Achar Hem Chieu and the first movement for Cambodian independence: 1941-1942
Haèm Chieu (1898-1943)
the ‘Monks’ Demonstration‘
of 20th July 1942 :
(also derisively called by Sihanouk
―La Révolte des parapluies‖,
―the Umbrella War‖)
The Twilight of the Colonial Age
I - On 31st May 1943, the Résident Supérieur
wrote in his annual report:
• ―The most significant event of that period was the 20th
July demonstration whose immediate consequences were
the elimination of the dubious elements that had
organized or participated in this demonstration and, as a
consequence, the reorganization of the Buddhist Institute.
• That incident had no effect on the relations between the
Protectorate and the Cambodian government that
Barely a grain of truth in this rosy picture
• Sovereignty of the Khmers & Cambodia limited in 3 ways
• 1 - The Indochinese Federation, with Résident Supérieur
having to follow directives from Gouverneur Général in
Hanoi. Chinese & Vietnamese Congregations under the
rule of French courts. Decoux‘s supreme rule
• 2 – Japanese presence
• 3 - Recent loss of Western & Northern Cambodia to
• Results: Growth of nationalist sentiments & fall in
standard of living.
The popularity of bi-weekly Nagaravatta
• Before the war this first Cambodian newspaper had
been moderately nationalistic, deploring essentially
the presence of Vietnamese in the Cambodian
administration, but after France‘s defeat, the paper
became more and more openly nationalistic and
• The French had lost much of their prestige in the
eyes of educated Cambodians having been defeated
three times: — by the Nazis, by the Japanese troops,
and thirdly by Thailand.
• France had thus reneged on the 1863 Treaty of
Protectorate twice: 1st by gradually transforming a
Protectorate into a Colony and then by creating
Indochina. Then a 2nd time when it had failed to
protect Khmer territory in 1941.
« The Monireth Affair »
• Monireth, the eldest son of King Monivong, who
had been expected to become the next King, was
banished from Phnom Penh after the 20th July 1942
demonstration and was enrolled in the Légion
Etrangère in Tonkin by Admiral Jean Decoux.
• He had been seen talking with Pach Chhœun in
front of his house at 33 Boulevard Doudart de
Lagrée, when the demonstrators were marching in
front of the Prince‘s house.
• The prevailing pro-independence feelings among
the Khmers, both of common and princely birth,
reflects what was happening in the rest of Asia, and
explains the choice of a teenage Prince by the Vichy
authorities. Sihanouk‘s loyalty to France was
Vichy saw the climax of the colonialist ethos
• The so-called ―civilizing mission‖ meant above all
awakening the Khmers who, in French eyes, had
been slumbering for far too long.
• This is exactly what was happening around the
readership of Nagaravatta : when the Khmers
showed, after fifty years of silence that they, at long
last, were waking up, the repression was fierce and
sweeping, in complete contradiction to declared
policies. The key notion was loyalty to the
• Nationalist leaders were treated like bloodthirsty
revolutionaries and their followers like idiots. House
arrests, prison, penal colony for life, even death
penalties were doled out as examples for would-be
A Renseignements généraux report,
dated 9th December 1941 forewarned
• There are many indications that the movement is unstoppable when
we see the enthusiastic demonstrations of sympathy during the
meetings and banquets. We believe it would be dangerous to rely too
much on the shyness and the gentleness of the Cambodian
temperament prone to sudden and violent reactions, and we may
fear serious trouble in the near future if no change is brought to
their social status by the administration.
• Let us note that the renovation movement even affects the monks,
and their going over to a group that operates within the traditional
framework of Buddhism is of paramount importance. Let us not
forget, that in case of an uprising or any kind of demonstration,
the bonzes can muster the masses within a few hours.‖
Sihanouk noted in his Souvenirs doux et amers (75)
• ―The very able Brocheton”, head of the French Sûreté
came to see his youthful Majesty and warned him
there were strange goings-on between Son Ngoc
Thanh and certain Japanese officers and begged for
the King‘s collaboration to put an end to what
looked like anti-French plotting of the Thanhist
group, along with Pach Chhœun, and Sim Var.
• As they were friends of Sihanouk‘s parents, the
young man asked his mother Sisowath Kossamak to
see them. They swore to the King‘s mother that
Brocheton was an arch liar and no anti-French plot
was in the offing. Yet ―Brocheton had not lied”,
II - Haèm Chieu‘s education
• ―He was a very learned monk […], a teacher at the Higher
School of Pali, he wielded a great influence on his pupils,
both the clergy and lay people‖ [Sihanouk, ibid. 74].
• Hem Chieu was born in 1898 at Tum Nop Thom
Commune, Ponhea Leu District, Kandal Province.
His father was the Chauvaisrok of Ponhea Leu
• This, from the outset, put him in a special social
position as he belonged to what could be termed
the mandarin class. By birth, he must have felt in a
position to speak up and voice his views more than
the poor farmers‘ sons who traditionally joined the
Haèm Chieu‘s education & career
• Chieu was ordained Samanera by Ven. Chuon Nath, who
was his master and, in 1919, he was promoted Bhikkhu
(monk) at Wat Langka when he was barely 20 years old.
• In 1921 he got his Diplôme de l’Ecole Supérieure de Pali in
• He spent six years, from 1924 to 1930, in Kampot
province as he had been recruited by H.E Richomme, the
Résident of Kampot Province to assist the French
Protectorate in renovating pagoda schools in the
Province. This was an idea of Louis Manipoud (18671977), the main reformer of the pagoda schools and a
good speaker of Khmer. This was a pilot programme in
which Achar Hem Chieu was essentially a teacher trainer.
Haèm Chieu‘s career
• On 22nd Feb. 1932, Hem Chieu was appointed
teacher at the Higher Pali School in Phnom Penh.
This position was approved by Mr. Chom Mao,
manager of the education service of the Royal
Library, Mlle Suzanne Karpélès who was the
Secrétaire Générale de L’Institut Bouddhique, and by the
• On 30th March 1932, he was appointed member of
the Tripitaka Commission [NAC, 28 055] by royal
decree N036, dated March, 26th, signed by King
Sisowath Monivong and the Résident Supérieur .
III - Haèm Chieu,
―the prospective Gandhi of Cambodia‖
• He knew foreign languages such as Thai and French and
liked reading newspapers, such as La Vérité, L’Opinion,
l’Impartial, and La Dépêche de Saïgon so that he could learn
about the world outside Cambodia.
• From the late 1930s, the research and publications of the
Buddhist Institute (BI) had given rise to fierce
controversy between the so-called traditionalist monks
and the modernists.
• The latter were restricted to the Mohanikay sect which was
divided between the ―traditionalists‖ and the
―modernists‖ clans. The first confined themselves to the
traditional teachings, the second followed the teachings
of the High School of Pali and the texts translated &
published by the Royal Library.
The Modernists & Siamese influence
• The modernist Mohanikay were sent to the exSiamese provinces of Battambang and Siemreap
primarily to win over the monks and the laity, who
were regarded as being too much influenced by the
Thomayut sect that looked to Bangkok for spiritual
• The necessity to counterbalance that influence was
very much at the origin of the creation of the
Buddhist Institute on the part of the colonizer. The
purpose of sending preachers to these regions was
to eradicate the Siamese influence represented by
the Thomayut sect and to forbid monks from going
to Siam, although, for instance in 1936, twelve
monks were identified as having clandestinely gone
over the border at Païlin.
Haèm Chieu & the Tripitaka Commission
• The translated Buddhist texts as edited by the Buddhist
Institute, were used as a springboard for modernist
propaganda. Their supporters prided themselves in
possessing a text that was faithful to the original and more
accurate than the Siamese translation of the Thomayut sect.
• Hem Chieu was among the decidedly modernist monks.
He was also a social critic of Cambodian tradition. He
advised the people to give up bad habits associated with
some aspects of Cambodian culture. He called for the
participation of Cambodian people in social development.
He integrated Cambodia‘s independence, solidarity and
development into his modernizing worldview in his
preaching of Buddhist dharma.[ Kuy Lôt, 7-18]
Nº 71 Kret from 1918 was sanctioned again
on 17th September 1929 by King Monivong
• It forbade all modification of religious rules.
• As to Buddhist sutras, Buddhist teachers would have
to submit the texts they taught to the approval of the
Ministry of Interior. Only after the approval of the
Council of Ministers, and then of the monarch, could
new texts be used. This seemed to mean not only that
the political powers interfered closely with religious
affairs – a tradition in Cambodia – but that any change
was very difficult, if not impossible.
• In the eyes of convinced Modernist monks like Haèm
Chieu, this must have been anathema.
Haém Chieu‘s 16 recommendations
found in his cell
• Among exhibits that were seized by the French police in
his cot, there was a manuscript document in three
different versions signed by Haèm Chieu.
• This is a surprising document in two ways: first it details
what could be a non-violent action on the part of the
Buddhist sangha in and around Phnom Penh, not as a
political demonstration or in the event of political
rebellion, but in the purely religious context of the quarrel
between the modernists and traditionalists.
• Secondly, Hem Chieu had stuck his neck out so much for
the nationalist cause that he had anticipated his own arrest
and given precise directives about what to do in such a
case. He was prepared to become a martyr for what he
saw as a great cause: the revival of the Khmer nation and
Buddhism which were one and the same thing to him.
The monks‘ forms of protestations according to HC
• What we must do to protest as strongly as we can is
summarized as follows:
• 1 – On the day when the head monk (Athikar) in the
monastery (Vihear) convenes all the monks to read out the new
regulations that concern us, we must all be present. After the
reading we must state all together that we shall refuse to comply
with those rules, as we are only guided by the regulations
described in the Tripitaka. They alone are able to render men
devoted and loyal to their country. We shall demand the
immediate withdrawal of Kret 71.
• 2 – The most important thing is that each of us must sign [a
petition]. We [thereby] protest as strongly as we can to demand
that we behave according to Buddhist precepts.
• 3 – If we refuse to comply with those new decisions, it is likely
one of the monks will be arrested, defrocked and condemned.
• 4 – If one of us is arrested, we must spread the news, with the
utmost urgency, to all the pagodas, to come and protest in front
of the relevant authorities. Those who do not come must be
• 5 – In that case, let us show solidarity and declare we shall not
let a monk be condemned. But while you demonstrate it is
absolutely forbidden to carry any kind of weapon.
• 6 – Under such circumstances, it is likely the militiamen will
block our way. We shall then show them our bare hands and
say that we are not waging war, but simply protest.
• 7 – If we are asked the name of the leader of this
demonstration, we shall all put up our arms, claiming that it is
all of us. We shall explain too that the ringleaders are the
Buddhist precepts that are the fundamental basis for our action.
• 8 – If we are asked the purpose of our protest, we must reply
that we ask for the withdrawal of the Royal Ordinances [Nº
71] that have undermined the prestige and the smooth running
of our canonical rules.
• 9 – If people claim we want to institute a new set of religious
beliefs, different from the Mohanikay and the Thomayut sects,
they must understand once for all that the monks who strive to
study the Buddhist precepts are the purest monks, but not the
advocates of any new religion.
• 10 – We must wait for the repeated ring of the alarm bells
(tocsin) that will sound the beginning of the demonstration. In
this way we shall be able to communicate the news to all the
monks in all the pagodas, even during the night.
• 11 – Monks must say their prayers while overturning their
bowls, instead of going to beg for food. Those who continue to
beg round people’s homes are not monks who abide by the
• 12 - Novices must, on that occasion, put on their robes like the
• 13 – This King is not Buddhist.
• 14 – We shall refuse to take part in the “kathen” ceremony
organized by the King at the end of lent [vossa, the rainy
Haèm Chieu‘s recommendations (end)
• 15 – We must consider the King unreasonable. We must
have nothing to do with him.
• 16 – We shall beg the Administration not to quarrel with
the Higher School of Pali or the Royal Library.
[signed] Haèm Chieu
• [Sous-Dossier B of the Le Blanc Archives, France]
Haèm Chieu‘s involvement in the nationalist
• After the loss of Western Cambodia to the Thais, the
editorial Board of Nagaravatta, Haèm Chieu, Son Ngoc
Thanh & Pach Chhœun, decided to create a political
organization that would recruit secretly among soldiers,
students, government officials and traders, and, with
Japanese tacit support or at least neutrality, take the few
French administrators by surprise and proclaim
independence at the right time.
• The plot or conspiracy, or what could better be called the
first coordinated attempt on the part of Cambodia‘s
thinking and educated minority to free their country from
the French yoke, was only just at its beginning.
How did the movement recruit new followers ?
• As the publication of Nagaravatta was under observation by the
French, Son Ngoc Thanh suggested another means to
communicate directly with the population: by taking advantage
of the preaching of the teaching monks from the High Pali
School to the military and the laity in the provinces.
• At that time Son Ngoc Thanh, as Suzanne Kapélès‘s close
associate, was in a position to decide who could preach the
dharma to the public. He often chose Haèm Chieu to
communicate with the population since he was a monk who was
loved by the public, a good talker and skilled at explaining and
convincing the soldiers, using Buddhist teachings, to love their
country, and to prepare for what they called ‗the struggle‘.
Laymen like Bunchan Mol (the author of Kuk Noyobay) and
Chum Muong would also disseminate nationalist ideas to the
people. The latter was at the time the Secretary to Tea San, the
Minister of Interior and of Cults and Religions
• After every lecture, each monk had to write a report to
the general Secretary of the Buddhist Institute about the
results of his preaching, but also a secret report to Son
Ngoc Thanh about the outcome of the close contact he
had made with the soldiers following the lecture. When
there were soldiers who, they hoped, would participate in
the ‗revolutionary struggle‘ to chase out the French,
Thanh would assign Chum Muong to contact them to
give them further details of the plan. Thanh told those
who called themselves ‗revolutionaries‘ to work very
carefully, so that there would be no leaks, because the
French would make arrests if they found out.
• As for Bunchan Mol and Nuon Duong, they were
assigned not only to make contact with and win over the
people, but also to spy on and investigate the exact
number of soldiers and weapons in, and the locations of,
the French army barracks.
Pierre Dupont‘s policies
• He was proud to point out, there had been no
interruption in the regular activities of the Institute.
• Apart from the completion of the Khmer dictionary
and the continuation of translation of the Tripitaka,
• other activities included preserving pagoda
manuscripts by copying them out (literary texts,
chronicle, judicial texts, collections of traditional
moral codes, Buddhist legends),
• eliminating Siamese texts from the Royal Library,
• organizing Buddhist lectures in native infantrymen‘s
clubs and running the provincial rounds of the
The Buddhidt Institute was made to spread
• On 13th June 1942, Haem Chieu went to Soctrang in
Cochinchina with books for the ―Association pour
l’Amélioration Morale, Intellectuelle & Physique des Cambodgiens
• On 15th June 1942, the Buddhist Institute bought 28
copies of the of the 3rd volume of the Paroles du Maréchal
at 0.30 piastre a copy. Haèm Chieu bought one, together
with Chuon Nath and Huot That. [NAC, 22.343].
• On the same day, the Buddhist Institute made a request to
print 300 to 500 copies of Ce que doit être l’esprit d’un
gouverneur de province from Oum Chheang Nguon, with
annotations from the Résident Supérieur.[ NAC, 22.346]
Haèm Chieu‘s miltancy
• Haèm Chieu was a keen traveller around the country
preaching the dhamma to the people. He became well
known to the population [Kuy Llôt, 1-6]. His preaching
was not only about Buddhist thought but also included
ideas associated with ‗being active people‘, showing
‗independence‘ ‗solidarity‘ etc.
• When preaching the dhamma to soldiers he tried to
encourage red boot soldiers [tea hean chœng krâhâm]
‗tirailleurs cambodgiens‘ and black boot soldiers [tea hean chœng
khmau] garde indigène to collaborate with each
other.[ibid.21-22]. Bunchan Mol specifies that, in every
province he went, ―he always attempted to teach and convince the
people to become nationalists, to be courageous in the revolutionary
struggle for independence from the French. He did this with great
IV – The arrest of Haèm Chieu
• It was through a certain Nhem Phuong that the so far secret
independence movement was unwittingly denounced to the
French authorities. Nhem Phuong was a simple soldier from the
army transport corps, aged 28.
• In his barracks, he overheard a conversation between other
soldiers and a declaration from a Srey Tum that almost all the
soldiers of his corps were about to rebel against the French,
with the connivance of the Japanese and that Prince Sisowath
Monireth was at the head of the planned uprising. This was on
12th July 1942.
• The same evening he reported the conversation to his
neighbour, in the Catholic village where he lived, a certain Prince
Norodom Rassapong. Obviously the Prince was pro-French and
he reported the details of the movement to the French
authorities the very next day, 13th July 1942. This is what started
the whole police investigation that led to Achar Haèm Chieu‘s
and Achar Nuon Duong‘s arrest four days later, on the 17th.
Enters the French police
• Alfred Semprez, head of the French police in Phnom Penh had
made an investigation with the Cambodian military and handed
his report to the Résident Supérieur. The latter immediately entered
into contact with the Cambodian Minister of Interior and Cults,
Tea San, and they decided to arrest, on the very same day, Achar
Haèm Chieu and Nuong Duong, who were presented as the
main propagandists for the movement.
• On 17 July 1942, H.E Tea San ordered Chum Muong, who was
his secretary, to bring Achar Haèm Chieu to him. Chum Muong
panicked for he was one of the same group of nationalists. He
went to Wat Unalom and asked Haèm Chieu to come with him.
It has been claimed that Hem Chieu had fallen into a trap when
arrested and that his defrocking was illegal, that is, not according
to Buddhist rules. This was quite not so, for if he had really felt
guilty of misconduct, he might have escaped like Son Ngoc
Thanh. He had a great faith in his mission and instead chose to
confront his accusers.
The defrocking of Haèm Chieu
• Once inside the Ministry of Interior, in the presence of the
Minister himself and the Athikar of Wat Unalom, Haèm Chieu
was disrobed. He had to put on a shirt and a pair of trousers
that had just been bought from the market that very day by his
friend and ―accomplice‖ Chum Muong.
• If the regular procedure had been followed, Hem Chieu should
have been brought first in front of his pagoda‘s disciplinary
committee, in this case at Wat Unalom, consisting of four to six
senior monks, under the chairmanship of the Chau Athikar.
Normally if the problem could not be solved at the local pagoda
level, the case would be referred to a provincial and then to a
national one. The whole procedure would take weeks, as there
had to be negotiations between the parties involved.
• The political or police authorities were not supposed to get
involved – except in the case of a crime where a monk was
caught red-handed. Obviously the French authorities were
alarmed by what they regarded as a dangerous plot to overturn
• On the same day, Nuon Duong, an ex-monk and
friend of Haèm Chieu, was also arrested at his
wife‘s bicycle shop, at the sign of Cheang Duong, at
145 Rue Ohier (now St. 13).He was born in 1908
and became a librarian at the Royal Library.
• When he was first interrogated on 17th July 1942, he
was less naïve and more prudent than his mentor.
He never confessed to anti-French remarks in front
of Cambodian soldiers; he only admitted to regret
for the loss of Battambang and the high cost of
living because of the war. He denied having heard
Haèm Chieu plan an uprising in league with the
Japanese and having attended secret meetings. He
only heard Haèm Chieu speak of the union of all
the Cambodian military.
Haèm Chieu and Nuon Duong were accused
of 8 crimes by the Vichy regime:
1 - making anti-French remarks;
2 - regretting the loss of Battambang and Siemreap;
3 - lamenting the rise in the cost of living due to the war
and Japanese occupation;
4 - planning an uprising to put a end to the tutelage of
France and the Vichy regime;
5 - secretly negotiating with the Japanese occupation
6 - plotting a rebellion with the Cambodian military;
organizing secret meetings to promote that rebellion;
7 - using witchcraft to make Cambodian troops invincible.
Haèm Chieu‘s attitude to France
• ―Personally, I detest the French and I would like to see my
country independent. I do not like the French because they
neglect Cambodia for the benefit of the Annamite countries.
The high schools, the factories, they are all in the Annamite
countries, the Cambodians having neither the opportunity to
learn nor to work.[…]
• Still I must confess France has done much for the benefit of
Cambodians from the religious point of view: they have
respected religion, created the Buddhist Institute and the
Higher School of Pali.‖ (27 July 1942, 3 p.m., Le Blanc
V - The demonstration - 1
• Son Ngoc Thanh had already taken refuge in the
Japanese police headquarters to avoid being arrested.
He continued to have contact with Bunchan Mol
through a boy who brought food to him. [Bunchan
• The news of Haèm Chieu‘s arrest spread to monks
who were his friends in other pagodas and caused a
shock among student monks at the Higher School of
Pali and nationalist groups. The nationalists (they
called themselves ―revolutionaries‖), with the help of
the monks, spread the news to every pagoda in the
city and then to the provinces.
The demonstration: Son Ngoc Thanh -2
• Son Ngoc Thanh claimed that the Japanese would provide
them with assistance. The order came from Thanh to organize
a demonstration on 20th July 1942 in front of the office of
the Resident Superior, calling for the release of Achar Haèm
Chieu and Nuon Duong. Although inside the Japanese police
headquarters, Son Ngoc Thanh continued to organize a
demonstration he hoped would lead to a coup de force with
Japanese aid, as in some other Asian countries controlled by
the Japanese military.
• Bunchan Mol, on his bicycle, acted as messenger between
Thanh and the conspirators. He had received assurances from
the Japanese General Staff in Saigon that their army and
police in Phnom Penh would be present at the demonstration
and would help the Cambodians.
Thanh & the Japanese - 3 • Thanh gave the Japanese copies of demands to be
submitted to the French:
• 1. release of detainees,
• 2. reorganization in all fields of public life,
• 3. close collaboration with Japan to aid the war
• 4. tax reduction and
• 5. a constitution providing for a ‗National Socialist
Monarchy‘, according to Ben Kiernan in How Pol
Pot came to Power. 
Pre-arranged details of the demonstration -4
• Tomorrow morning all demonstrators, monks and lay people, must eat
before 6 a.m., then walk to meet all on Boulevard Doudart de Lagrée [now
Norodom] right behind the western entrance to the Palace.
• After meeting one another they must parade peacefully, i. e. empty-handed
and with no weapons, in an orderly, quiet fashion, without talking, with a
banner up at the front saying “We are calling for the release of Achar
Haèm Chieu and Nuon Duong”.
• The parade should then stop in front of the office of the Resident-Superior.
If the police chase or hit them, they must resist passively, not fight back or
do anything; they must stay calm.
• But if they wait till 12 midday and the French still have not fulfilled what
is asked for, then the demonstration must parade back and stop right in
front of the office of the Japanese police. They must then read the
proclamation to the Japanese police relating the events, and ask the Japanese
to intervene with the French government to release the two persons whom
they had arrested. The Japanese can intervene or contact the French
government, only if the demonstrators follow these steps as ordered.
The demonstration - 5 • That message was delivered to every wat in Phnom Penh and to
Pach Chhœun. [Bunchan Mol, 120].
• Things started as agreed. Monks from Wat Langka, Unalom,
and others gathered behind the Royal Palace from 6 a.m.
• Then, with Pach Chhœun as leader, courageously striding in
front, some five hundred monks and about the same number of
lay people joined the march as it went along Doudart de Lagrée.
• The crowd arrived in front of the offices of the Résidence
Supérieure, now the Ministry of Finance, West of Wat Phnom
and East of Hotel Le Royal. The Boulevard was filled with
people from the Wat Phnom to the Hotel Le Royal.
• The marchers knew full well they were being followed by
French, Khmer and Vietnamese spies. A French spy called
Sambraige, was more discreet.
The demonstration - 6 • So far, the ‗rebellion‘ was a success: the totally unexpected and
unusual march of so many monks in their saffron robes carrying
their umbrellas, joined by at least as many civilians as they
progressed along the wide boulevard, was a real revolution in
this slumbering colonial city.
• But once in front of the colonial offices, things did not quite go
as planned: first the demonstrators were not as peaceful and well
behaved after the arrest of their leader Pach Chhœun.
• The second reason was that the Japanese were not ready to
intervene on the side of the demonstrators. Had the
demonstration taken place one year later, that is by mid-1943,
the Japanese military leadership might have been convinced, as
General Matsui was to declare to the Domei press agency on 3rd
July 1943, that ―the French Government must come to peacefully free
Indochina from the yoke of colonialism, or else Japan will have to make its
own decision‖ [AOM, Indo/nf/1199s]
The demonstration turns anarchic - 7 • So Pach Chhœun came forward to talk with some French officials on the
steps. He asked to see Jean de Lens, the Résident Supérieur, but only three or
four representatives would be be received by the Résident Supérieur.
• Demonstrators shouted back they would not send a small number for fear
they would be arrested. The pushing crowd then drove Pach Chhœun into
the building. The French immediately shut the front door and arrested him.
He was packed into a car at the back of the building.
• As the police prevented the demonstrators from going inside, a fight broke
out and chaos ensued. Some demonstrators were wounded by police
batons, while some policemen were bruised by monks‘ umbrellas. A bald
French security commander was hit by a kaun tang (a large rivet tied to a
long elastic lead), which made his head bleed and ruined his shirt. Some
demonstrators who struck security officers were arrested on the spot and
taken away in cars.
• On 25th July, Bunchan Mol was arrested at his noodle soup and coffee shop.
―Without thinking‖, he had been photographed hurling a bicycle at the
Arrests during the demonstration - 8 • When the confusion was at its height, the Japanese army
sent two truckloads of soldiers who stopped nearby. But
since the demonstration had not been as peaceful as
planned, the Japanese military would not intervene. In
truth, at that stage, they were not yet prepared to
confront the French authorities. This took almost three
more years, until 9th March 1945, when they arrested and
imprisoned all the colonial administrators throughout
• Ben Kiernan based much of his description on Bunchan
Mol‘s narrative, adding a few details culled from French
archives: ―part of the crowd dispersed when King Sihanouk’s
father, Prince Suramarit, and a leading monk assured them that
the detainees would be released and that the authorities would
examine the question of independence. But others attempted to
break into the building, and a riot ensued. Over the next few days,
the number of arrests reached approximately two hundred.‖
Arrests after the demonstration - 9 • I very much doubt the magnitude of the figure given by
Ben Kiernan, unless most of the people arrested on that
day were soon released or given short sentences in local
courts. The exact number of seriously accused persons
after the demonstration was thirty-five, among whom
twenty-five were arrested and eight escaped, Son Ngoc
Thanh and Chum Muong being the most famous. One
among the twenty-five was acquitted, Duong Kim, a 39
year old hairdresser who simply denied any wrong doing
• Nevertheless, 20th July 1942 marked the beginning of ―the
strain of Cambodian nationalism” which led to the deposing of
Sihanouk nearly thirty years later, as Milton Osborne has pointed
out. Bunchan Mol quite rightly called the demonstration “The First
Demonstration to Awaken the Khmer Conscience.‖