Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No, ‘yuon’ is not at all offensive



No, ‘yuon’ is not at all offensive

Ethnic Vietnamese born in Cambodia walk through a Vietnamese-Cambodian neighbourhood in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district in August
Ethnic Vietnamese born in Cambodia walk through a Vietnamese-Cambodian neighbourhood in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district in August. PHA LINA

No, ‘yuon’ is not at all offensive

Dear Editor,

I was utterly surprised and distressed by the extent to which some foreign nationals residing or working in Cambodia criticised or even condemned the usage of the word “yuon” as pejorative during last month’s legislative elections. Such unmerited condemnation clearly showed the lack of understanding toward the host country and its people.

During my childhood, I heard my grandparents, parents and neighbours alike routinely referred to Vietnamese ethnic living in my district as “yuon”. Was that word abrasive, offensive or disrespectful? Absolutely not.

The word “yuon” has always been an integral part of the rich Khmer vocabulary as it can be found everywhere, whether in common spoken language or ancient textbooks and literature.

We have been using that word without passion or prejudice for centuries, just as we have been using the words “barang”, “chen”, “cham”, “kloeng”, “leav” and “siam”, to refer to the French, Chinese, Muslim, Indian, Laotian and Thai nationals respectively.

After the Vietnamese army took over Cambodia in 1979, people in my village were pointedly told by the authority not to call Vietnamese soldiers “yuon”. For the few who dared to ask why, they never got straight answers. For many home-grown nationalists, however, there was little doubt or secret about the real motives behind prohibiting the usage of the word “yuon” then.

In the history of Cambodia and Vietnam’s often-complicated relations, Cambodia was for most of the time an occupied country. Some scholars and historians even assert that had France not placed the Kingdom under its colonial empire between 1887 and 1953, Cambodia would have disappeared from the world map for good.

Regrettably, when it comes to judging Cambodians’ attitude toward fellow Vietnamese, certain outsiders and media harshly accuse Cambodians of excessive Vietnamophobia – unjustly perceiving Cambodians as an agitator or troublemaker while conveniently downplaying or ignoring altogether relevant history and the repeated misfortunes to which Cambodians had been constantly subjected to.

Many Cambodians, myself included, are totally at a loss with such uncharacteristic perceptions that defy all logic. It is one-sided justice that Cambodians – who are outnumbered by almost ten to one, economically and population-wise, and who have seen the size of their country shrinking to the verge of extinction – be singled out as a troublemaker.

This selective form of justice does not help to heal the bitter wounds of the past. Instead, it only serves to encourage some cunning political leaders to continue pushing forward their hidden expansionist agenda.

Cambodia definitely has an incredibly tough job ahead for balancing its “reasonable accommodation” policy toward foreign settlers and its badly needed “self-preservation” policy to safeguard its future.

In the meantime, to suggest, let alone condemn, the customary usage of the word “yuon” as pejorative or anything of that nature is to overstretch the limit of political correctness at best, and to live in a state of invincible ignorance at worst.

Davan Long
Montreal, Canada

MOST VIEWED

  • South Korea’s first lady brings hope to ill boy

    South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee – wife of current president of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol – met with a 14-year-boy with congenital heart disease during her trip to the Kingdom for the ASEAN Summit. After their meeting it was announced that the

  • Hun Sen gets Covid, shuns G20, APEC summits

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said he has tested positive for Covid-19 in Indonesia, where he is slated to attend the G20 summit in his capacity of the ASEAN chair. In a social media post addressing the Cambodian public, he said: “Before leaving Cambodia, I always

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol