An Anthropological Analysis of Revitalizing Chinese Business and Economy in Cambodia Post-Khmer Rouge from a Transnational Perspective

A/Prof Yang Luo3

3The China Institute of Chinese Overseas Studies, Beijing, China

Transnational studies on the migration-development nexus have focused on how diasporas shape development of homelands but paid little attention to the impacts of transnational linkages on destination countries. Drawing upon a case study of Cambodia-based Chinese businessmen, this study explores how transnational linkages maintained by Chinese diasporas shape the social and economic structure of Cambodia. The paper proposes an “intermediary sphere” model for understanding Cambodia-based Chinese businessmen’s role in shaping development in the destination from a transnational perspective. The study finds that Chinese businessmen have promoted two transformations in the Cambodian history by enabling Cambodian economic transformation that shifted from relying on agriculture to thriving on maritime trade, and by facilitating the adaptation of the Western incomers to the local labour markets during the French protectorate period. After the tumult of the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese entrepreneurship played a significant role in another two forms of transformations. First, Chinese businessmen established a “regional trading system”, integrating the Cambodian economy into the wider world economic system. Second, they developed “land economy” that facilitated the outsiders’ adaptation to local economic system. The “intermediary sphere” model is proven effective to understand the embeddedness of Chineseness in shaping the culture and society of Cambodia.


Yang Luo is an Associate Professor at the China Institute of Chinese Overseas Studies. Her research focuses on theories and methodologies of social anthropology, religions in Southeast Asia and overseas Chinese community.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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