The Last Kings of Indo-China
Thibaw (r.1878-1885) was the last king of the Alaungpaya dynasty of Burma. He studied as a Buddhist monk before being chosen to succeed King Mindon. In preparation, conspirators massacred all royal rivals to Thibaw, which caused concern for the British. He spent most of his reign in constant fear of a British attack and blamed them for supplying weapons to his enemies. Eventually, war did come after Thibaw rejected a British demand to become a puppet ruler for them. He hoped international disapproval would stop the British, but it did not and he was deposed and exiled to India. Although he was never very popular, the people mourned his loss, which was the loss of Burmese independence. He lingered in exile, outliving his sons, before his death in 1916.
Sisavang Vathana (r.1959-1975) was the last king of the Khun Lo dynasty of Laos. He was educated in Paris before taking the throne in 1959 to succeed King Sisavangvong. Laos had already broken from the French Union and was already in intense turmoil due to the insurgency of the Communist Pathet-Lao. When the American War in Vietnam began three sides emerged: a pro-American group, the pro-Communist Pathet-Lao and the royalist group of Savang Vathana which wanted peace and neutrality. Neither side respected Lao neutrality and soon civil war engulfed the kingdom. The Pathet-Lao promised that they would not make major changes in Laos, but soon after taking power the monarchy was abolished and a Communist regime was established. King Sisavang Vathana and his immediate family died around 1980 while in Communist captivity.
Norodom Sihanouk (r.1941-1955, 1975-) is the present senior king of the Varman dynasty of Cambodia. He has led Cambodia through every major event of the 20th century. In 1945 he declared Cambodian independence from France, but remained on good relations with the colonial power. The country prospered, making him hugely popular, and he established good relations with Communist countries such as Russia, China and North Korea as well as the West. He struggled to keep Cambodia neutral during the war between Vietnam and the US, but in 1970 was overthrown by the pro-US general Lon Nol. He joined forces with the Khmer Rouge but was kept under house arrest during their time in power. After Vietnamese troops ousted Pol Pot, the UN stepped in and held elections in 1993 which restored Sihanouk as King in a constitutional monarchy. Recently, his son Norodom Sihamoni was also made King.
Bao Dai (r.1926-1945) was the last king of the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam. He succeeded his father, Emperor Khai Dinh, in 1925 at the age of 13. He was educated in Paris before coming home with hopes of establishing a more modern and autonomous Vietnamese government. He instituted many reforms and appointed young nationalists to office, but was allowed no real freedom to rule by the French. After the Japanese invasion he declared the independence of Vietnam in 1945 as part of the Japanese "Co-Prosperity Sphere" but was forced to abdicate only months later to the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh. In 1948, through a coalition of anti-Communist groups, the French restored Bao Dai as Head of State but his government had little authority and little popular support. Bao Dai opposed the partition of Vietnam at the Geneva Conference but shortly later, in 1955, he was removed from office by Ngo Dinh Diem. He died in France in 1997.
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