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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Alternatively, Yuan Ma

Alternatively, Yuan Ma

Alternatively, Yuan Ma

I refer to the article by Michael Coren, "What's in a word? More to yuon than

sour soup", Post, 20/6-3/7/03. The term "yuon," yuan or Yvan, according

to the Phum Mien Inscription AD 912, has been used by the Khmer colloquially for

about the last 2,000 years from AD42.

It originated from the name of a most powerful known Han General Yuan Ma, who effectively

conquered and administratively reformed the rebellious tribal groups Yueh (Viet)

in the southern part of now China.

Gen Yuan's administration coincided with structuralization of Khmer society. Khmer

were known to the Romans as Kamerani (Pliny, AD 70). In ancient times, Khmers sometimes

called other peoples by their leader's name, for example, Cina, (Emperor Qin) for

Chinese: (k 877A pre-Angkor Inscription.)

Yuon does not have as its root the Sanskrit word "Yavana" as asserted in

the Historical Dictionary. Yavana in Sanskrit means inter alia "mixing",

"foreigner/barbarian". Barbarian here is not pejorative but simply means

foreigners, including the Greeks, Muhamadan (Arab), Europeans. According to M Monier-Williams,

Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899), Yavana also means "swift", a "legitimate

son of a King", a "King of the Greeks". It does not have the connotation

"savages".

No Khmer dictionary I have read defines yuon as "barbarian" or "red-ant".

The Khmer-English Dictionary (1977) by Lim Khaeng et al, apparently being referred

to by Mr Coren, does not define yuon as such. Lim defines yuan as "yieknam,

vietnamese", but in a round brackets is stated that the word is "possibly

related to Yavana" meaning "foreigner, barbarian". Also Lim did not

define yuon as "red-ant". In fact, he writes "Sramoach yuon [means]

red-ants". "Sramoach yuon" in Khmer is a name of a group of red-ants;

like somlor mchu yuon, which is a name of a Khmer dish.

As for "khmaer min chaol kbuan, yuan min choal put," Yuan predated "Vietnamese".

The term viet-nam was imposed on Vietnamese by a Chinese emperor Chai-ch'ing in 1803,

thus declining their wish to use Nan Yueh. The yuon resisted use of the foreign-imposed

"viet nam" until about the 1940s.

As for yuon being "so disliked" in Thailand, before 1950s, yuon was used

in Thailand colloquially and there are still places which retain the name yuon, such

as the Vietnamese quarter or Muu ban yuon, near the National Library in Bangkok.

Yuan is "so disliked" because of PM Phibun Sangkram's communist witch-hunt

policy of rooting out the yuon communist network when the Cold War crept into the

northeastern outback of Thailand in 1950-51. Phibun's public theme was: yuan was

a national security danger to what is Thai. The yuan were vilified and destroyed

by persecution, assassination and forced en mass repatriation.

Also falling victim to Phibun's vilification policy was the word "Khmaer,"

(called Khmaen by the Thais). The vilification reached such a degree that those of

Khmer ancestry felt being a Khmer was/is a sin. But Khmers of Cambodia did not pay

attention to Phibun's political nonsense. We have kept "Khmaer", proudly.

The use of Yuon as a negative term is a controversy caused by foreign "experts"

ignorance and political manipulation.

- Bora Touch - Sydney, Australia

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