September 29, 2015

‘Yuon’, Vietnamese, political correctness and the failure to research?

‘Yuon’, Vietnamese, political correctness and the failure to research?

Language can be more than a means of daily communication among the citizenry; it can be seized or manipulated by the state as an ideological device in its communication with its own population, in the re-enforcement and implementation of its agenda, in addition to mirroring the weaknesses or strengths in the fluid, dynamic, and often, repressed context of its existing power relations via a vis other states - School of Vice [Image: xinhua]

by School of Vice

It's been something of a sacrosanct, automated response by this minority of foreign expat press community and their disingenuous local Cambodian informers-cum- "political analysts" with axe to grind that any casual reference to Vietnam or the Vietnamese as "Yuon" by any of the Opposition leaders in public address, or even among the wider Cambodian public, shall be marked down with the additional note suggestive of both disdain and entrenched political correctness of a rather unthinking, unwholesome nature. Namely, the aforementioned descriptive term would be followed by: "...a term considered by some as derogatory". Note the stress I place on the word 'some' here to remind us all that even the people who habitually insert this postscript verbatim accept that the "derogatory" connotations attached to the term used - if any - clearly seek to imply, and thus cast disapproval on, the party/ individual using it, and that the perceived or implied meanings are far from being universally and unanimously accepted. So why would this minority insist in repeating the same line despite knowing the damage and slander it could cast upon, not only a small minority engaging in party politics, but also virtually an entire nation that has lived with and used the term without perceived passion or ill sentiment from generation to generation and throughout their national history?

Before all this political correctness and fuss with the word in question, various people, including but not limited to, the current CNRP leaders, had also been caught up in fostering "anti-Vietnamese" feelings and sentiment and, have even today been accused of playing the "race card". It would take one for ever to write on the subject matter, but it would appear that in the midst of all this contention and semantics debate, there exists a vast gulf separating facts from fiction, truth from propaganda, and above all, a failure to search for an equitable defence position of proportion and reason. Just because some self-serving local Cambodians with an NGO to manage and a cash flow to sustain puts a question mark on the said term and its usage by politicians, that does not necessarily follow that they too may not have a "race card" of their own to exploit? Even the country's 'PM' recently had the shameless temerity to ask that the new UN envoy focuses her effort on "racial discrimination"; a thinly veiled reference to the political Opposition's much vilified "anti-Vietnamese" stance. 

Considering the PM’s own well-documented catalogue of rights violations and brutal leadership style over the past decades, his concern with 'racial discrimination' seems rather hallow and contrived indeed. Most 'Cambodians' - whatever their ethnic origins, including the Vietnamese themselves - I would venture to ague, are living a precarious existence under the present ruling single party regime due to the absence of ‘the rule of law’ and the enforcement of civil political rights enshrined in the national constitution. This is the saddest truth and reality confronting us today; accepting this reality helps us to have a more balanced perspective and a sense of proportion. It is also a reflection of the democratic, progressive camp [including the above cited expat press community whom I still credit with performing - overall - a positive role in reporting and shedding light on social aspects and conditions of the society] that we find ourselves being sidetracked by this otherwise wholly misplaced and unnecessary controversy largely owing to the blind, misguided obeisance paid to political correctness. Whilst Opposition leaders have been - directly or indirectly - scolded and have their credibility as public figures scrutinized over the supposedly lauded "derogatory" term used, the ‘elephant in the room’ and the person with a mandate to curse, slander, and use all manners of derogatory uncouth terms and invective towards his audience and targets in his daily rant before the microphone, somehow seems to escape the studious attention of the same press community unscathed – more or less?

One of the most effective tactics deployed by the Vietnamese-KR-CPP propaganda machine has been to repeat the same line of party approved lies, ideas and half-truths until they have seeped into the consciousness of their identified objects  – particularly, this has been their favoured method in indoctrinating their young recruits and the largely illiterate base in rural areas. It would be most ironic in the least constructive and helpful fashion if, in the name of neutrality and reporting balance [let alone the cause of democracy], we were to unwittingly permit ourselves to repeat the same lies and half-truths through lack of critical discrimination and a thorough research demanded of us as writers and commentators on social issues of grave consequences to a people and their actual collective life or entity.

Between two democratic states governed by genuinely democratically elected governments, a more meaningful discussion and dialogue perhaps would be the better way forward if, in the event of any use of any term be deemed therein an affront or pejorative towards specific groups or nationalities – and if the Vietnamese communities or their government in Hanoi had issued any such objections in any recorded official statement, this has not been brought to my attention so far! It would therefore appear that some conscientious local ‘Cambodians’ and ‘analysts’ are way ahead of the much unfairly maligned Vietnamese themselves in defending them and upholding this principled stance in political correctness?

Conversely, such ‘luxury’ or need is somewhat far-fetched and thus - in practical terms - unrealistic within a framework of ‘unequal’ relations between neighbouring governments and states. During their military occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s, the Vietnamese succeeded in enforcing more than the use of the term Vietnam or Vietnamese in lieu of the locally accustomed term “Yuon”. ‘Kampuchea Krom Boulevard’ – for instance among other streets in the capital - had been replaced with “Kampuchea-Vietnam Friendship Blv. School children were instructed not to use the Y term, and when caught using that pronoun, their teacher would deliver them a stern and lengthy lecture on the importance and benefits of the fraternal solidarity between the two countries. Teachers, monks, civil servants and most other community leaders of various walks of life had all been subjected – and to some extent, still are subjected - to political ‘re-education’ from the state in those days.  

Without appealing to the late Buddhist patriarch Chuon Nath’s definition of the same term [the person considered and revered by most Cambodians even today as the nation’s literary authority supreme], nor would it be appropriate for one who lacks literary depth [as I do] in the Khmer to take issue with him! - let me leave readers with the age-old and ‘double-barrel’ reference among ethnic ‘Khmers’ to their country’s predominant ethnic mix/minorities in the phrase “Chen-Yuon” [Chinese-Vietnamese].

Now who are we to maintain that one half of this description is ‘derogatory’ whilst the other half isn’t?

That’s right; give it a rest - please.                                

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Please let yourself be true and your heart be pure. When I see Khmer budhist monk I refer to them as "lok Khmer". When I see Vietnamese budhist monk, I refer to them as, " lok Yuon ". This written in our culture and dialects. For once in my heart I never look down on lok Yuon. It is the communist Vietnamese who anihalated the Cham and obedience the Khmer Krom to no longer call them Yuon. Now since they took over and camaflauge in our government they have the power to suppress us and gradually changing our culture and dialects. Talking about looking in a mirror. Those who are so blinded and ignorance can't smell and distinguish between a fake shit and a real shit. What about the forgotten racist and slur given by the Frenchmen that call us Cambodge / or Cambodia on the map, took away our pride as a great Khmer descendant. But no matter what name given to us by the foreigners and stampede repeatedly by the Yuon and Chen communist, at the end of the day we still smile and just want to leave in peace. All those ignorance foreigners, please, stop put the blame on the victims innocent Khmer people.