During his years in power, Chea earned a reputation for dogmatism and ruthlessness. He put into practice the reckless, utopian policies of the party, which included emptying the cities, closing schools and monasteries, abolishing private property and empowering the poorest of the poor. These policies, set in motion at breakneck speed, were enormously costly in human terms: in addition to those executed by the state, almost one and a half million Cambodians are estimated to have died during those years, of starvation, overwork and misdiagnosed diseases.
Nuon Chea was a pseudonym for Lau Kim Korn, also known as Longreth Raodi, who was born to a prosperous Sino-Khmer family in Battambang, Cambodia. In 1941, after Thailand annexed the province, Chea moved to Bangkok, where he completed his schooling, spent some time as a Buddhist monk and enrolled briefly at Thammasat University.