A Khmer proverb: “If culture dies, so does the nation. And if culture is splendid, so is the nation.” The statement advises Cambodian children to adhere to, and preserve, the Kingdom’s rich culture. During the golden age of Khmer culture, which lasted from the ninth to the 14th century, the prosperous and powerful empire of Angkor flourished, dominating almost all of inland Southeast Asia, including modern-day Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Due to a combination of factors – globalisation, technological improvements and the country’s rapid economic development among them – Cambodian youth are changing the culture handed down by their ancestors.
Over the past decade, foreign culture has infiltrated Cambodia through the increasingly wide distribution of foreign, especially Korean, music and television on Cambodian broadcasting channels like CTN and MyTV.
This widespread exposure to foreign media has led many Cambodian people, especially teenagers, to adopt imported culture, leaving traditional culture behind.
As can be seen clearly, most Cambodian teens nowadays have begun to adopt Korean style in terms of fashion, hairstyle, make-up, clothes and even gestures.
Phrases like, “You look Korean, you have Korean style,” are often exchanged.
I think suitable adoption of another culture can be productive, and is simply a reality in our increasingly connected world. But if they overdo it, they risk permanently losing Khmer culture.
Before 2003, when Cambodia’s government allowed the screening of Thai movies on television channels throughout the country, a lot of Cambodia’s people began to prefer those foreign movies and stopped watching Khmer dramas.
So what will happen to Cambodian movies if Khmer people give up watching their own cinema? They will forget Khmer culture as depicted in the movies. Even now, although the government has banned the public screening of Thai movies on TV, Cambodians .still buy Thai DVDs and watch them at home.
Does all this mean the Cambodian people are easily influenced by other cultures, or at least other pop cultures? To some extent, having witnessed today’s youths consuming foreign media at a record rate and realised they are more familiar with the lives of Korean pop stars than with their own culture, I think the answer is yes.
Still, I believe it is normal for adolescents to want to adopt something fresh and new, even if (and perhaps especially because) it may appear strange to older generations. It’s a sort of globalisation that is hard to prohibit because they have the freedom to pursue any culture they choose.
But this doesn’t mean there are absolutely no solutions. Parents and schools can play a role in guiding students and children and advising them not to lose themselves completely in foreign culture.
What really concerns me is not exposure, but over-exposure, to foreign movies and culture. As a first solution, I think the government should limit the screening of foreign movies and try to encourage television stations to broadcast Khmer programs and movies. Prime Minister Hun Sen said in July, 2009 that he was not pleaed with the production of movies and television shows that he said were not in keeping with national cultural traditions. So television stations should at the very least consider this issue.
Another solution is for there to be more cultural education at all levels in Cambodian schools. Cultural literacy will promote cultural preservation and protect against the onslaught of foreign influence.
In my experience at least, there is insufficient cultural instruction at Cambodian schools today.
Finally, the young people of Cambodia can play an important role in moderating the influence of foreign culture.
Several foreign culture traditions – such as celebrating Christmas Day and Valentine’s Day, and foreign changes to the wedding ceremony – that have been adopted by some Cambodian people have been criticised as being bad for Cambodian culture in the long run.