Child Soldiers: August 1977 

Three months pass and Luong is stronger. Met Bong rewards her vigor by sending her to another camp, where the strong will be trained as soldiers. Before she leaves, Luong urges Chou to stop being weak. The new camp is similar to the one she just left, and it is led by another Met Bong, who is very much like the first. One difference is that she exchanges a friendly glance with a boy in a palm tree. It has been years since she had a friend. This camp has education sessions with a nearby boys’ camp and the children are urged to inform on their families. 

One session ends with singing, dancing, and laughter, all of which Luong believed had been abolished. Luong is invited to join the dance troop, which she hopes will diminish her work assignment. Unfortunately, practice involves a painful hand binding that makes her work harder. On her first morning working in a rice paddy, Luong gets enormous leeches all over ankles and feet, but Luong learns to ignore them. Although she has not yet trained with weapons, Met Bong tells her that the camp has been shaping her mind. The Khmer Rouge wants their child soldiers to be willing to kill their own parents if they are traitors, and Luong silently scoffs at the idea that she would kill Ma for the Angkar. 

Lonely in the camp, Luong keeps to herself. The education sessions lengthen as Met Bong praises Pol Pot, a name Luong has heard but whose role she does not understand. Now he replaces the Angkar in the lessons and chants. When the older children are sent to the front lines, the younger ones learn to fight. The sight of weapons reminds her of Pa and Kim, but she learns to wield them nonetheless. The weak do not survive in Kampuchea, which means her dreams about her family and monsters are a threat. 

A girl believes she has been attacked by a Vietnamese soldier, which puts the whole camp on alert. Luong is assigned guard duty and, afraid of an attack, fires wildly into the dark. She is chided for wasting bullets, although others suggest that she has fired at a bodiless witch.     

Gold for Chicken: November 1977 

Luong goes to visit Ma at Ro Leap, and returning to the village upsets her. While Ma asks the chief for time off to visit, Luong stays with Geak, who is small for her age and sickly. Ma tells Luong that she had tried to trade some of her remaining jewelry for a chicken to feed Geak, but she was robbed and beaten. This story fills Luong with rage, although it is replaced with a feeling of guilt. Ma tells her that Chou visits, bringing a little food from her camp. Compared to Kim and Chuo, Luong has done little to help the family, and once even stole from them. When evening falls, her sadness causes her to leave quickly. 


Whether a bodiless witch, vicious attacking Youns, or the limitless powers of Pol Pot, “Child Soldiers” focuses on the different forms that fanciful beliefs can take. These beliefs can emerge in different ways, sometimes as the basis of propaganda, and other times as an element of folk wisdom. No matter their source, such beliefs shape how people act, influencing their values, hopes, and actions. By juxtaposing the bodiless witch with Pol Pot, Ung stresses that even the idea of evil can have a profound power. One of the most interesting features of the memoir is the fact that the mythical threats to the Angkar, and the dangers from the Angkar, are rather abstract. Pol Pot is not physically described and he is never seen. While the Khmer Rouge soldiers are a very real and present threat, they are nameless and interchangeable. Luong often feels watched in a general way. In the same way, the Khmer Rouge regime sees enemies everywhere. By ending this chapter with the danger of the bodiless witch, Ung encourages the reader to understand how these kinds of beliefs can emerge and spread. 

This chapter also makes clear that beliefs can be weaponized, as can the people who hold them. Although she has not yet been trained in weapons, Met Bong informs her that the camp has essentially been turning her into a weapon. One of the aims of the propaganda sessions is brainwashing, replacing familial bonds with state obedience. Luong scoffs at the idea that she would ever go kill her mother for the Angkar, yet she judges her mother’s actions in a way that the regime would approve. Luong is physically strong but this section raises the idea that there are different kinds of strength. When Ma suffers a beating to get a chicken for her starving child, love proves to be just as powerful as anger. 

Guilt is also a key theme in these chapters. One way this appears is in Luong’s coming face to face with Geak’s ruined life. At five-years-old, Geak has no recollection of the happiness the family shared before the Angkar took power. As bad as Geak’s situation is,  Luong feels worse when she learns that Chou brings food to Ma and Geak, something she has never done or, at least in the narrative, considered doing. As in the earlier episode when she stole rice from her family, Luong realizes that she forgets the needs of others.  

Although this is not something the narrative suggests, readers might connect Luong’s absorbing anger with her failure to recognize the needs of others. She is so consumed by her own rage and drive to survive that she has no mental energy left to dedicate to others. But it would be an error to judge her too harshly because, despite the maturity of the narrative, Luong is still a child. Overcome by the sadness of seeing her mother, Luong hurries away from Ro Leap. It is clear how years of silence and endurance have stunted her emotional growth and contributed to her guilt as she returns to camp.