A 50-year veteran of Cambodian journalism who has worked in the field since the Khmer Republic era, Chhim Sereyphuon, 68, began his reporting career while still in school, writing for the free Khmer Angkor newspaper.
Focusing mainly on political analyses and historical events, the reporter has cultivated a reputation for his work ethic and detailed reporting.
Sereyphuon covered Cambodian politics from 1972 until his retirement in 2021. His latest work is a book series that details the political turning points of Cambodian political figures Sihanouk, Lon Nol, Pol Pot and Hun Sen – a project he has spent the last 20 years labouring over. The first part of the series was published in late-2021.
Sereyphuon sat down with Post reporter Mom Kunthear to discuss his projects.
What made you interested in writing a book on these Cambodian political figures?
Before writing the book, I published an article on the political turning points of Sihanouk, Lon Nol, Pol Pot and Hun Sen in the Nokor Phnom newspaper around 2012-2013, with material I’ve been compiling since 2000. The article became well-known. Everyone wanted to read it and began following my work, especially the politicians who were being constantly asked about the events described in the article.
The book was produced because I wanted Cambodians, especially the younger generation, to become aware of their country’s history and politics, because certain events concerning Khmer history were being distorted by several politicians.
You spent 20 years writing the book. What made it become such a long project?
I have been doing research since 2000, and have been conducting a lot of political analyses. I have spent a lot of time researching all these histories, including piecing together memories of people involved in the events that happened when I was a young student, and poring over the newspapers and books of the time.
What’s your argument to get people to read the book?
I wouldn’t dare to decide whether the book is perfect or not. But I can say the fact that I’ve cited pages of political history newspapers has meant that a lot of readers have supported what I’ve said. Plus, when the book was published, political leaders have openly said they were engrossed.
The first part of the series of books was published in late 2021 and the second part is being published with the support of Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng.
I also plan to continue writing it as an extended series, which I’ve estimated may span up to 10 parts. Until now, I’ve only written the first two parts consisting of 600 pages each, and I have just written about the 1958 event [the Cambodian general election]. I believe that those who read these books will surely be engrossed.
Some Cambodians living in Australia and the United States have even asked me to send the book to them because they loved the idea of it and wanted to read it. I’m extremely happy that readers have so far appreciated my book.
I’d dare say that those who have read it will understand the true history and believe it completely. My arguments and statements, the connections I make between historical events, as well as reasoning and references, are solid. When the book was published, none reacted negatively to it, even within the Royal Palace.
How hard was it to find documents, pictures and other content for the book?
It was not easy. Sometimes, it took me days to find just two or three lines of content, and other times we had to track down hard-to-find sources which took a lot of time and money.
When the book was first published, ordinary Cambodians did not read it. At the time, it was only distributed to high-ranking government officials and politicians. Then Sar Kheng decided that the book was good and that he wanted other leaders and officials to read and understand it, so he distributed it to them.
Do you think journalists should write books before retiring from the field?
I understand that as a journalist, we should leave something like a book or some form of research for the younger generation to read, or compile news articles we have written, publishing them as a sort of memoir, even if just for personal perusal.
I have written a lot of articles, but I did not collate them, and the physical copies of those newspapers have since been lost to time. That’s why I have compiled the research and memories in my book. I hope it will be useful to the younger generation of Cambodians.
Are you proud to have been able to write and publish a book that has been so well received and appreciated by ordinary Cambodians and leaders alike?
I’m extremely happy, but I don’t feel as proud compared to other writers or scholars who have studied a lot. I have not formally studied much, having graduated in 1975. However, despite that, I’m pleased that many people have taken interest in my book.