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
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