1900, The Prince Yukanthor Affair, Dr. Henri Locard
1900 – The Prince Yukanthor Affair
8 - 30th January 2014
• Pierre Lamant :
– L’Affaire Yukanthor,
autopsie d’un scandale colonial
Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer
Jean Hesse :
L’Affaire Iukanthor, les dessous d’un
1900. Paris, 1900
Prince Norodom Aruna Yukanthor
• Born in 1860, the son of Preah Neang Brah Nan or Tep Soda
• In 1872, he was made to cut his hair and become a monk.
• In 1884, involved in an incident with Radisson, a French
lieutenant, Yukanthor accuses him of having taken one of his
concubines, who was sold to the Prince by his father who had
incurred a gambling debt. Intrigues.
• Married his half sister, Princess Norodom Malika (1872-1951),
daughter of Norodom’s 26th wife Neak Moneang Phayu. Malika
founded a private girls’ school on 11 Dec. 1911 at which both
her daughters were taught. Sisowath had signed a decree making
boys aged 8 compelled to attend renovated pagoda schools.
• One, Princess Pingpeang Yukanthor (1894 – 1966), was to
become politically active daughter was very prominent in the
campaign to lobby the French in 1949 to return Cochinchina to
Cambodia. She was the head of the Cambodian delegation to the
Jean Hesse’s personality
• A man with a mission (denounce colonialism),
but, like Carman, failed in most of his
enterprises – except journalism. No sense of
compromising with reality and megalomaniac.
• Assistant doctor in the navy (1883-1888),
journalist (1888-1892) and failed explorer (18923). Duc d’Uzès dies in 1893 in the Congo.
Journalist of the anti-colonialist cause: West
Indies, Martinique, Madagasdcar, North Africa.
• Anti-war militant & against military spirit: “I hate war
and I hate the warrior”. 1888 « We must do all we can
to avoid war which, whatever the issue, is always
catastrophic ». He campaigned for disarmament and
• He had an undeniable and early sympathy for the fight
• He was against the political influence of religion and for
the separation of Church & State.
• A diehard defender of oppressed races and of the black
race in particular. Racism was against science.
• Shifting opinions about colonisation, but key idea:
“neither exploitation, nor assimilation, but association”
& “indigenous people must be citizens, allies, and not
Why did Yukanthor sail to France?
• Certainly sent by his father in the capacity of heir
apparent to the throne to protest against the
tyranny and corruption of Résidents supérieurs.
• Norodom never got over the blackmailing of the
1884 Thomson Convention: very slim judicial basis
for French rule.
• The last straw was the 11 July 1897 decree that
removed the last autonomy of the sovereign and
deprived the King from revenues of gambling. He
now reigned but did not rule.
• Odd alliance between power hungry and
traditionalist members of the royal family and antiimperialist French radicals.
Huyn de Verneville (1889-1897)
• Nhiek Tioulong: « The popular chronicles of the time
qualify the Representative of the Protectorate as an original
personality. He seems to want to appear in the eyes of the
public like a Khmer high dignitary, donning a Cambodian
sampot on thngay-sel to make the traditional offerings of rice
to the monks, invited to process in front of his residence, thus
following Khmer custom. He takes as his partner a lady from
the Court named Preung, well-known among contemporaries
for her loathing of the royal Court and who is said to have
had a certain influence on the relationships between the
Résidence Supérieur and the Royal Palace.”
Huyn de Verneville (1889-1897)
• “…Those very relationships between Huyn de Verneville and the
King seem to be highly controversial. In his complaint registered with
the Ministry of the Colonies in Paris against the Protectorate, and
the intrigues of Huy de Verneville, in particular as regards the
King, Prince Norodom Yukanthor formulated barely believable
accusations”. Thus is all we hear of H. de V. in Tioulong’s
book. Beautification of PPenh: canal & bridge, with 9headed Naga. 1897: Treasury. 1894, death of Queen
mother. 10 Residents.
• After 1887: Indochinese Union & Jan 1897, H. de V.
report Norodom was dying, Doumer (1897-1902) came
to PPenh & found him “completely lucid”. Decided Res.
Sup. too “brusque” & his cohabitation with Neak Ruong
“had diminished the authority of France”. Replaced on on 14
• 11 July 1897, Council of Ministers without King: 5
What were those accusations?
• Memorandum addressed to the president of the
Council of Ministers & the members of the
Government in the capacity of heir apparent to the
throne. 3 versions: one long one to Ministry, a
shorter to Le Matin, and condensed to Le Figaro.
• Freely asked and granted protectorate has become
today a complete, absolute administration – stricter
than in a conquered territory.
• 1884 coup de force, with bayonets on the throat of
the King and threat of deportation, Thomson
obtained all political powers in Cambodia.
Yukanthor’s memorendum - 2
• The 1897 crisis with de Verneville who threatened
him to send him to Poulo Condor or treated him
like a lunatic. Saved by Paul Doumer. Notorious
abuses of power with his mistress, the Mi-Ruong;
• Our dynasty has reigned for 3,000 years and has
always cared for the happiness of the people.
• The Cambodian, free under the absolute authority
of the King, has become the slave inside the whims
of your administrators.
Yukanthor’s memorendum - 3
• « To the legal authorities of royal origin, you substituted the
authority of the Mi-Ruong, de Verneville and the boy-interpreter
• Asks for the dismissal of both Um, « who ran away
before the enemy » in 1885, the PM and Thiounn, the
secretary of the Council of Minister and “an embezzler of
public funds”. The 2 main embezzlers of the country.
• “The people also suffers from the transfer of land ownership from
the King to the Résidence supérieure. Previously the entire
Cambodian territory legally belonged to the King. In reality, it
belonged to the one who cultivated it. You have established private
ownership. You have given large concessions. Thereby, you have
created the poor.. And now you force the Cambodians to pay
taxation for a land they freely used. »
UM (1821 - c.1898)
• Entered the service of Prince Ang Duong in 1837,
accompanying him to Bangkok. After fighting
against the Vietnamese to regain the throne, Ang
Duong took him as the head of pages. 1861,
assistant to the Minister of War, and Minister in
1868. Later Minister of Justice. In 1888,
• at the time of the “Yukanthor Affair”. Joined
forces with “corrupt” French officials and served
French interests. (Laura Summers & Justin Corfield)
• From 1883, an interpreter of the Protectorate .
• 1883-86, accompanies the Franco-Khmer troops that
fight against the Great Rebellion and becomes
Secretary-interpreter. Climbs up all the administrative
echelons and in 192 becomes deputy secretary of the
Council of Ministers, then in 1899, general secretary.
• “This person of mixed race with a couple of $100 as a year’s
salary has built a fortune in a few years that enable him to
possess a real estate worth $100,000. He gets his % on all …”
• By 1917, under Sisowath, by the time he has become
Minister of the Palace, he is the most powerful man in
the kingdom. Ministers, Princes, the King “tremble before
him” (Panetier, Le C.). “Through his intelligence, is hard
work, his wealth, he made himself indispensable to the passing
Yukanthor’s memorendum - 4
• French justice has conducted an investigation into the theft of
elephants by the household of the Obbarach, the highest
nobleman after the King, whom you call the Second King and
style ‘Majesty’. The Government general of Indochina bases
its policies on this ridiculous character who is the laughing
stock of the entire population”.
• “By ruining the authority of the King and by giving it to
French administrators who know nothing of our customs,
you abolish the protection that royalty has always granted to
the people. ‘I’m going to tell the King’ has now become a joke.
• Oum, this enemy of the people who raises taxes and corvées
is the most cynical enemy of the King.
A precedent: Duong Chakr (1861-1897)
Who was he ?
• Born in 1861, he is the 5th son of the King, and
3rd survivor. Mother Cham Socheat Bopha Nuon
was the daughter of a mandarin. In that difficult
period, he is the favourite son of the King, « strong,
intelligent and resourceful ».
• His ambitious mother, the King’s favourite and
named “the tigress”, wants to eliminate Yukanthor,
the eldest son, to bring her son closer to the throne.
• From 1884 to 1886: probably secret emissary
between Norodom and the rebels.
• It was the 1st time that a high rank colonised person came
from the distant Indochina to complain against intrigues
of the colonial administration. Came by boat from
Singapore with his wife and could speak French.
• Lived in Bangkok since 1891, but the Siamese who
supported him, asked him to serve the Siamese
administration. He refused. He had made complaints with
Auguste Pavie, French ambassador to Siam.
• When he arrives in Marseille, on 20th June 1893, France
accepts to pay for his expenses as he claims he has sold
his jewels to pay for the passage. After spending a couple
of nights in an expensive hotel, he is moved to a cheap
residential hotel 50 Rue Jacob, with a small allowance.
Duong Chakr - 3
• A young Cambodian from the Ecole coloniale serves
him as a secretary-interpreter. Helped by Emile
Pelletier, ex-headmaster of the Colonial School of
PPenh and teacher of Chakr. Supposed to have
discovered a pass along the Khône waterfalls.
• He complained of being a victim of the intrigues
of the Res. Sup. Huy de Verneville, wanted to be
used by the British in Bangkok and ask the
protection of France.
• De Lanessan, the governor general suggest one
should get rid of him by sending him to Algeria
with a pension.
Duong Chakr - 4
• On 24 August 1893, a letter from the King to de
Verneville arrived in Paris in which, considering his
son as a rebel, he disowned him, refused to give him
the least command and asked the French
government to send him to Tunisia or Algeria so
that he would not be able to escape and he would
no longer hear from him.
• On 26, forced by the police and Dr Hahn to take a
train from Gare de Lyon to Marseille. The Princess
refuses to join him.
Duong Chakr - 5
• Played an active rôle in the rebellion and is hostile to
direct French administration. He was an intermediary
between the rebel groups, the King and the Queenmother a fierce enemy of French presence. He seems to
have created a reign of terror in the palace. The
complicity of the King is obvious. Support of merchant
Marrot. Confessed to the press he was involved in the
rebellion and obeyed his father. He had authority over the
insurgents in war and in peace.
• De Verneville wanted to get rid of him. Once the war
was over, he was granted the Légion d’honneur. Résident
Piquet (1886-87) wanted him pardoned.
Intrigues & flight
• With the arrival of de Verneville at the end of 1889,
competition with Chakr and his mother with the new
Résident. In early 1890, he writes DC is clever, overambitious, intriguing and convinced the crown will be his.
He would have behaved improperly with “Madame de
Verneville” (Mi-Rong) and the King had him chained. De
V. denounces Princess Khun Socheat Bopha “as the main
enemy of the Protectorate”. A favourite of the old King
Ang Duong, she had been abducted by the young
Norodom and was involved in corruption. Associated
with Caraman by Gregory Muller (p. 192)
Letter to Le Figaro
• Two types of Frenchmen: those in the colonies,
those in the metropolis.
• The French know nothing about Cambodians and
believe they are barbarians.
• « My family has ruled over the kingdom for
thousands of years. » France wants to impose its
• In the tropics, nature saves the population from the
struggle for life: labour is not a punishment for sins.
Letter to Le Figaro - 2
• Buddhism makes the King the father of the
people and the Cambodians form a united and
• We have our “slaves”, but your workers have the
freedom to starve.
• You make ostentatious display of items of
destruction in universal exhibitions.
• When Norodom asked for French protection,
he asked neither for administration nor
1 - Questionable, erroneous assertions
• Aryan race. Mongolian, Dravidian: Burmese Days, G.
• His dynasty has reigned since several millennia :
“audacious”, but in accordance with “the
imagination of Court genealogists”.
• Ignorance of both Asian and European history.
• Perfect harmony and love between rich & poor.
Immutability of history, like in Middle Ages frame
• Kh. “slaves” live much better than workers in
France who have only the freedom to starve.
• Strong support for an absolute monarchy and a
multi-party democracy is of no use.
2 - Realistic or prophetic perceptions
• Use of media campaign : open government
• Some colonisers or administrators thought
Cambodians were barbarians. (CT, H de V, B)
• Use of force rather than persuasion & diplomacy;
• Dialectics of subjects & citizens. Exploitation &
• Nature under the tropics is more generous.
• Denunciation of the place of weapons in
• Treaty of Protectorate – not colonisation
• All empires have tottered to their fall.
Controversial issues: yes & no (AA)
• Two categories of Frenchmen
• Idyllic description of Cambodian society
• French administrators created nothing: 1863-1997:
whose fault ? 1884-1897
• In Europe, work seen as a malediction after the Fall
from paradise. Place of work: kitchen gardens.
• Place of Buddhism as reinforcing the model of
benevolent and paternalistic absolutism. Violence?
• Condition of the working classes in France in 1900.
• Hypocrisy of Lberté, Egalité, Fraternité in colonies.
Fuite & fin de Yukanthor
• His half brother, Prince Pheanuvong, born en 1871
and son of Khun Than, mother of Duong Chakr
(99, 6 persons: 2 princes, one mandarin & 3
servants), takes the boat at Marseille, unbeknown to
the French police, while Yukanthor has fled to
Bruxelles. (Lamant: his son)
• P. 112 : Hess “managed to substitute the son to his
father” at Marseille on 23 September 1900.
• Yukanthor refused to return to Phnom Penh until
he had obtained satisfaction for his demands.
Fuite & fin de Yukanthor - 2
• Disowned by his father, pawned his jewels and took
the Prinz Heinrich on 26 October and stopped at
Singapore. Regular contact with Neak Phyam, his
mother-in-law wo sent him money through
• 27 September 1901, father requested him to return
home to beg his pardon. Refusal. Governor
General granted him a small pension in 1926. Died
in Bangkok, aged 74, in 1934.
• A spiritual father for Norodom who used the same
tactics: refusal to return to the capital until he had
obtained independence and huge media campaign
Yukanthor a hero of Cambodian history ?
• Yes, because he dared to go as far as Paris to protest against
abuse of power on the part the French administration
• Because the likes of Huy de Verneville were behaving like
veritable tyrants and intriguers.
• Because France had in a way reneg(u)ed on the Treaty of
Protectorate and the legal basis for administering the
country was very flimsy.
• No, because he was not pleading for his country, but for his
father’s and his own privileges. An aspiring autocrat.
• No, because he is not pleading for independence and the
departure of the French.
• No, because he is a denier of reality: he paints his country
as paradise on earth – which it certainly was not for the vast
majority of the population. Cambodians are his subjects.
• Conclusion: A precedent to Sihanouk’s Royal Crusade for
dignity, sovereignty & independence ?