Happy Chinese New Year

Here we are, second New Year of the New Year. Three days off from work plus dancing dragons.

I find it amusing that Khmer people act so resentfully towards Thailand for “stealing” their culture (architecture, religious ceremonies and practices, performing arts, sculpture, etc…), yet don’t seem to correlate their cultural borrowing from China as a similar sort of “theft”.

Of course, Thailand really did steal parts of Khmer culture: in 1431 the Thais finally defeated Angkor, taking most of Angkor’s royalty, artisans, performance artists, and religious officials back with them (a brief history can be found in Lonely Planet’s Cambodia release, but for a more detailed history try David Chandler’s The History of Cambodia).

Angkor didn’t literally steal Chinese culture, but rather as more Chinese migrated into the region over hundreds of years, aspects of Chinese culture integrated with the dominant Khmer culture, up to present day. Legacies of this include ancestor worship, a vague respect for the Chinese lunar calendar, and of course certain Chinese holidays, the New Year probably being the most pronounced.

I’m not very “up” on Cambodian ancient history or its relationship with China (sorry, I know I promised to read more… Those Chandler books are so expensive!), but I can see why China has the profound influence that it does on the Khmer imagination. One of the more difficult classes I took in school was a Chinese history class (holy cow Chinese history is LONG and complicated… I so took for granted my own countries short, nicely compacted history). It was taught by this American woman who you’d called a “sinophile” (lover of all things Chinese). Though she tried to make us understand the infinite glory of Chinese culture and its innate superiority to all other cultures, my biggest impression of ancient China was that it was a bully and a narcissist– a lot like the United States today, actually.

Anyhow, I suppose if you’re an upstart little empire growing up next to a supergiant neighbor, you’d be impressed, too. Maybe you’d pick up their habits. Eventually you might start bragging about the concepts which you originally gleaned from this neighbor, like being proud of an older sibling. This is sort of how modern Cambodia is about China.

Nevermind that Pol Pot, possibly the worst thing ever to happen to Cambodia, was powerfully influenced by Mao Tse Dong, a Chinese product. I might be a little bitter about that, personally. But Phnom Penh doesn’t seem bitter, at least; they have a street called Mao Tse Dong Blvd. here– go figure.

I have so much yet to learn about this Kingdom of Wonder… I constantly stumbling across new and unique things. Cambodians, as a “people”, and the varied aspects of “Cambodian culture” never cease to amaze me.

Happy Chinese New Year.


p.s. my mom said I had a lot of spelling/grammatical errors in my last post. I’m guessing this one prolly does too, because I’m not going to proofread it. Sorry for that. 😛


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