Vietnamese Cambodians

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Vietnamese Cambodian)
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Vietnamese People.
Vietnamese Cambodians
Vietnamese-floating-village-siem reap floating village1.jpg
A Vietnamese floating village in Siem Reap
Total population
600,000 (5% of population)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Vietnamese, Khmer, others
Mahayana Buddhism, Cao Dai, Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Vietnamese people

Vietnamese Cambodians constituted Cambodia's largest ethnic minority. Vietnamese settlement in Cambodia dated back to the 17th century when pioneering Vietnamese settlers first established themselves in the Mekong Delta, which was then under Khmer rule. The large influx of Vietnamese settlers in the region allowed Vietnam to impose its cultural norms and values according to Confucian ethics at the expense of the Khmer culture in the early 18th century until the 1860s when French colonisation of Indochina. Ethnic relations between the dominant Khmers and Vietnamese minority have been tense as a result and the Vietnamese have been the subject of racial discrimination at the societal and governmental levels since the 1950s.


Vietnamese settlers began to settle in Cambodian territory from the 1620s onwards during the reign of Chey Chettha II. Chettha III, whose consort was the daughter of the Nguyễn lord Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, played a key role in convincing Chettha III to allow Vietnamese settlers to establish themselves at Prey Nokor and Bà Rịa. Large influxes of Vietnamese migration due to civil war in the north ensued, and the Vietnamese set up new townlets and villages in the Mekong Delta region (also referred to as Kampuchea Krom). As Siam began its initial incursions into Cambodia starting with the burning of Kompong Som in the early 18th century, the Khmers was no longer able to exert authority over the Mekong Delta and Chey Chettha V formally ceded the region to Vietnam in 1749.[2] In the late 18th century, Taksin and his successor Rama I subjugated Cambodia under Siamese rule, and members of the royal family were taken to Bangkok for education. The pattern of Thai dominance over Cambodia stirred resentment in Ang Chan II during the early 19th century, who called on the Vietnamese emperor Gia Long to invade Cambodia in 1811.[3]

The Nguyễn army at times also clashed with the Siamese army to establish influence over Chenla. Historically, Vietnamese emperors had a policy of settling Vietnamese in sparsely populated areas that the Khmer regarded as part of Cambodian territory. Vietnamese rice farmers and fishermen continued to migrate into Cambodia during the 19th and 20th centuries. During the French colonial period, France staffed much of its colonial administration in Cambodia with French-speaking Catholic Vietnamese. The French also imported Vietnamese plantation workers. In the 19th century Vietnam permanently took over part of Cambodia, and, during one occupation of Phnom Penh, attempted to impose the Vietnamese language and political structures and Sinicized or Confucianized Vietnamese cultural norms and practices on the Hinduized Theravada Buddhist Khmers. Thus many Cambodian nationalists came to perceive Vietnamese as a threat not only to their political independence but also to the survival of the Khmer people and culture.

Under Prince Sihanouk's rule during the post-independence period, ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia were, like ethnic Chinese, regarded as foreign residents. However, extreme Cambodian nationalists regarded ethnic Vietnamese as agents or instruments of a Vietnamese intention to take over Cambodia. Ethnic Vietnamese were severely persecuted under the successive regimes of Lon Nol (1970–75) and Pol Pot (1975–79). Almost immediately after Lon Nol's coup against Prince Sihanouk, pogroms were initiated against ethnic Vietnamese in Phnom Penh that left several thousand dead and caused more than 100,000 to flee back to Vietnam.

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 perhaps as many as 150,000 Vietnamese who had not fled or been expelled during the Lon Nol years were expelled to Vietnam. Those Vietnamese who remained, often because they were married to Khmer, were massacred, along with, in many instances, the children of mixed Khmer–Vietnamese families. While Cambodia was under Vietnamese occupation, ethnic Vietnamese who had been expelled during the Lon Nol and Pot Pot regimes returned to Cambodia. Additional Vietnamese artisans entered the country in response to an economic boom that followed the signing of the Cambodian peace treaty in 1991.

In the early 1990s the Khmer Rouge and some right-wing Cambodian politicians started several campaigns of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Vietnamese living in isolated fishing villages, which led to an exodus of perhaps 25,000 Vietnamese to the Cambodia–Vietnam border. Vietnam admitted the majority of them.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiments remained so strong in the 1990s that a new immigration law - primarily aimed at the Vietnamese - which allows for the mass expulsion of non-citizens, was passed with a large majority in the elected Assembly, though the government pledged that there would be no mass expulsions.[4]

The Vietnamese come to Cambodia for many reasons. Some have lived here for generations. Vietnamese began migrating to Cambodia as early as the 17th century. In 1863, when Cambodia became a French colony, many Vietnamese were brought to Cambodia by the French to work on plantations and occupy civil servant positions. During the Lon Nol Regime (1970–75) and Pol Pot regime (1975–79), many of the Vietnamese living in Cambodia were killed. Others were either repatriated or escaped to Vietnam or Thailand. During the ten-year Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia from 1979 until 1989 many of the Vietnamese who had previously lived in Cambodia returned. Along with them came friends and relatives. Also, many former South Vietnamese soldiers came to Cambodia fleeing persecution from the communist government. In recent times, the number of Vietnamese immigration to Cambodia is still relatively high, and they are also the highest number of foreign visitors in Cambodia as of 2011.[5]


Both Vietnamese and Khmer speak a Mon-Khmer language which linguistically links the 2 groups. Vietnamese in Cambodia often don't integrate well with Khmers unlike the Chinese or Cham, this could be due to the cultural difference that both groups have. Today, due to the high unemployment rate in Vietnam, many Vietnamese come to Cambodia looking for work. While many Vietnamese come to Cambodia looking for a better life, few found it. Due to Vietnam's ten year occupation of Cambodia, most Cambodians harbor a deep distrust and dislike of the Vietnamese. Intermarriage is not as often with the Khmer as the Chinese settlers. While dispersed throughout the country, many Vietnamese are concentrated in the urban areas; others are involved in traditional fishing and agricultural activities where they live in floating villages on water. Vietnamese celebrate Chinese New Year during the month of February and is one of the biggest celebrations in Cambodia. They have also introduced their religion of Cao Dai which combines Mahayana, Confucian and Catholic beliefs. There are 2 built temples in Cambodia. Religion in Vietnam has historically been largely defined by the East Asian mix of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. They are the so-called Tam Giáo, or "triple religion." Beyond Tam Giáo, Catholicism is also practiced in modern Vietnam. Vietnamese Buddhism has typically been the most popular. This fits perfectly with the "triple religion" concept, making it difficult for many Vietnamese to identify exactly which religion they practice. Besides the "triple religion", Vietnamese life was also profoundly influenced by the practice of ancestor worship, as well as native animism. Most Vietnamese, regardless of religious denomination, practice ancestor worship and have an ancestor altar at their home or business, a testament to the emphasis Vietnamese culture places on filial duty. Most Vietnamese are followers of Mahayana Buddhism unlike the Khmer who follow Theravada Buddhism. Most Vietnamese speak Vietnamese as their mother tongue and the younger kids must learn to speak Khmer to prepare themselves to enter a school.

Current Issue[edit]

The Vietnamese are the most vulnerable of Cambodia's minorities, and the most prone to discrimination and violations of their rights. Their status has much to do with the difficult history and relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam, which has helped create animosity and intolerance towards them. There are a few private schools teaching in Vietnamese; these are not officially sanctioned but neither have they encountered a great deal of resistance from state authorities. No state school provides any form of schooling in Vietnamese.

The current citizenship law of Cambodia makes it difficult for many of them to prove that they are citizens of Cambodia. This in turn severely limits their enjoyment of a variety of rights, and excludes them from fully participating as equal members in the political and economic life of the country. The discriminatory impact of this legislation, the loss or destruction of identity papers which occurred during the upheavals from the 1970s, and the fact that the Constitution of Cambodia only assigns the protection of human rights to citizens, leaves them particularly vulnerable.

Some Vietnamese are probably illegal immigrants, in the sense that they settled in Cambodia after the Vietnamese army overthrew the Khmer Rouge. However, it is likely that many of them were in fact Cambodian citizens who had fled the country during the period of Khmer Rouge rule. Because they are not ethnically ‘Khmer', the presumption of authorities continues to be that they are probably illegal immigrants. Unless they have identity papers demonstrating their Cambodian nationality, they risk losing their land or homes that they may have occupied for decades.

There continued to be some reports in 2006 of state officials evicting ethnic Vietnamese from their floating villages around Tonle Sap Lake, and even of seizing and destroying identity papers which might establish some of them as being Cambodian citizens.

Though not due to any official Cambodian government policy, any expression of distinct Vietnamese identity is still occasionally met with violence; people are occasionally set upon if they are heard to speak in Vietnamese. Even politicians considered ‘democratic' by outsiders periodically revert to slogans against the Vietnamese minority, describing them as a ‘yuon' threat, a word which can have a derogatory meaning. There have been reports of some Vietnamese who have been recognized as citizens being prevented from voting in 2003 and in later local elections.[4]



  • Corfield, Justin, The History of Cambodia, ABC-CLIO, 13 Oct 2009, ISBN 0313357234