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Posts Tagged ‘chinese’

Chineseness in Cambodia – Beginning a Bibliographic Collection of Online resources

In comment on February 2, 2014 at 4:18 pm

A nice short conversation developed on twitter yesterday, relating to ethnicity in Cambodia, and specifically to Chinese ethnicity. Chinese ethnicity in Cambodia has always vacillated between being a positive and a negative, at least from the perspective of the dominant Khmer ethnic group.  The Chinese have been seen as tricky con-men, out to deceive and rob Khmer with their superior knowledge of numeracy (late 19th century), or as Fifth Columnists under the Vietnamese-sponsored PRK regime (1979-1989), during which period ethnic Chinese display was positively forbidden.

During the period in which I stayed in Cambodia the longest (2003-2006), Chinese ethnicity was much more positively valued: not only were Chinese people able to publicly declare their ethnic heritage, use their various languages, display colors and Chinese regalia/accouterment, many called themselves Kūn Kat Chin (កូន​កាត់​ចិន; Half-Chinese Child), and being associated with Chineseness was even a positive for upwardly mobile Khmer who, when asked, admitted to not having any actual Chinese genetic inheritance. As a funerary scholar, my favorite example of this were the rise in numbers of such Khmer who adopted Chinese funeral practices, going so far as to bury, instead of burn. I promised my informants total anonymity – they remembered Circular 351 (the PRK circular forbidding Chinese language or cultural expression) far too well, but many of the Chinese coffin makers and suppliers of Chinese funeral regalia (Chinese funerals typically are much more elaborate in terms of dress, and different outfits identify the specific relationship to the deceased) confirmed that the adoption of Chinese practices by non-Chinese Khmer was a very real, and substantial, trend.

Before proceeding to the links, I want to make it clear that there is no such thing as “Chinese” in Cambodia. Instead, as has been recognized by scholars of Cambodia, and Chinese-Cambodians themselves, though far less often by Khmer or others, there are many different types of Chinese, who speak different dialects/languages (remember, ‘A language is just a dialect with an army and a navy’), and have differing cultural expressions. Some, such as the Hakka, have integrated so thoroughly into Khmer society that it can be difficult even for some of their descendants, to recall that they are ‘Chinese.’ Others, most especially the Cantonese, have a reputation for separatism, ‘snootiness,’ and an insistence on marrying other Cantonese. The only point made in the above is that there is a great deal of diversity in the ‘Chinese communities’ of Cambodia. For many, ethnicity is also fluid and occupationally-related. I interviewed several older women (I identify their age to indicate that this may have changed in the interim) who married Khmer men, but insisted to me that they “Became” or “Did” Chinese, once the were no longer farmers but engaged in the marketplace.

I promised a few links, and would be grateful for more in comments, should they be locatable.  Here you go:

William A. Willmott’s early text “The Chinese in Cambodia,” is usually referred to as the first scholarly study of the Chinese in Cambodia. I cannot find a PDF of this book online, but here’s the google book link. His influential 1969 article, “Congregations and Associations: the Political Structure of the Chinese Community in Phnom-Penh, Cambodia”, is stuck behind a paywall, which I deplore, but is certainly not his fault. 

Under the regime of Democratic Kampuchea, ethnic cleansing and genocide were directed against the Cham, Chinese, and especially the Vietnamese, though it must be emphasized that the violence levels and charges of genocide appear to be more relevantly applied to the Khmer Rouge after their loss of power (1979) than during their years in power. Regardless, it was less safe to be an ethnic minority during the DK years even than a Khmer, and it was safe for no one. Gregory Stanton’s 1992 report on this can be found here

When I was chair of the Thailand/Laos/Cambodia (TLC) Studies Group at the Association of Asian Studies, we were very fortunate to have Dr. Willmott deliver a lecture on his work over the decades. The text of that address is here, and well worth reading. That text was published in an issue of “Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review.” An introductory abstract is here, but some of the full articles are also available for free access online. The introduction to the issue, which was dedicated entirely to ‘Mediating Chineseness,’ and dedicated specifically to Dr. Willmott, is available in full, written by Dr. Lorraine Patterson and Dr. Penny Edwards, here.

Sambath Chan (full disclosure, an early language instructor of mine) wrote his Master’s thesis on “The Chinese Minority in Cambodia: Identity Construction and Contestation,” in 2005. In 1996, Chan worked with Dr. Edwards on a report for which I cannot find an online version, but which is titled: “Ethnic Chinese in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: The Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy. (mimeo)”

Dr. Edwards also has an individual article in that issue, titled “Sojourns Across Sources: Unbraiding Sino-Cambodian Histories.” (She has a particular talent for titles, in my opinion, which complements her skill at analysis)

Dr. Satoru Kobayashi wrote a working paper on the topic, titled “The Reconfiguration of Cambodian Rural Social Structure, with Special Focus on the People Called Chen and Khmae,” which is entirely available, and in my opinion, important.

In searching for online sources, I discovered Adam Jelnek’s 2008 article in Acta Asiatica, titled, “The Chinese in Cambodia.” I have not read it yet, but the entire issue is online. His article starts on page 36.

And since I have written one 2012 article on the Laerng Neak Ta ( ឡើងអ្នកតា ) rituals performed by Chinese associations in and around Phnom Penh, for alternately Chinese spirits (BenTouGong) and for Khmer spirits, I’d be remiss not to link to the bibliographic information here. It is, unfortunately, not online at the moment. It’s titled “Khmer spirits, Chinese bodies: Chinese spirit mediums and spirit possession rituals in contemporary Cambodia,” and is collected in “Faith in the Future: Understanding the Revitalization of Religions and Cultural Traditions in Asia.” 

Much other work on the construction and contestation of ethnicity in Cambodia is available, and though I have limited myself here to Chinese, I cannot help but add also Dr. Ian Baird’s 2011 work on the “Construction of Indigenous Peoples in Cambodia,” or the magnificent Ph.D. thesis by Alberto Pérez-Pereiro, titled “Historical Imagination, Diasporic Identity and Islamicity among the Cham Muslims of Cambodia.” It needs to be put online somewhere, because it reads like a novel and is one of the finest minority-studies in Cambodia pieces of writing I have read. Emiko Stock has a blog on Cham ethnicity as well, which must be checked out, called Cham Attic.

Thanks to those folks on twitter who encouraged me to write up a few notes. This is little more than a bibliographic beginning, and I hope perhaps will stir to pot further, to see what rises to the surface.

LTO Cambodia, Chinese Death Rituals, and Stupid Stupid Laws

In notice on August 31, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I recently discovered LTO Cambodia, a blog describing itself merely as “A Barang in the Land of the Khmer.” I’m so grateful to the author of that blog for photoblogging the excellent, excellent – looking exhibit of old maps of Kampot at the French Cultural Center.  They even tagged and labeled some of the old maps with contemporary locations! Oh, the nerdvana of this!

The photo below is from that post. Click here to see the whole post.

Read the rest of this entry »

April 22: Friday Forum Lecture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

In notice on April 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm

The good folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Center for Southeast Asian Studies have invited me to give a lecture at their Friday Forum Series [schedule]. I’m honored by their invitation, and will be talking about a relatively new direction in my research: the role of ritual in the construction of multi-ethnic communities.

Raising The Neak Ta (Sino-Khmer Ritual)

The presentation is titled “Khmer Spirits, Chinese Bodies: Spirit Possession in Contemporary Sino-Khmer Communities in Cambodia,” and is related to a forthcoming contribution of the same title [Forthcoming in "Articulations with modernity: Religion and cultural crisis in Southeast Asia." Social Sciences in Asia Monograph Series. Brill, edited by Alexander Horstmann and Thomas Reuter.].

“Khmer spirits, Chinese bodies” explores two Neak Ta spirit possession rituals, performed by reconstituting and ascendant ethnic Chinese and Sino-Khmer community organizations and business groups throughout Cambodia. Neak Ta are ancestral place spirits conceived of as ‘ancestral spirits.’ This presentation examines the underlying Khmer beliefs and practices relating to Neak Ta cults, and focuses on the practices of spirit possession among Chinese Cambodians in these cults. The two examples discussed challenge a current typology of spirit possession and diasporic religion, opening up the possibility of diasporic practice that is localizing without assimilating.

Thanks also to those who have written in, congratulating me for my new position as the Chair of the Thailand/Laos/Cambodia Studies Group, succeeding the exceedingly successful tenure of Justin McDaniel.  I have very big shoes to fill on this front, and will rely on the continued good will and extensive knowledge base of the membership there, which I am so glad to have joined.

Sounding on Cambodia, March 19, 2010

In sounding on March 19, 2010 at 9:18 am

Funded by the US State Department and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, Undercover UXO is designed to run on the “One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.” The game will provide a consequence-free learning environment that teaches kids how to identify UXOs and report them to inspectors.

  • A lay nun burned herself inside the confines of Watt Ounalom in Phnom Penh.  If you click through, beware that the photo is pretty horrific. The reasons for this tragic action remain unclear, though there is a lot of speculation; the woman, whose current status has not been reported to my knowledge, was taken to Calmette Hospital.
  • Anne Elizabeth Moore has another excellent article on Cambodian Garment Workers. Moore has a relatively privileged perspective here, having lived as a dorm supervisor for a few months in Cambodia for the Harpswell Foundation.  The article, a followup to the last one written by Moore at Truthout, focuses on the Messenger Band, a band composed of current and former garment workers.  There’s audio on the site as well – go check it out! I cried at my computer when I read this part:

Members of the Messenger Band

Members of the Messenger Band

As garment factories close, more and more women enter the sex industry by working at the karaoke bars. You have a song about this.

Vun Em: When the factories close down, some girls will go to become entertainment workers, and HIV will spread out around. But why don’t [the NGOs] care about their living life? Why they don’t care about their family? Why they don’t care about the security of those people? Why they care only about HIV? [She starts to cry.] I don’t know, I don’t understand.

We also care about HIV, but you have to think about the lives of the people, not only HIV. If the people don’t have enough food to eat, if they don’t have enough education, if they don’t have good health, how can they prevent themselves from the HIV? They don’t have time to think about HIV, they only have time to think, I need food, I need food. All the time.

Sounding on Cambodia for February 19, 2010

In sounding on February 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Busy as a Beaver on Methamphetamines (Yama, Yaba) these days, but here are some of the Cambodian things I’m watching:

  • A US citizen who moved to Kompong Thom to open a “grassroots health clinic,” and was raped, beaten, wrapped in barbed wire and left for dead, has had her account confirmed by the Embassy, in the face of the K. Thom police, who claim the entire thing is made up by the woman, who they characterize as insane.  DAS has an excellent take on the entire thing:

The State Department’s confirmation should spark a new wave of questioning, which will certainly prompt more ridiculous answers from corrupted local officials who are trying to cover up the truth. As any police chief knows, the strong routinely prey upon the weak. Spousal abuse is epidemic. And rape is not only commonplace, it’s considered sport among a significant part of the male population. Sadly, Cara Garcia’s attack was anything but “impossible.” Utterly predictable is more like it.

Give the circumstances, you would think that people would protest in the streets. That women would demand justice. Demand accountability. Demand safety. If not for Cara Garcia, for themselves. For the Cambodian woman who will be raped and likely murdered today. And the Cambodian woman who will be raped and likely murdered tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Ad infinitum. Read the rest of this entry »

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