In the previous episode we looked at the monarchists movements of East Asia. Well, today we are going south to look at the Monarchist movements of Southeast Asia, and we’re gonna start with America’s good ol’ friend, Vietnam.
The last monarchs of Vietnam were from the Nguyen Dynasty, which was established by Nguyen Anh in 1802. He reigned until his death in 1820, and was succeeded by several more conservative Confucian emperors. This matters because Nguyen Anh was tolerant of Catholicism, and even employed European advisors in his court, but his successors ardently resisted Western Influence, and persecuted both foreign born Catholics, as well as native converts. The French government under Napoleon III used these persecutions as an excuse to invade Vietnam in 1858, and by the end of the 1880s all of Vietnam was under French Control under the designation French Indochina, containing parts of modern day Cambodia, Laos, China, and Vietnam.
Like most European powers, the French used local elites to rule over their colonial possessions, which resulted in the Nguyen Dynasty serving as puppet rulers of Vietnam. The last reigning emperor, Bao Dai, along with his family were ousted from power due to their collaborating with the Japanese Occupation during World War Two. After the Communists took control of China in 1949 the French invited Bao Dai to return to Vietnam as “head of state” rather than emperor until 1955 when he was ousted again after the split up of Vietnam into North and South. Some of the Royal family would remain in South Vietnam until the communist takeover in 1975, but Bao Dai would live in exile in France until his death in 1997. He was succeeded first by his eldest son, Bao Long, who served as head of the Nguyen Family until his death in 2007, where he was succeeded by his younger brother, Bao Tha’ng who reigned until his death in 2017, at which point the youngest son of Bao Dai, Bao An, inherited the crown.
Before Bao Dai’s death, a US based organization called the Vietnamese Constitutional Monarchist League was founded in 1993 by a man named Nguyen Phuc Buu Chanh, who claimed to be a member of the Vietnamese Royal family. Buu Chanh claimed that he was appointed as Prince Regent of the royal family, however no one in the Legitimist Line recognizes him, or ever heard of him before 1993. The organization consists of former officials from the government of South Vietnam, as well as some Vietnamese Exile communities. They claim to be in contact with remnants of the royal family still living in Vietnam, who claim to be organizing grassroot efforts to restore the monarchy. The goal of the organization is to pressure the Communist Regime of Vietnam into holding a referendum where the people of Vietnam could vote to restore the Monarchy, but chances of this are slim.
The descendants of Bao Dai, however, don’t support the VCML or its goals. They have their own organization called “The Imperial Order of the Dragon of Annam.” This organization mostly focuses on charity and humanitarian aid for Vietnamese communities abroad.
Buu Chanh has a second organization he runs called “The International Imperial Council of Vietnam.” On this website he goes a long way to portray himself as the proper heir to the throne of Vietnam, and compared to the more widely recognized claimants website, he is doing more for his web presence. However, both are comically outdated. There also doesn’t seem to be an official web presence for Buu Chanh’s VCML, because all I could find was an archived page. If you check his Imperial Vietnam website you’ll see a link on the side that says Vietnamese Constitutional Monarchist League, but when you click it you are taken to some kind of web hosting service that I’ve never head of before.
So I did my usual due dilligiance and checked Hover to see if Vietnamese Constitutional Monarchist League dot com was available, and it was, soo…
I also decided to check VCML.com because it’s a lot shorter. I couldn’t get it on Hover, but whoever owns it seems to have it registered at Domainhub.com, and aren’t doing anything with it.
From Vietnam we move inland to Laos, who’s story is similar to that of Vietnam. In the late 18th century most of what is now Laos fell under the control of Thailand, who would control it until 1893 when it came under French control after the Franco-Siamese War. The Lao preferred French rule to that of Thailand, due in large part to the French not engaging in forced labor practices that Thailand did.
Like with Vietnam, the French ruled Laos indirectly through a local monarchy, making its kingdom a protectorate of France, which it would remain until 1953 when Laos was granted independence under the reign of King Sisavang Vong, who ruled until 1959 when he was succeeded by his son, Sisavang Vatthana. Three political factions popped up during the 1950s led by 3 princes.
Leading a Royalist faction was Prince Boun Oum, who was the son of the last king of Champassak, a smaller Kingdom that was absorbed into Laos when it was granted independence. Leading a neutral faction was Prince Souvanna Phouma, who was the son of the last Vice-King of Luang Prabang, another smaller kingdom absorbed into Laos at the time of independence. Leading the Communist faction was the half-brother of Souvanna Phouma, Souphanouvong, who was backed by Vietnamese Communists.
Sisavang Vatthana would reign until 1975, when Laos Communists supported by Vietnam and the Soviet Union would overthrow the royal government, and force the King to abdicate, after which Prince Souphanouvong was made President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand citizens and members of the royalist government, including members of the royal family, were taken to re-education camps in remote areas of Laos. Vatthana was given the meaningless title of “Supreme Advisor to the President,” because he refused to leave the country. He and his son, crown prince Vong Savang, would eventually die in captivity sometime between 1978 and 1984. The reason for the uncertain date is because the Laos government announced his death in 1978, but other members of the government gave different accounts at later dates.
Those who were able to escape the re-education camps after the Communist takeover went to France. Vatthana’s youngest son, Sauryavong Savang, would serve as head of the Lao Royal Family, and as regent for his nephew, the Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, until his death in early 2018. In 1997 he organized a conference in Seattle, Washington where 300 Lao exiles met, where they proclaimed a goal of re-establishing the monarchy in Laos, and establishing true democratic government in place of the totalitarian communists.
In 2003 a non-profit Corporation called the Royal Lao Government in Exile (RLGE) was established in Oregon. Leading the group since its creation is Khamphoui Sisavatdy, who is referred to as the Prime Minister. The organization operates around the world communicating with Lao exile communities, and lobbying governments to recognize them as the legitimate government of Laos, or to gain material support in their goal to re-establish the Monarchy and abolish the communist regime. There is no known cooperation between the royal family and RLGE.
If you visit their website, laogov.org, it’s pretty sparse. There’s a contact page that will give you a PO box you can send things to, as well as a donation page that doesn’t seem to have any functionality.
From there we most east, where we’ll end our exploration of Southeast Asia in Burma, where the monarchist movement is weakest. The last royals to rule Burma were the Konbaung Dynasty, who ruled from 1725 to 1885, when the British consolidated their holdings in the country after the Third Anglo-Burmese War. This was done in response to the French taking control of Vietnam, Cambodia, and parts of Laos. The last King of Burma, Thibaw, was exiled with his family to the port city of Ratnagiri, in British controlled India. During his time in exile he and his family lived off a pension from the British government that was subject to reductions over the course of his life until his death in 1916. He was survived by 3 daughters.
The eldest daughter, Myat Phaya Lat, married a cousin who served as her father’s private secretary in 1917, but never had any children of her own. The third daughter of Thibaw, Htake Hsu Myat Phaya, was born during the exile, and would marry the grandson of a former King of Burma in 1922, and divorced him in 1929. While married, she would give birth to their only daughter, Phaya Rita. The fourth daughter, Myat Phaya Galay, returned to Burma before her father’s death. She married an ex-monk named Ko Ko Naing, and had 6 children with him, but the only one we are interested in is her son Taw Phaya.
Taw Phaya, born in 1924, was married to his cousin, Phaya Rita, and became head of the royal family upon his mother’s death in 1956. He is the current pretender to the Throne of Burma, by the Myanmar government restrictions his movements for fear of possibly sparking popular resistance. However, there seems to be very little interest outside small number of intellectuals in Myanmar who are interested in restoring the monarchy. From Burma, we’re gonna move into the Indian sub-continent, but you’ll have to wait until the next episode for that.