Chinese Cambodian

Chinese Cambodian

ethnic group
group=Chinese Cambodian

caption=Chinese and Sino-Khmer kids watching a dragon dance procession in Phnom Penh.
poptime=343,855 (est.)
rels=Mahayana Buddhism and/or Theravada Buddhism with Taoism. [cite book|title=The Complete Idiot's Guide to Taoism|author=Brandon Toropov, Chad Hansen|origyear=2003|pages=121|publisher=Alpha Books|isbn=0028642627]
langs=Khmer, Teochew, Cantonese, Min-Nan, Hakka, Hainanese
related=Other Overseas Chinese groups
p= jian pu zhai hua ren
j=gaan pou dzaai waa jan
teo=gaam pou zeh hua jin

Chinese Cambodians are Cambodian citizens of Chinese descent. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were the largest ethnic minority in Cambodia; there were an estimated 425,000. However, by 1984, there were only 61,400 Chinese Cambodians left. This has been attributed to a combination of warfare, economic stagnation, Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese persecution, and emigration.

Role in the economy

In 1963, William Willmott, an expert on overseas Chinese communities, estimated that 90% of the Chinese in Cambodia were involved in commerce. Today, an estimated 60% are urban dwellers engaged mainly in commerce, with most of the rural population working as shopkeepers, processors of food products (such as rice, palm sugar, fruit, and fish), and moneylenders. Those in Kampot Province and parts of Kaoh Kong Province cultivate black pepper and fruit (especially rambutans, durians, and coconuts). Additionally, some rural Chinese Cambodians are engaged in salt water fishing.

Most Chinese Cambodian moneylenders wield considerable economic power over the ethnic Khmer peasants through usury. Studies in the 1950s revealed that Chinese shopkeepers in Cambodia would sell to peasants on credit at interest rates of 10-20% a month. This might have been the reason why seventy-five percent of the peasants in Cambodia were in debt in 1952, according to the Australian Colonial Credit Office. There seemed to be little distinction between Chinese and Sino-Khmer (offspring of mixed Chinese and Khmer descent) in the moneylending and shopkeeping enterprises.

Dialect groups

The Chinese in Cambodia represented five major linguistic groups, the largest of which was the Teochiu (accounting for about 60%), followed by the Cantonese (accounting for about 20%), the Hokkien (accounting for about 7%), and the Hakka and the Hainanese (each accounting for about 4%). The people of some of these Chinese dialects characteristically tend to gravitate towards certain occupations.


The Teochiu, who made up about 90 % of the rural Chinese population, ran village stores, controlled rural credit and rice-marketing facilities, and grew vegetables. In urban areas they were often engaged in such enterprises as importing and exporting, selling pharmaceuticals, and street peddling.


The Cantonese, who were the majority Chinese group before the Teochiu migrations began in the late 1930s, lived mainly in the city. Frequently, the Cantonese engaged in transportation and in construction, for the most part as mechanics or carpenters.


The Hainanese started out as pepper growers in Kampot Province, where they continued to dominate that business. Many moved to Phnom Penh, where, in the late 1960s, they reportedly had a virtual monopoly on the hotel and restaurant businesses. They also often operated tailor shops and haberdasheries.


In Phnom Penh, the newly-arrived Hakka were typically folk dentists, sellers of traditional Chinese medicines, and shoemakers.


The Hokkien community was involved in importing and exporting and in banking; many of the richest Chinese Cambodians were Hokkien.


Medieval History

Chinese presence in Cambodia dated back to the 13th century when Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan visited Cambodia and in the 16th century, Portuguese seafarers recorded the presence of a Chinese enclave in Phnom Penh. Many of these early Chinese settlers quickly assimilated into the local community by intergating themselves economically and socially into the agricultural commune of ancient Cambodians. These early immigrants, comprising almost exclusively of men, took local Khmer or Cham women as wives. Of particular note among the male descendants of Chinese immigrants was the retention of the Ming practice of keeping a topknot until the 18th century. [cite book|title=Globalizing Chinese Migration|author= Pál Nyíri, Igorʹ Rostislavovich Savelʹev|origyear=2002|pages=255-6|publisher=Ashgate Publishing|isbn=0754617939]

Under French rule

Distinction by dialect group has also been important historically in the administrative treatment of the Chinese in Cambodia. The French brought with them a system devised by the Vietnamese Emperor Gia Long (1802-20) to classify the local Chinese according to areas of origin and dialect. These groups were called bang (or congregations by the French) and had their own leaders for law, order, and tax-collecting.

In Cambodia every Chinese was required to belong to a bang. The head of a bang, known as the ong bang, was elected by popular vote; he functioned as an intermediary between the members of his bang and the government. Individual Chinese who were not accepted for membership in a bang were deported by the French authorities.

After independence

The French system of administering the Chinese Cambodian community was terminated in 1958. During the 1960s, Chinese community affairs tended to be handled, at least in Phnom Penh, by the Chinese Hospital Committee, an organization set up to fund and to administer a hospital established earlier for the Chinese community.

This committee was the largest association of Chinese merchants in the country, and it was required by the organization's constitution to include on its fifteen-member board six people from the Teochiu dialect group, three from the Cantonese, two from the Hokkien, two from the Hakka, and two from the Hainanese. The hospital board constituted the recognized leadership of Phnom Penh's Chinese community. Local Chinese school boards in the smaller cities and towns often served a similar function.

In 1971 the government authorized the formation of a new body, the Federated Association of Chinese of Cambodia, which was the first organization to embrace all of Cambodia's resident Chinese. According to its statutes, the federation was designed to "aid Chinese nationals in the social, cultural, public health, and medical fields," to administer the property owned jointly by the Chinese community in Phnom Penh and elsewhere, and to promote friendly relations between Cambodians and Chinese.

With leadership that could be expected to include the recognized leaders of the national Chinese community, the federation was believed likely to continue the trend, evident since the early 1960s, to transcend dialect group allegiance in many aspects of its social, political, and economic programs.

Generally, relations between the Chinese and the ethnic Khmer were good. There was some intermarriage, and a sizable proportion of the population in Cambodia was part Sino-Khmer, who were assimilated easily into either the Chinese or the Khmer community. Willmott assumes that a Sino-Khmer elite dominated commerce in Cambodia from the time of independence well into the era of the Khmer Republic.

Under the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge takeover was catastrophic for the Chinese community for several reasons. When the Khmer Rouge took over a town, they immediately disrupted the local market. According to Willmott, this disruption virtually eliminated retail trade "and the traders (almost all Chinese) became indistinguishable from the unpropertied urban classes."

The Chinese, in addition to having their livelihood eradicated on the whole, also suffered because of their class. They were mainly well-educated urban merchants, and thus were characteristic of the people whom the Khmer Rouge detested. Chinese refugees have reported that they shared the same brutal treatment as other urban Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge régime and that they were not discriminated against as an ethnic group until after the Vietnamese invasion.

Observers believe that the anti-Chinese stance of the Vietnamese government and of its officials in Phnom Penh makes it unlikely that a Chinese community of the same scale as before the Khmer Rouge can resurface in Cambodia in the near future.

Modern years

Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, oppressive rules imposed by the Khmer Rouge government were lifted. Chinese schools were reopened, Chinese newspapers were allowed and the ban on speaking Chinese at home was lifted. [cite book|title=Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts|author=Amy B. M. Tsui, James W. Tollefson|origyear=2006|pages=110-5|publisher=Lawrence Erlbaum Associates|isbn=0805856935] Of particular note is China's economic role in the country, [ [ China-Cambodia: More than just friends?] ] which encouraged Sino-Khmer businessmen to reestablish their past business which were once suppressed by the Khmer Rouge. Modern Cambodian economy is highly dependent on Sino-Khmer companies who controlled a large stake in the country's economy, [ [ The rise and rise of a Cambodian capitalist] ] and their support is enhanced by the large presence of lawmakers who are of at least part-Chinese ancestry themselves. [ [ 华人在柬埔寨几度沉浮] ]

ee also

*Overseas Chinese



External links

* [ WorldChinese: Cambodia]
* [ The Growing Cambodian-Chinese Alliance] (with information on the Chinese community in Cambodia)

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