Manchurian domination, thus fled to Vietnam), went to the region of Cambodia around 1688 and was recognized by the Cambodia as an explorer and a pioneer who reclaimed the land. Mac Cuu collected seven villages where had Vietnamese people lived with a few Chinese and Khmer namely Phu Quoc, Lung Ky, Can Bot, Vung Thom, Rach Gia and Ca Mau (with the administrative center in Hatien). All these regions stretching from Ca Mau, to part of Bac Lieu to Kam Pong Thom were belonged to Hatien (under the rule) of Mac Cuu.
Since 1708, Mac Cuu asked the Nguyen Lord to be part of Dai Viet, or Dang Trong (the Inner Region). Thus, three hundred years ago, all of those regions, even including Kam Pong Thom (Present-day part of Cambodian territory) have belonged to Vietnam.
Coming across international and Vietnamese maps and documents, drawn by Vietnamese or foreigners, (they) all recognized that the region belongs to Vietnam.
Particularly some places such as Phu Quoc Island, there was no settlement at the beginning neither Viet nor Khmer. I am the one, who researches on cadastre, concerning to land and people of these regions in the last two hundred years, (I) did make cadastral survey in Phu Quoc and what has been found is that all ten villages there, are (populated) by the Viet. Particularly speaking, Phu Quoc has been part of Hatien for 300 years, (people) still living and working normally, and there is no dispute with the Khmer.
I think if one now claims territory (the region), it will make no different as the Vietnamese claim Guangdong and Guangxi, those things had occurred for long time and today, things have been changed. For instance, after the World War I, the European map was re-drawn. And after the World War II, part of it was also changed. Those are events taking place recently.
Concerning to those regions which claimed by Cambodia, (they) have belonged to Vietnam during the last three hundred years without any conflict, even going through the French period.
BBC: As you said, when Mac Cuu went to Hatien to exploit the land, there was already the Khmer there. Is that proper if the Khmer uses this evidence to justify their claim to the land?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: Talking about population, there were Khmer (there), however history states clearly that the Vietnamese were majority in the seven villages, and what documented more is that there were also Chinese and others, maybe Malay. Of course there were Cambodians, but one cannot argue that because of those Cambodians, the land which had belonged to Vietnam during the last three hundred years now can be claimed to be part of Cambodia; according to the international law, I find it improper and unjustified.
BBC: What is the reason responsible for this unjustification? Because the Vietnamese are majority and the Vietnamese did reclaim the region, so according to the international law, (the region) belongs to Vietnam?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: It is true that Vietnamese did reclaim the land. If one opens ancient maps, there was a place called Hon Dat (not the present-day Hon Dat in Kien Giang province) where in the past, a Catholic priest established a monastery and a school for local students. This “Hon Dat” locates much further up from Hatien, in the area between Hatien and Kam Pong Thom. If one comes across research of the contemporary exploration, adventure, and maps, it is clear that many places in present-day Cambodian territory were marked with Vietnamese places (The places named in Vietnamese-VDL). If the place is named in Vietnamese, obviously the Vietnamese are majority.
BBC: In the Mekong Delta, however there are places are named by the Khmer and in Khmer such as Xa No canal?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: Yes, there are. Place such as Sai Gon is derived from Khmer. We know that in the past Vietnamese used Vietnamese language and rarely used Han-Viet. However the writing system is Sino-script because we have not yet had script. Other examples are places in central Vietnam named in Champa and still being remained until today, such as Nha Trang.
BBC: So the Khmer can rely on the fact that there are places named in Khmer language to claim their land. (Do you find) their argument correct?
Mr, Nguyen Dinh Dau: Making the same argument, muss the Champa people restore their kingdom? Their kingdom was so strong sine the second century AD. The Vietnamese state emerged since the 10th century. They were much stronger than Vietnam at that time. But taking this excuse, there will be no more normal life for human being because mankind continuously changes and shifts, once raises, once falls, one is strong and others are weak, or whatever changes, we today have to accept the fact of historical change.
BBC: You said that the Vietnamese make contributions by reclaiming the Mekong Delta, so before the Vietnamese came, the Khmer living there did not reclaim much the land, did they?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: According to my research on land usage and cadastre, there were at that time not only the Khmer but many other ethnic minorities…. Most of them lived only on the hills called “giong” and were unfamiliar with water-rice cultivation unlike the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese on the other hand practiced water rice cultivation since the time they lived in the north, in the Red river delta. As a result, during the last three hundred years, there has been a natural distribution that the Vietnamese stay in the delta and the the Khmer and other ethnic minorities stay on the “giong”. And then they (the Khmer and Ethnic minorities) gradually moved up to the Central Region (Mien Trung) or further upland.
BBC: How about the story of French? When the French came to the Indochina, they drew maps of three countries in Indochina; did they spontaneously annex the Mekong Delta into the Vietnamese territory without any Khmer’s acceptance?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: If we look at historical maps such as Dai Nam Nhat Thong Toan Do (The Full Map of Unified Dai Nam) or Taberb’s 1838-map (the map drawn by Taberb, a French Priest), both were created in 1838; we can see the Vietnam, excuse me, it (Vietnamese territory) was almost as big as the French Indochina because kingdom like Laos was not reunified and Cambodia was so weak and was going to be swallowed by the Siam (Thailand). If the Vietnam did not get involved, Cambodia would be under the Siamese domination. The advance of Vietnamese further into Cambodia also was a result of request made by Cambodian kings and lords (vua chua) and government in order to protect and maintain their government against the Siamese. Of course, people speak from different perspectives, but in fact we cannot use contemporary ideology/thought to recall what really happened at that time, the situation had occurred three hundred years ago.
BBC: How about the Khmer maps? Whether the Khmer kingdom included present-day Southern Vietnam into their maps?
Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau: The Khmer are good at architecture, but map-making is not clear. I professionally research on (historical) places and it turns out that governmental places (administrative centers) mostly locate in Land Chenla, meanwhile few are found in Water Chenla.
(This) Shows that there was no Cambodian governance and direct rule. Since Khmer King Chey Chettha II allowed / let the Nguyen Lord to establish (tows of) Sai Gon-Ben Nghe, those two places have been part of Vietnam for 400 years. It is not the case that those Tax-collecting centers locating at the region of the Cambodian people. At that time, there were Vietnamese to come and set up their lives, therefore those tax-collecting posts were to tax Vietnamese and help them to establish their lives.
What I have already said not come from the Vietnamese dynastic history, but was recorded in the Khmer Chronicle.
– About historian Nguyen Dinh Dau: born in 1920, a veteran historian working on Southern Vietnam history. His best known for multi-volume work on cadastral survey in Southern Vietnam in the nineteenth century.
– Water Chenla and Land Chenla: Chinese XinTangShu reports that Chenla (the Khmer kingdom) successfully conquered Funan in the 7th century. In the 8th century, Chenla was divided into two parts: Water Chenla and Land Chenla (Thuy Chan Lap and Luc Chan Lap, in Vietnamese). The specific geographical location of each principality maintained unclear however it is properly that Water Chenla locates in the Lower Mekong (where once stood Funan) and Land Chenla’s domain goes upstream, up to present-day southern Laos (Wat Phu and Champassak).