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The Laos During French Indochine
A.Chronologic Historic Collections
B.The History Of Laos During French Indochine.
Establishment of French Indochina
France obtained control over northern Vietnam following its victory over China in the Sino-French war (1884–1885). French Indochina was formed in October 1887 from Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina (which together form modern Vietnam) and the Kingdom of Cambodia; Laos was added after the Franco-Siamese War.
The federation lasted until 1954. In the four protectorates, the French formally left the local rulers in power, who were the Emperors of Vietnam, Kings of Cambodia, and Kings of Luang Prabang, but in fact gathered all powers in their hands, the local rulers acting only as figureheads
Creation of Laos
The arrival of European colonialism in the region perpetuated distinct Lao national identity. This is a point that the current official history of Laos, with its emphasis on the later anti-colonial struggles, prefers not to mention, but there is no denying that the end of Siamese rule over parts of the Lao lands and creation of a Lao state were the work of the French, and were a by-product of the rivalry between the French and the British colonial empires. Burma, which had been the terror of the Tai peoples for centuries, was annexed by British India in stages between 1826 and 1885. Vietnam, the other traditional power in the region, succumbed to the French, with a protectorate established over southern Vietnam and eastern Cambodia in 1862 and over the rest of Vietnam in 1885.
These developments spelled trouble for Siam, which found itself caught between two aggressive colonial powers. Under the modernising kings Rama IV (1851–68) and Rama V (1868–1910), Siam sought to make itself a modern state able to defend its independence, but the borders of its ramshackle, multi-ethnic empire were not defensible. The 1883 treaty with the Emperor of Vietnam gave the French the right to control all territories which were or had been tributary to the court of Hué, and not surprisingly they chose to interpret this very broadly. Most of the Lao lands had at one time or another been nominal tributaries of Vietnam, although this had frequently meant nothing in practice. The French imposed a European conception of statehood on these feudal relationships, and from them concocted a territorial claim to all of the former kingdom of Lān Xāng.
The principal French agent in this was Auguste Pavie (1847–1925), who had already spent 17 years in Vietnam and Cambodia furthering French interests when he was appointed French vice-consul in Luang Phrabāng in 1886. Pavie was also a noted explorer and scholar with a genuine affection for the Indochinese peoples, whom he saw as being liberated from ignorance and feudalism by an enlightened France. He regarded the Siamese rulers of the Lao lands as corrupt and oppressive. When Luang Phrabāng was attacked by Tai tribespeople from the hills, and the Siamese representatives fled, it was Pavie who organised the defence of the town and rescued the elderly King Unkham. The king was so grateful that he asked for French protection in place of Siamese rule. Pavie was unable to arrange this, although he did bring about the annexation of the Tai-speaking Sipsông Chu area to French Vietnam. Pavie called his building of French goodwill in Laos the “conquest of hearts”, but ultimately it would require force to evict the Siamese.
By 1890 the French authorities in Hanoi, backed by a powerful party in the French Parliament, were determined on the annexation of the whole of Siam, with the detachment of Laos seen only as the first stage. In 1892 Pavie was appointed French Consul-General in Bangkok, and demanded that the Siamese accept French “commercial agents” in the main Lao towns, from Luang Phrabāng to Stung Treng. Pavie argued that France should demand a protectorate over all the Lao lands on both sides of the Mekong. This, he argued, would so weaken Siam that its full annexation could soon follow. Fully aware of what the French were up to, Siam rushed troops and administrators into the Lao lands, but its infrastructure was not well developed enough for it to take a really firm grip on such distant provinces. Furthermore Rama V’s belief that the British would support him in any clash with the French proved unfounded.
In July 1893 minor border clashes led to an armed confrontation, with French gunboats sailing up the Chao Phraya to threaten Bangkok. Faced with such threats, Siam capitulated, and France established a protectorate over everything east of the Mekong. In 1904 there was a further clash, largely manufactured by the French. Again the British did not come to Siam’s defence, and again Siam was forced to back down, ceding two strips of land west of the Mekong: Xainaburī in the north and Champāsak in the south. At the same time Stung Treng was moved from Laos to Cambodia and some modifications made to the border between Laos and Vietnam. These changes established the Lao borders as they have been ever since.
The French expansionists, urged on by Pavie, now wanted to press on and demand the Lao-speaking lands on the Khōrāt Plateau, but at this point the British intervened. Having gained control of Burma and Malaya, they preferred to maintain Siam as a buffer state between their empire and the French, rather than allow the French to annex all of Siam. By 1909 the situation in Europe had changed, and France decided it needed a British alliance against the rising power of Germany. Paris therefore decided that empire-building in Siam was no longer worth the risks of a clash with British interests.
The aborted French grab for control of all the Lao lands thus created the current Lao borders, which became permanent when Britain opposed any further French advance into Siam. But it also created the predicament which has faced the Lao people ever since. If the French had not interfered at all in Siam’s internal affairs, the Lao would probably have been quietly absorbed into a greater Tai-speaking Siamese state. If on the other hand France had succeeded in detaching all the Lao lands from Siam, there might today be a major Lao state, a true reconstruction of Lān Xāng on both banks of the Mekong, with perhaps 20 million people. Instead, the Lao state today has 6 million people, of whom only half speak Lao as their first language. The Isan region of Thailand, meanwhile, contains 15 million Lao-speakers (the language is now officially called “North-East Thai“, but it is almost identical to standard Lao). With the recent large migration from Isan to Bangkok, there are now more Lao speakers in Bangkok than in Viang Chan, the Lao capital. The Lao are almost unique in this lack of congruence between their geographical distribution and the borders of what claims to be their nation state.
Having failed in their grand plan to annex Siam, the French lost interest in Laos, and for the next fifty years it remained a backwater of the French empire in Indochina. Officially, the Kingdom of Luang Phrabāng and the Principality of Champāsak remained protectorates with internal autonomy, but in practice they were controlled by French residents. King Sīsavāngvong, who became King of Luang Phrabāng in 1904, remained conspicuously loyal to the French through his 55-year reign. The rest of the country was at first divided into two regions, Upper Laos and Lower Laos, each controlled by a Commandant, based in Luang Phrabāng and Pākxē respectively. Later the country was divided into eleven provinces, each with a French resident. In 1898 all the Lao lands were put under the general supervision of a Resident-Superior, based in Viang Chan (which the French spelled Vientiane) and answerable to the French Governor-General in Hanoi. Security, customs and communications were controlled from Hanoi, and therefore much neglected in the Lao lands, which had a low budget priority. The local authorities handled health, education and justice, and were expected to fund their own operations from local revenue.
The French inherited a territory which was depopulated and demoralised by years of warfare and disorder: in 1910 there were only 600,000 people in Laos, including many Chinese and Vietnamese. To establish order, a local militia, the Garde Indigène, was established, comprising a mixture of Lao and Vietnamese troops under French officers. Banditry was suppressed, slavery abolished, and the Lao-Lum aristocracy’s practice of demanding labour service from Lao Theong and Lao Sūng peoples was stopped. Vietnamese clerks were brought in to provide administrative support to the very small number of French officials who ran the country – in 1910 there were only 200 French in the whole country. Vietnamese and Chinese merchants arrived to repopulate the towns (particularly Viang Chan) and revive trade.
The French took over the head tax previously collected by the Siamese, but since French officials were less corrupt than the Siamese had been the amount collected increased. The Lao were also made universally liable for labour service, fixed at ten days per head per year, although exemption could be bought with a cash payment. The Lao-Lum much resented this imposition, seen by them as fit only for upland Lao and slaves. Vietnamese and Chinese were exempt from labour service, but paid a higher head tax in cash. Further revenue was gained by making opium, alcohol and salt state monopolies. Nevertheless the administration in Laos was always short of money, and development, particularly in the uplands, was very slow.
On the whole the Lao found French rule preferable to Siamese rule, and this ensured that for some time there no organised resistance to their presence. In 1901, however, a revolt broke out in the south, led by a Lao Theong called Ong Kaeo, a self-proclaimed phū mī bun (holy man) who led a messianic cult. This revolt was not specifically anti-French or Lao nationalist in character, but attracted wide support and was not effectively suppressed until 1910 when Ong Kaeo was killed. One of Ong Kaeo’s lieutenants, Ong Kommadam, however, survived and went on to become a Lao nationalist leader in later years. After the Chinese revolution of 1911, there was also trouble in northern Laos as Chinese warlords and bandits carried their fights across the ill-defined border and as Lao Sūng peoples with links to China were drawn into the conflict. French attempts to regulate the opium trade also provoked resistance in some areas. In 1914-16 there was a Hmong rebellion known as “the madman’s revolt” after its leader, a shaman called Pāchai. Later Lao official histories portray all these disturbances as “anti-colonial struggles”, but this is an exaggeration.
The favourable comparison between French rule and Siamese rule led to a considerable re-migration of Lao from the Isan area to Laos, boosting the population and reviving trade. The Mekong valley towns such as Viang Chan, Savannakhēt and Paksē began to grow, although they remained majority Vietnamese and Chinese. Agriculture and trade also revived. The French hoped to divert Lao trade down the Mekong to Saigon, but they were unable to compete with the quicker and cheaper trade route through Bangkok, particularly once the Siamese railways reached the Mekong in the late 1920s. This gave Siam a continuing economic importance to Laos even after Siamese political control had ended: a fact which has not changed. The French proposed a railway over the mountains to Vietnam, but capital for this project was never forthcoming from Paris. The French did however build the most important road in Laos, National Route 13 from Viang Chan to Paksē (more recently it has been extended north to Luang Phrabāng). But economic development remained slow. There was some tin-mining and some coffee-growing, but the country’s isolation and difficult terrain meant that it never became profitable from a colonialist point of view. More than 90% of the Lao remained subsistence farmers, growing just enough surplus produce to sell for cash to pay their taxes.
Most of the French who came to Laos as officials, settlers or missionaries developed a strong affection for the country and its people, and many devoted decades to what they saw as bettering the lives of the Lao. Some took Lao wives, learned the language, became Buddhists and “went native” – something more acceptable in the French Empire than in the British. With the racial attitudes typical of Europeans at this time, however, they tended to classify the Lao as gentle, amiable, childlike, naive and lazy, regarding them with what one writer called “a mixture of affection and exasperation.” They had no belief that the Lao would ever be able to govern themselves, and were slow to establish a system of western education for the Lao. The first secondary school in Viang Chan did not open until 1921, and only in the 1930s did the first Lao students get a higher French education in Hanoi or Paris. Gradually a network of primary schools spread through the lowland areas, and by the 1930s literacy rates among the Lao Lum had increased considerably. But the upland areas, where people spoke either Lao dialects or non-Lao languages, remained untouched.
Among the first Lao to get advanced western educations were three aristocratic brothers, sons (by different mothers) of Chau Bunkhong, the uparāt (hereditary vice-king) of Luang Phrabāng: these were Prince Phetxarāt (1890–1959), Prince Suvannaphūmā (1901–84) and Prince Suphānuvong (1909–95), who were later to dominate Lao politics for many years. Phetxarāt graduated from the École Coloniale in Paris and was the first Lao to study at Oxford University. Both Suvannaphūmā and Suphānuvong graduated in engineering in France. Suvannaphūmā also studied classics and read Latin and Greek as well as Pali: becoming the very model of a French scholar-politician. It is a standard observation of post-colonial history that enlightened colonialism brought about its own demise by creating a class of western-educated intellectuals who then became leaders of anti-colonialist movements. The French education of men like Phetxarāt, Suvannaphūmā and Suphānuvong would seem to confirm this in the case of Laos, but in fact all were essentially Lao aristocrats first and nationalist intellectuals second, even though Suphānuvong eventually became the figurehead leader of the Lao Communists. Laos never produced a figure like Pol Pot, a fully formed French Marxist ideologue.
The real French contribution to Lao nationalism, apart from the creation of the Lao state itself, was made by the oriental specialists of the French School of the Far East (École Française d’Extrême-Orient), who undertook major archaeological works, found and published Lao historical texts, standardised the written Lao language, renovated neglected temples and tombs and in 1931 founded the Independent Lao Buddhist Institute in Viang Chan, where Pali was taught so that the Lao could study their own ancient history. The restoration and preservation of the cultural glories of Luang Phrabāng is a lasting tribute to French scholarship and endeavour.
The French stimulation of Lao culture and historical studies created a new Lao intellectual class, which was soon led by Phetxarāt, a gifted scholar. Phetxarāt is today remembered as a nationalist, but at first he was the leading Lao collaborator with the French. In 1923 he was appointed Indigenous Inspector of Political and Administrative Affairs, making him the highest ranking Lao in the country. He worked to increase the number of Lao in administrative positions and to reduce the role of the Vietnamese, whom the Lao disliked much more than they did the French. Phetxarāt and other leading Lao favoured French rule because it protected them from the Siamese and Vietnamese. It was only when French power and prestige were broken that the Lao elite turned against the French.
Crisis of World War II
Statue of Sīsavāngvong, King of Luang Phrabāng 1904-46, King of Laos 1946-59 (In the grounds of the Royal Palace Museum, Luang Phrabāng)
Laos might have drifted along as a pleasant backwater of the French Empire indefinitely had not outside events impacted sharply on the country from 1940 onwards. The fall of France to the Nazi German invasion was a profound shock to Lao faith in France’s ability to protect them. The greatest threat to Laos was now Siamese irredentism. In December 1940 Marshall Phibun‘s military regime in Bangkok attacked French Indochina with the covert assistance of the Japanese, seizing western Cambodia, and reclaiming Xainaburī and Champāsak, which been part of French Laos since 1904. The Vichy French authorities allowed Japan to base troops in Indochina, though not at this stage in Laos. The fear of being left exposed to Thailand (as Phibun had renamed Siam) and Japan led to the formation of the first Lao nationalist organization, the Movement for National Renovation, in January 1941, led by Phetxarāt and supported by local French officials, though not by the Vichy authorities in Hanoi. This group wrote the current Lao national anthem and designed the current Lao flag, while paradoxically pledging support for France.
There matters rested until the liberation of France in 1944, bringing Charles de Gaulle to power. This meant the end of the alliance between Japan and the French administration in Indochina. The Japanese had no intention of allowing the Gaullists to take over, and in late 1944 they staged a military coup in Hanoi. French Gaullist units fled over the mountains to Laos, pursued by the Japanese, who occupied Viang Chan in March 1945 and Luang Phrabāng in April. King Sīsavāngvong was detained by the Japanese, but his son Crown Prince Savāngvatthanā called on all Lao to assist the French, and many Lao died fighting with the French resistance against the Japanese occupiers.
Prince Phetxarāt, however, opposed this position, and thought that Lao independence could be gained by siding with the Japanese, who made him Prime Minister of Luang Phrabāng, though not of Laos as a whole. In practice the country was in chaos and Phetxarāt’s government had no real authority. Another Lao group, the Lao Sēri (Free Lao), became agents of the Thais, which also meant supporting the Japanese. A further complication was the arrival of substantial numbers of Vietnamese forces loyal to the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Although the official Communist line at this time was unite all forces against the Japanese, the Vietnamese hated the French and so supported Phetxarāt’s government.
In August 1945, just as the country was dissolving into a multi-sided civil war, Japan suddenly surrendered to the Allies. In Laos as in all the newly-liberated capitals of East Asia, there was a scramble to fill the power-vacuum. The main contenders were the Gaullist French, whose guerilla forces were holding out with Lao assistance in several parts of the country, and a new Lao nationalist group led by Phetxarāt, the Lao Issara (also meaning Free Lao). The nearest Allied army was the Chinese Nationalist army in southern China, and this force was supposed to march south and receive the Japanese surrender. The United States was officially opposed to the re-establishment of French rule in Indochina, and the British could be expected to be unhelpful. But the French had no intention of giving up Indochina without a fight.
Hmong Early History
This does not replicate the route of the railway system connecting Haiphong and Hanoi, Vietnam with Kunming in Yunnan Province, China, but it does reflect the general idea of the distances and terrain involved.Vichy France represented French interests in French Indochina, but her hold weakened significantly as the Japanese moved in. Japan’s initial interest in Indochina was to supply Japanese troops with enormous amounts of rice and corn supplies, and money, and to stop supplies from flowing from Indochina to Chiang Kai-shek’s China, mainly over the Hanoi-Yunan rail and out of Haiphong port. So, for starters, the Japanese had to deal with Vietnam, mainly Tonkin in the north. Making this a difficult task was the geography of the Tonkin-Laos Uplands through which this rail line transited.The day after Vichy France asked Germany for an armistice, June 19, 1940, Japan gave an ultimatum to Charles Arsene-Henry, France’s ambassador in Tokyo, to close the border between Indochina and China and hand over border control to Japanese authorities. The ambassador handed the ultimatum over to General Georges Catroux, the general governor of Indochina, shown here. Catroux complied. He knew his forces were no match for the Japanese and no help could be expected from war-torn France, or from Britain or the US. The Vichy government fired him. Soon thereafter, the general rejected the Vichy government and joined General De Gaulle and the Free French.Catroux was replaced by Admiral Jean Decoux. Decoux couldn’t do much better than Catroux. In August 1940, Japan served the French ambassador another ultimatum. This was resolved diplomatically in what is known as the Matsuoka-Henry Pact of August 30, 1940. Matsuoka was Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and is shown here. In this agreement, Japan recognized Vichy France as sovereign over Indochina in return for Japanese access to military facilities, transit rights, and the right to station troops in northern Vietnam, Tonkin. The Japanese, in reality, had two major objectives. They had to stop the flow of supplies from Vietnam to Chinese Nationalist forces against whom they were fighting in China, and they needed passage and freedom of movement in northern Vietnam to fight the Chinese Nationalists along the border region.
About a year prior to this invasion, Thailand’s dictator had made a quiet deal with the Japanese to support them if they invaded Malaya. Thailand saw Vichy’s weakness as a chance to regain territories in French Indochina that had once belonged to Thailand. Thai Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsonggram, Thailand’s prime minister, shown here, dealt secretly with the Japanese and sought Japanese support to attack French forces in Cambodia and Laos. He essentially made Thailand an ally of the Japanese.The dictator was two-timing the Japanese, however, also dealing with the British and US. The Japanese finally decided to invade Thailand. Thailand called for a cease-fire the same day as the invasion, signed an armistice, allied with Japan, and allowed Japan to use Thai bases from which to attack Malaya and Singapore. Japanese squadrons flew in almost immediately thereafter.
One result of all this was the Franco-Laotian Treaty of Protectorate signed on August 29, 1941. King Sisavang Vong already held Luang Prabang province and the provinces of Phongsali and Houaphin (all outlined in red). This new treaty of 1941 attached the provinces of Vientiane, Xingkhoang, and Louang Namtha (all outlined in green) to Luang Prabang. The net result was the Kingdom of Luang Prabang now included most of present-day northern Laos. The Vichy French still maintained it would protect Laos.Broadly speaking, most of the rest of southern Laos was administered by the French from Vientiane, by the résident supérieur. He also represented France with the Kingdom of Luang Prabang. He employed French, Vietnamese and Lao civil servants.All together, these two sections of Laos were considered by the French to be the Territory of Laos. As a general rule, Laotians accepted these arrangements, still wanting French protection against the Thais. So what you see here is the rough coming together of what is present-day Laos. Frankly, given the enormous tumult throughout the region, it is remarkable that Laos would emerge in this configuration, in principal, united with borders formed.Beginning in December 1944, toward the end of WWII, Free French General Charles de Gaulle sent a force of Free French paratroopers who jumped into the PDJ to prepare for France’s recolonization of Indochina. Please recall that one of de Gaulle’s objectives was to take back the colonies held by the Vichy government for the Free French. There was no intent to give up the colonies.
- Japanese forces and civilians wanted to return to Japan.
- The Chinese were in the north.
- The British were in the south returning authority to the French.
- Ho Chi Minh was leading a Provisional Government of Vietnam, with most of its strength in sectors of the north.
- The French were firmly in control of the south and began to reestablish control over most of the north.
- The kings of Laos and Cambodia remained in place with little control over much of anything.
For those unfamiliar with him, I want to introduce you to one of the most famous Hmong known to Americans, General Vang Pao. He fought with French commandos at the age of 13, dropping with them into the Plaines des Jars to resist the Japanese. In April 1954, he led 850 Hmong through tough terrain of northern Laos hoping to relieve the French at Dien Bien Phu. At the end of this war, he returned to the Royal Laotian Army (RLA) and took command of the 10th Infantry Battalion posted along the Laotian-North Vietnamese border. He and his followers would become a staunch and fierce combat ally.I had not wanted to go into this second Indochina War in much depth because it deserves its own story. But the Hmong became a valiant ally to the US, along with the Royal Laotian Army, the ground force fighting with US special forces in Laos against the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. As a result, I must at least introduce readers to the Hmong role and participation.Let’s move, then, to The Hmong and the US join in the Indochina War (not yet published).
History of Laos
|History of Laos|
This article is part of a series
|Early history of Laos|
|Lan Xang (1353–1707)|
|Dark ages of Laos (1707–1893)|
|Luang Phrabang, Viang Chan, Champasak, Muang Phuan|
|French Laos (1893–1953)|
|Lao Issara (1945–49)|
|Post-Independence Laos (1954–75)|
|North Vietnamese Invasion|
|Laotian Civil War (1953–75)|
|Communist Laos (1975–present)|
|Insurgency in Laos (since 1975)|
Earliest known history and the founding of Lan Xang
The earliest Laos legal document (and the earliest sociological evidence about the existence of the Lao people) is known as “the laws of Khun Borom” (also spelled “Khun Bulom”), still preserved in manuscript form.
This set of memoriter laws is written in a type of indigenous blank verse, and reflects the state of proto-Lao society as early as the 9th century, possibly prior to their adoption of Theravada Buddhism, and prior to (or coeval with) their southward migration into the territory now comprising modern Laos (from North-Western Vietnam). good
While some Lao people regard Borom/Bulom as a subject of myth only, Western scholars regard him as an historical figure, albeit there is very little factually known about him aside from the fact of his bare existence and the description of a very primitive kingdom in his laws.
In general terms, these ancient laws describe an agrarian society in which life revolves around subsistence agriculture with domesticated water-buffaloes (the gayal). The strict punishments set down for stealing or killing a neighbor’s elephant reflect that these were (evidently) an expensive and important possession of the time.
The official History of Laos as introduced in government textbooks, is conventionally traced to the establishment of the kingdom of Lan Xang by Fa Ngum in 1353. This is a relatively conservative date to begin the history of the nation, providing a contrast to the course taken by Thai historiography (which reaches back implausibly far into proto-history). By the 14th century, when this “official history” begins, the speakers of early Lao-related languages had probably developed a reasonable base of population among the prior inhabitants of (what is now) Laos over the prior century or two.
The earlier inhabitation of the land by peoples such as the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati and Proto-Khmer peoples was given a great deal of emphasis in the histories of Laos written during the French colonial period. However, post-colonial historiography has instead sought to represent all peoples of Laos as equally “indigenous”, relating the early history in terms of a complex interaction with the (admittedly more ancient) Cambodian kingdoms to the south, and praising the Proto-Khmer as Lao nationalists for their heroism and modern struggles against the French and Americans (see, e.g., the Ong Keo Rebellion starting circa 1902).
Both French colonial history and post-colonial (Communist) history sought to reverse the obvious racism of earlier, popular accounts that when the Lao migrated into the country, they simply conquered and enslaved the native inhabitants (viz., primarily Proto-Khmer people, described in such a context with the derogatory term “Kha-That”). This traditional view has almost no factual basis, but remains a commonly heard pseudo-history, and a special concern for teachers to address (or redress) in the classroom. Vatthana Pholsena provides a survey of the historiography on this point in Post-War Laos, 2006, Silkworm Books.
It is generally assumed that, as late as the 16th century, King Photisarath helped establish Theravada Buddhism as the predominant religion of the country. However, this aspect of official history may now have to change given recent archaeological discoveries in Cambodia and Vietnam, showing intact Pali inscriptions as early as the 9th century. (See: JPTS, Vol. XXIII, 1997: Peter Skilling, “New Paali Inscriptions from Southeast Asia”)
While there can be no doubt that animism and fragments of Shiva-worship were popular in ancient Laos, evidence increasingly indicates a long, gradual process leading to the ascendancy of Buddhism (rather than a single king converting the country). The reverse also did occur, as with the historical layers of statuary and inscriptions at Wat Phu Champassak; the oldest are in Sanskrit, and worship Shiva, while the later evidence is Buddhist, subsequently reverting to animism (with the most recent statues simply depicting giant elephants and lizards, with no references to the organized religions of India, and neither Sanskrit nor Pali text).
It is significant to note that all of these official histories exclude the (possible and actual) influence of Chinese religion in the region. In fact, the ancient Lao calendar and Thai calendar are both of Chinese origin (adapted from the “Heavenly Stem Branch Calendar“), and do not reflect Indian cosmology. These calendars were both part of the royal religion (preserved in epigraphy) and, apparently, part of popular religion (fortune telling) for centuries.
Before full independence in 1954
During World War II, the Japanese occupied French Indochina. When Japan surrendered, Lao nationalists declared Laos independent, but by early 1946, French troops had reoccupied the country and conferred limited autonomy on Laos. During the First Indochina War, the Indochinese Communist Party formed the Pathet Lao resistance organization committed to Lao independence. Laos gained full independence following the French defeat by the Vietnamese communists and the subsequent Geneva peace conference in 1954.
The period of the Kingdom of Laos
Elections were held in 1955, and the first coalition government, led by Prince Souvanna Phouma, was formed in 1957. The coalition government collapsed in 1958 under pressure from the United States. In 1960 Captain Kong Le staged a coup when the cabinet was away at the royal capital of Luang Prabang and demanded reformation of a neutralist government. The second coalition government, once again led by Souvanna Phouma, was not successful in holding power. Rightist forces under General Phoumi Nosavan drove out the neutralist government from power later that same year.
A second Geneva conference, held in 1961-62, provided for the independence and neutrality of Laos, but the agreement was subverted by both the United States and North Vietnam and the war soon resumed. The government and army of Laos were generally neutral during the conflict. The United States and North Vietnam subverted the agreement by forming private proxy armies. Growing American and North Vietnamese military presence in the country increasingly drew Laos into the Second Indochina War (1954-1975). For nearly a decade, eastern Laos was subjected to the heaviest bombing in the history of warfare , as the U.S. sought to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through Laos. The country was also repeatedly invaded by Vietnam.
Shortly after the Paris Peace Accords led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, a ceasefire between the Pathet Lao and the government led to a new coalition government. However, North Vietnam never really withdrew from Laos and the Pathet Lao remained little more than a proxy army for Vietnamese interests. After the fall of South Vietnam to communist forces in April 1975, the Pathet Lao with the backing of North Vietnam were able to take total power with little resistance. On December 2, 1975, the king was forced to abdicate his throne and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was established.
The period of the Communist government/contemporary period
The new communist government led by Kaysone Phomvihane imposed centralized economic decision-making and incarcerated many members of the previous government and military in “re-education camps” which also included the Hmongs. While nominally independent, the communist government was for many years effectively little more than a puppet regime run from Vietnam. The government’s policies prompted about 10 percent of the Lao population to leave the country. Laos depended heavily on Soviet aid channeled through Vietnam up until the Soviet collapse in 1991. In the 1990s the communist party gave up centralised management of the economy but still has a monopoly of political power.
the end @ copyright Dr Iwan suwandy