Fang posted a "missing persons" ad in the Commercial News in a renewed effort to locate his wife Tsai Tswei Ying and daughters Fang Jieh Ming and Fang Wan Jen, who would now be 56, 34 and 31.
TARING across the decades out of a grainy, aging photo from the pages of Phnom Penh's
Chinese-Language Commercial News, the Fang sisters smile uneasily, as if prescient
of the terrible events to come.
On April 17, 1975 Fang "Bright Future" Jieh Ming and her sister Fang Wan
Jen disappeared into history as the victorious Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, the
first day of a three-year, eight-month, and twenty-day reign of terror that would
claim the lives of almost two million Cambodians.
Twenty-five years later, the Fang sisters and their mother Tsai Tswei Ying are just
three of 7,970 Cambodians still officially listed as "missing" in the aftermath
of the Khmer Rouge, moving evidence of the victory of hope over despair embodied
by survivors of the thousands of Cambodians who were never seen again after April
In November, 1999, the girls' father, Fang Jing Hwei, now living in France, posted
the photos of his wife and two daughters as part of a "missing persons"
ad in the Commercial News in a renewed effort to locate them. "My wife would
now be 56 years old," the ad reads. "Fang Jieh Ming is now 34 and Fang
Wan Jen is 31."
The ad refers those who might have knowledge of the missing trio to the offices of
the Express Tour Company in Phnom Penh, which is run by Fang's older brother, Fang
"My brother had gone to Hong Kong as the situation worsened in Cambodia to arrange
a new place for the family to live," Jieh Bau explained of the circumstances
behind the family's separation. "Then April 17 happened and all contact with
An accompanying photograph shows Fang Jing Hwei smiling happily with his wife and
daughters during a visit to Wat Phnom before the dark days of April 1975.
Fang's ad also lists the names of relatives of his-inlaws, the Tsai family, who are
likewise searching for missing wives, husbands, sisters and brothers and their families.
"[The Tsai's and the Fang's] all lived on the same street, Street 15 in Phnom
Penh, where my brother ran the Chunghwa Department Store," Jieh Bau recalls.
"It was the busiest, most active business street in all of Phnom Penh."
Street 15's pre-war reputation as the heart of Phnom Penh's Chinatown district, like
the vast majority of its former residents, has vanished into the black hole of the
KR's Democratic Kampuchea.
According to historian Ben Kiernan, 50% of Cambodia's pre-1975 ethnic Chinese population
died during the Pol Pot regime, constituting "the greatest tragedy of SE Asian
Residents of Phnom Penh's Street 15 probably constituted many of the victims of a
"crash resettlement" program of ethnic Chinese in the KR's NW Zone near
the Thai border where Kiernan notes that "probably two thirds of the [ethnic
Chinese] death toll occurred."
Fang Jieh Bau at the Express Travel Agency is not blind to the odds of a successful
conclusion to his brother's search.
"We recognize that [my brother's wife] must be dead, otherwise she would have
contacted us sometime over the last twenty-five years," Fang Jieh Bau explained.
"But it's not impossible that the two sisters are still alive, but have forgotten
or have given up on finding their original family."
Staring at the picture of the two sisters frozen in childhood in pre-Khmer Rouge
Cambodia, he says the search will go on.
"We know that there's only a small chance that we will find them, but they are
our family," he said sadly. "As long as there's any hope at all, we'll
keep trying to find them."