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Keng Vannsak’s Doubtful Source

Keng Vannsak is arguably one of Cambodia’s most influential literary figures of the 20th century. In fact, I’m a big fan of his poems. I often quote some of the lines that I love on this blog and always admire his eloquent analysis on Khmer literature. But when it comes to history anatomy, I think he’s no where close to his literature’s fame.

His recent comment on King Jayavaraman VII, Cambodia’s most revered king, is both very shocking and controversial. Among the claims he made are that it was Jayavaraman VII who granted Sokothai (Now Thailand) its independence; that he was an utterly ruthless monarch; and that it was he who caused the downfall of the Khmer empire by building too many temples.

Mr. Vannsak said he based his “finding” on Mohaboros Khmer (or The Khmer Great Leaders), a history book written by Eng Sot in 1969.

Fortunately, I happened to have the book with me. I went through it several times as I want to verify his newly discovered “truth.” But I wasn’t able to find the page that matches his claim. Did Mr. Vannsak mistakenly cite the source, or did he merely make up the story?

Even if the text does exist, the book is definitely not a reliable academic source. First, Mohaboros Khmer is an exact copy of The Khmer Royal History, an old manuscript written almost a century earlier (around 1870) --- more than 600 years after the death of Jayavaraman VII . Moreover, It cites no source, and contains very questionable accounts of each king’s biography, dates and events. As Etienne Aymonier, a French historian commented on the original manuscript, “It is a document stuffed with unreliable dates... an indigestible and incomplete compilation of manuscripts.” (Henri Marchal , Angkor, 1955)

Second, the content of the book itself is almost close to fairy tales, novelized and filled with supernatural events. For example, at one point, it says a King lived up to 500 years while another lived up to 400 years (although the author does admit it’s impossible). At another point, it says a little prince was saved by a monk after having been swallowed up by a huge fish for days.

It's possible to ask how Mr. Keng Vannsak managed to make his “discovery” from such a book.

As a well-respected scholar, Mr. Vannsak should know which source is worth quoting or analyzing. In this case, however, he shows a complete disregard for academic standards. And it serves him nothing but to weaken his credibility.

4 Responses to “Keng Vannsak’s Doubtful Source”

  1. # Blogger DeeDee

    hey, seems like u r really deep with Mr. Keng Vansakk dol hery neak! btw, long time no see! ok, hapi valentine's day! cheers!  

  2. # Blogger seserak

    Hi Dee Dee,

    Happy Valentine!

    Did you go anywhere today?

    Got chocolate to share with me?  

  3. # Blogger pyralis

    Most of history is understood from interpretations. That does not make his theory any less right or wrong, really.  

  4. # Anonymous Anonymous

    "His recent comment on King Jayavaraman VII, Cambodia’s most revered king, is both very shocking and controversial. Among the claims he made are that it was Jayavaraman VII who granted Sokothai (Now Thailand) its independence; that he was an utterly ruthless monarch; and that it was he who caused the downfall of the Khmer empire by building too many temples."

    I wish I had met Prof. Keng Vannsak while he was alive. His view, though profoundly controversial and open to debate, has a considerable basis in logic.

    davan.long@gmail.com  

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