A Chinese-Cambodian woman is preparing an offering for her ancestors' altar during the Chinese New Year on 22 Jan 2012 (Photo: Vohar Cheath, Radio Free Asia)
01 Feb 2012
By Vohar Cheath
Radio Free Asia
Translated from Khmer by Ah Tree Teuk Si Iv
Hun Xen announced that the Cambodian government under his leadership cannot stop the Chinese cultural which is assailing in full force the roots of the Cambodian culture as it is doing nowadays.
Not only that, Hun Xen also confessed that even in his family, the Chinese cultural influence has assailed his household as well. Therefore, who could solve this problem?
Currently, Cambodia is under strong influence from Chinese tradition. Even though the Chinese New Year is not considered as an official holiday by the government, a number schools, markets and government ministries are closed during the Chinese New Year.
Criticisms have been leveled, stating that “during Chinese New Year, it’s the Cambodians who get drunk” and during the Chinese New Year, Cambodian schoolchildren do not attend schools while government employees do not show up to work. This issue stems from the fact that a number of students, teachers and government employees are Chinese-Cambodians. However, the main problem is the fact that, officially, they do not work to serve the Cambodian people in general.
This problem is encountered over and over for the past 20 years and now Hun Xen publicly announced that he does not know how to solve this problem because even his family has Chinese roots.
Hun Xen said: “I don’t know what to say because at my home, I can’t do anything about it. For the universal New Year, we all celebrate it together, but when it comes to this Chinese New Year … there’s a group of people who have good intention and they asked us to ban the universal New Year celebration, as well as the Chinese New Year. Now, how can I ban it when I can’t even ban it in my own house. In my house, I’m the only one [not celebrating the Chinese New Year], besides me, they all made [Chinese] offerings, how can I stop this?”
Currently, Chinese-Cambodians in Cambodia are leading an easy life in the society. This is different from the past when Chinese-Cambodians used to be harassed and they also suffered racial discrimination. This reason is used by Hun Xen’s to claim that the government should avoid such historical mistake.
Hun Xen: “When it comes down to this, how can we stop it? We can’t stop it, [and if we do] it will be accused as racial discrimination. If we stop this [Chinese New Year], then we can’t celebrate the universal New Year, and this involves racial discrimination. We will have to ban Chinese New Year celebration, ban the dragon dance, ban the parade of spirits, when it comes down to that, it is racial discrimination.”
Historical documents noted that mainland Chinese migrated to Cambodia during the 30s. These Chinese refugees were nicknamed “raw Chinese” (Chin Chhao), and their children married Cambodians and had children in Cambodia and they are known as “Chinese-Cambodians” (Kaun Chao Chen).
A report by William Willmott, a researcher about Chinese in Cambodia, indicated that Chinese in Cambodia became the largest minority group in the country in the 60s. By the end of 1960, Chinese or Chinese-Cambodians numbered about 425,000. However, this number dropped during the subsequent war and during the killing under the Pol Pot genocidal regime, even if during that period the regime maintained a close link with communist China. During Pol Pot regime, Chinese-Cambodians were considered enemies of the revolution and they were classified as compradors who sucked on the blood of the nation’s economy.
Documents from 1984 noted that under the People Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) which was supported by Vietnam, the number of Chinese-Cambodians left was about 61,000.
Dr. Sok Touch, a political science expert in Cambodia, recalled that during the 80s, under the PRK regime which was politically led by Vietnamese experts, Chinese-Cambodians were blacklisted in the “351” list. This list designated those who do not have proper political attitude and the Viet government during that era did not trust them since the Viets were confronting China during that era.
Sok Touch said that the 351 list affected Chinese-Cambodians who held government positions during that period and they were scared that the Viets experts who were ruling the country could demote them and send them to jail, therefore, Chinese-Cambodians had to hide their identity and some even had to change their Chinese-sounding names to Cambodian names.
Sok Touch said: “In the past, we know that there were Chinese-Cambodians who led the PRK and they went on to hold power during the 2nd kingdom. All these government officials had to change their names completely and you can see that now their appearance, their behaviors, they are still celebrating Chinese customs whether they are in the government rank or not. Many of them are inside the government rank and file. We cannot talk about their names due to professional ethics, by I know that many Chinese-Cambodians are among our leaders.”
Sok Touch added that a number of Chinese-Cambodians fled overseas due to oppression under the PRK regime in which Hun Xen was the minister of Foreign Affairs.
Currently, the population of Chinese-Cambodians is growing very quickly. According to statistics maintained by the Teachew Chinese association, currently, the number of Chinese-Cambodians amounted to almost 700,000. At the same time, the major of them have a good living condition, they are rich and they hold high positions within the government.
Sok Touch warned that the Chinese culture is greatly influencing Cambodians and the latter are accepting this situation without paying much attention to it: “Currently, we can see that the Chinese culture is exerting 3 pressures: (1) in the language where people are designated by the Chinese way (Ah Hea, Cher, etc…) all over the country, for example, when they see that you have money and you have fair skin, they will call “Ah Hea” right away; (2) Cambodians do not notice that they were being taught by the Chinese, for example, people are eating with chopstick, this is a major influence; (3) foods have been changed, traditional Cambodian noodle (Num Banh-chok) is spurned during breakfast, similarly Cambodian rice cake (Num An-sorm) are being replace by Chinese noodle and Chinese buns instead. These are Chinese influence.”
As for government employees taking time off, schools and markets being closed during the Cambodian New Year, Sok Touch said that the government should set clear rules just like it is done in neighboring countries so that the government functions properly during the Chinese New Year and so that no human rights violations or racial discriminations are taking place.