Chinese New Year in Cambodia
It is believed that Chinese presence in Cambodia dated back to the 13th century when Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan visited Cambodia. In the 16th century, Portuguese seafarers recorded the presence of a Chinese enclave in Phnom Penh in 1620. Early Chinese immigrants comprised almost exclusively of men, and they took local Khmer or Cham women as wives. Their descendants quickly assimilated into the local community by integrating themselves economically and socially into the agricultural commune of ancient Cambodians.
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.
The State of Cambodia, in 1989, allowed ethnic Chinese to observe their particular religious customs and Chinese language schools were reopened. In 1991, two years after the SOC‘s foundation, the Chinese New Year was officially celebrated in Cambodia for the first time since 1975 (Wikipedia). From 1979 to 1989, government’s officials who have Chinese blood or names were under special surveillance.
Chinese or Sino-Khmer or Khmer-Chen in Cambodia went through difficult history and turbulence like many Cambodians did. I once observed in the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79): one village (Poh Penh) in Spean Sreng commune, Phnom Srok district, Battambang province, was created just to let them settled down there. Nobody survived the hardship during that time since many of them were city and well-off people and were not used to hard work conditions. Many Sino-Khmer perished under Pol Pot.
According to Association of Cambodian-Chinese in Cambodia (ACC), there are around 700,000 Sino-Khmer living currently in this country, ten times more than in 1984. Besides, there are 70 Chinese language schools with more than 40,000 students. The association was founded in December 1990 and now has 22 branch offices out of 24 provinces and around 140 offices at the district and commune level. With the number increased and the open policy of the government the Sino-Khmer (or “Chen” as Cambodians called Chinese) are enjoying full right to live, worship and do business in the country. It is estimated that 90% of the Sino-Khmer are involving in business activities which is backing up the whole economy and living particularly in urban area.
Since recent years and with the rapid economic development of the country, more and more people are celebrating Chinese New Year, including pure Cambodians. My family also has prepared some food, dishes and drinks for small celebration among our close relatives to mark this new year as well. Though, it is not official holiday; especially in urban area, the schools, the Sino-Khmer shops and some government’s offices are mainly closed or opened with less activity happened. The streets in Phnom Penh are less traffic than usual.
Cambodians, Sino-Khmer, Chinese and Vietnamese living in Cambodia are happy to celebrate Khmer and Chinese/Vietnamese New Year together. For me, it is better to celebrate together than fighting against each other. The money spent during these New Years (Universal’s, Chinese ‘s and Khmer’s ) will help to create demand, activate food supply chain and production, and finally contribute to bring the economy forward. In addition, the gathering of all family members, relatives and friends to eat and drink together in the evening and the next days would help to boost loving relationship and strengthen the social capital in the society. Cambodia is at peace. With the improved road connections, people enjoy traveling around the country visiting many tourists destination.