Award Citation

Professor Chheng Phon is a prominent dramatist and professor of the study of the traditional arts of Cambodia. In addition to his work as a playwright, director, and comedian, he has been a strong advocate for the revitalization of traditional culture. Since 1975, traditional culture has been neglected in Cambodia and village societies have been destroyed. Professor Chheng Phon has promoted the reconstruction of traditional village life, and has advocated spiritual restoration as a way of encouraging people with psychological traumas who went through horrible experiences. He has also devoted himself to training people to work for the preservation and restoration of tangible and intangible cultural assets.

Professor Chheng Phon was born in 1930 in Kompong Cham Province. He worked his way through school, and graduated from the Teacher's School, Ministry of National Education. After completing his study in China, he held many important posts, including Professor of the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, President of the Khmer Artist Association, and Director of National Conservatory of Spectacles. In 1970, he visited Japan to participate in the Osaka International Exposition, leading a Cambodian dance troupe. During the Pol Pot regime which took power in 1975, he experienced forced labor at a collective farm in Kompong Thom Province. After the Pol Pot government collapsed, he founded a school of fine arts for the children who had been orphaned in the midst of the country's confusion. He also recruited musicians, dancers and shadow players, who had survived the Pol Pot years, to provide training in the traditional arts. After he was appointed the Minister of Culture and Information, Professor Chheng Phon reopened the University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh (former Royal University of Fine Arts) in 1989 to promote the preservation of both tangible and intangible cultural assets of Cambodia. By reopening the departments of archaeology and architecture, he has made a tremendous contribution to guiding and training young experts in the preservation and restoration of Angkor monuments.

After his retirement from political affairs in 1992, Professor Chheng Phon used his own funds to establish the Center for Culture and Vipassana at his home in the suburbs of Phnom Penh. At present, he carries out practical activities to revive spiritual values, such as Khmer virtue and spirit, and to heal and purify tainted or sickened minds through meditation. Professor Chheng Phon is a thinker and doer on a grand scale who tries to demonstrate the uniqueness of Cambodian culture in Asia.

The 1993 New York performance of a Cambodian shadow play and traditional dance troupe, led by Professor Chheng Phon, won high acclaim for its celebration of the rebirth of Cambodia. He also deeply impressed the participants at international conferences, including Japan Foundation's "Symposium on Angkor," by arguing that the cultural restoration in Cambodia is a spiritual restoration. A further noteworthy achievement is Professor Chheng Phon's production and performance of original plays based on folktales and village dances that have been passed down from generation to generation by oral tradition. The contribution he has made to the rediscovery of the Khmer values through his published works, performances, and dialogues is particularly monumental.

Professor Chheng Phon has revealed the modern universality of traditional Cambodian culture, and presented theoretical yet practical frameworks for its preservation. These accomplishments are truly outstanding, and make Professor Chheng Phon truly worthy of receiving the Grand Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prizes.