Friday Forum: Theara Thun

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206 Ingraham Hall
@ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Violence, Discrimination, and Injustice in Cambodia:
The Case of the Ethnic Vietnamese

Theara Thun
Research Fellow
University of Hong Kong

Among a total population of six million, an estimated 300,000 ethnic Vietnamese lived in Cambodia during the 1960s. When the vast majority of them were forced by the Lon Nol (1970-1975) and Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) governments to leave for Vietnam by early 1976, tens of thousands of those who did not leave were killed by the Khmer Rouge. After Vietnam removed the Khmer Rouge from power in early 1979, thousands of Vietnamese families had subsequently returned to their home villages in Cambodia. Nevertheless, they have experienced racial discrimination and social exclusion by various political factions, including the subsequent Cambodian governments since the 1980s until today. This presentation focuses on two key aspects concerning the Vietnamese: (1) their experiences during the war and Khmer Rouge massacre regime in the 1970s and (2) ongoing social exclusion and discrimination that many Vietnamese have encountered until today. Aiming to uncover ethnic violence and injustice through an ethnohistorical approach, this presentation discusses multiple factors that have contributed to the violence, discrimination, and exclusion against the ethnic Vietnamese. These factors include wars, geopolitical tensions between Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as historical and social animosities. The presentation concludes by highlighting the helplessness and statelessness situations that many ethnic Vietnamese have encountered in recent years, despite having lived in the country for generations. It ends by discussing potential solutions to address the ongoing discrimination and injustice against the ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia.

Theara Thun is a Research Fellow at the University of Hong Kong. Born in Cambodia, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2014. In 2009, he received a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation to pursue an M.A. in Southeast Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. In 2018, he obtained a Ph.D. in History from the National University of Singapore (NUS), under a joint doctoral scholarship program between NUS and the Harvard-Yenching Institute. His Ph.D. dissertation won the Wang Gungwu Medal and Prize as the “Best Ph.D. Thesis in the Social Sciences and Humanities” in 2019. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies in the Netherlands and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University between 2019 and 2022. His research interests include Cambodian and Southeast Asian studies, with particular focuses on ethnic studies, social justice, post-war education, and intellectual history. He is the author of Epistemology of the Past: Texts, History, and Intellectuals of Cambodia, 1855-1970 (forthcoming, University of Hawai’i Press). He has published articles in Critical Asian StudiesStudies in Higher EducationAsian Studies ReviewTRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast AsiaJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society, and Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, among others.

A recording will be available on the CSEAS YouTube channel following the event.