Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Southeast Asia’s largest Chinese school



Southeast Asia’s largest Chinese school

Southeast Asia’s largest Chinese school


Southeast Asia’s biggest Chinese language school, with more than 7,000 students aged from seven to 18, is right in the heart of Phnom Penh, near the Kandal market.

When the bell at Phnom Penh’s Toun Hua School rings at 7am, an average of 40 students per classroom sits down calmly and starts learning geography, mathematics, biology and all the other subjects according to the Cambodian curriculum.

However, there’s one major difference to other schools in Cambodia: The language of education is Chinese, while the Khmer language is only taught in additional classes.

According to Ly Meng, the school’s 73-year old principal, most of the students don’t speak Chinese at home.

“Up to 70 percent of our students are of Chinese origin, but most of them never spoke Chinese at home. When they come to Toun Hua, they start to learn Chinese for the very first time,” Meng said.

As the influence of China in Cambodia is increasing and the enrollments for Toun Hua continue to grow, Chinese language skills can ensure a well-paid job.

“The friendship between China and Cambodia is very important for our school. Many Chinese companies invest their money here, and they want their staff to speak Chinese,” Meng says.

These days, the future looks bright for Toun Hua, but times have not always been so good. The school’s history is closely interwoven with the history of the Chinese in Cambodia. Established more than 120 years ago by the Association of Chinese Teo Chew in Cambodia, Toun Hua was shut down in 1970 when Lon Nol came to power.
says Meng, who was a teacher at Toun Hua at that time, adding that he was driven to the countryside to do compulsory labour. During the chaos of the Khmer Rouge period, all the school’s documents and historical records were lost.

But when the war ended and the resurrected Chinese Associations tried to re-establish Toun Hua School, they were facing one major problem: One part of the former school house near Kandal market belonged to the Cambodian government and another part belonged to Cambodians who now lived in the building.

“A man named Liang Srin, a Chinese Khmer, got the government’s support, so the government allowed him to use the one part of the building. Then he gathered enough money, mostly donated from members of the Association of Chinese Teo Chew in Cambodia, and recovered the other part of the building from the Cambodians.”

Eventually, Toun Hua was reopened in Sept. 1992. It now spreads over three different school buildings in Phnom Penh and two additional schools are being built to cope with the increasing admission of new students.

To Meng, speaking Chinese is the key to the identity of Chinese expats in

Cambodia: “Many of the Chinese students grew up in Cambodia and are used to speaking Khmer, even at home. Here they learn how to speak and write Mandarin. That’s important for their Chinese identity, and the kids should at least learn Chinese in school if they don’t learn it at home.”

Besides having to learn to speak and write the Chinese language, students at Toun Hua are required to wear uniforms. The parents don’t mind paying the $40 tuition per semester because Toun Hua has a good reputation for discipline and high academic standards.

The curriculum follows the demands of the Cambodian Ministry of Education. All subjects are taught in Mandarin Chinese and even slight differences have to be approved by the government.

In the afternoons, the students take additional Khmer lessons – at least five hours a week are required by the Ministry of Education.

“Most of the Chinese Khmer kids speak more Khmer than Chinese, but if we teach them Chinese, that’s important for their future. And they still learn about Khmer literature,”  Meng said.

Meng added that from his point of view the Chinese language is becoming more important in Cambodia than English.

“That’s our hope for the future. I think the Chinese influence is important for progress and it will certainly have a positive effect on our school,” Meng said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year