Colonial Cambodia’s ‘Bad Frenchmen’: The rise of French rule and the life of Thomas Caraman, 1840-87 (Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia)

At the same time a biography and a history of how Cambodia became colonized by the French in the nineteenth century, Cambodia’s Bad Frenchmen offers a captivating account of a little-known period of colonial history. Drawing on new materials from French, Vietnamese and Cambodian archives, it reconstructs a time during which France struggled to give meaning and substance to its Protectorate over Cambodia. The book focuses on those sitting on the boundaries between the worlds of the colonizers and the colonized: indigenous interpreters, go-betweens, concubines and their metis children, and marginal Europeans who failed to fashion a proper colonial existence – mauvais colonists – notably Thomas Caraman. They all constituted a challenge to the colonial enterprise by muddling its social, cultural and racial boundaries. In its consideration of the critical role played by these groups, this book shifts away from governor-generals, grand discourses and the simple view of colonialism as “colonizers” versus “colonized,” to explore how things actually worked themselves out on the ground. It examines in particular the “civilizing mission” and educational initiatives; the slow destruction of the indigenous justice system; the policing of sexual relations between colonizers and colonized; the theft of Cambodian land and taxes by the colonizing power; and the brutal repression of resistance wherever and whenever it appeared. Overall, Cambodia’s Bad Frenchmen reveals the crucial role played by indigenous middlemen and marginal Europeans in the rise of the colonial state, and tells the fascinating tale of a Frenchman who came to represent everything that the colonial state dreaded.

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