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Vietnamese Colonial Republican

Vietnamese Colonial Republican: The Political Vision of Vu Trong Phung

Peter Zinoman
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 316
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5hjhgf
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  • Book Info
    Vietnamese Colonial Republican
    Book Description:

    This volume is a comprehensive study of Vietnam’s greatest and most controversial 20th century writer who died tragically in 1939 at the age of 28. Vu Trong Phung is known for a remarkable collection of politically provocative novels and sensational works of non-fiction reportage that were banned by the communist state from 1960 to 1986. Leading Vietnam scholar, Zinoman, resurrects the life and work of an important intellectual and author in order to reveal a neglected political project that is excluded from conventional accounts of modern Vietnamese political history. He sees Vu Trong Phung as a leading proponent of a localized republican tradition that opposed colonialism, communism, and unfettered capitalism—and that led both to the banning of his work and to the durability of his popular appeal in Vietnam today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95709-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: A Political History of Vũ Trọng Phụng
    (pp. 1-11)

    Vietnamese readers need no introduction to Vũ Trọng Phụng but he has only recently come to the attention of outsiders.¹ For those unfamiliar with his remarkable life and body of work, it may be instructive to compare him to George Orwell. Both men were literary stars of the interwar era who died prematurely, Orwell (1903–50) at age forty-seven, Vũ Trọng Phụng (1912–39) at age twenty-eight. Both are known for stunning levels of productivity; Orwell’sComplete Workscomprises twenty volumes and nine-thousand pages, while Vũ Trọng Phụng, in a career spanning less than ten years, published eight novels, four...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Sources of Vũ Trọng Phụng’s Colonial Republicanism
    (pp. 12-54)

    Weeks after Vũ Trọng Phụng’s death in October 1939, the bimonthly journalLiterary Circlememorialized him in a special issue, the content of which provides a useful introduction to his celebrated reputation and controversial political vision.¹ Vũ Trọng Phụng’s illustrious standing is reflected in the eminence of the eleven friends and colleagues who contributed to the issue. All but one were featured in the influential volumeModern Writers (Nhà văn hiện đại)published in 1942, Vũ Ngọc Phan’s pioneering canon of contemporary Vietnamese authors.² The oldest was Ngô Tất Tố (1894–1954), almost twenty years Vũ Trọng Phụng’s senior and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Capitalism and Social Reform
    (pp. 55-84)

    Vũ Trọng Phụng was an emotional critic of colonial capitalism, blaming it for the spread of greed and immorality and the rise of a repugnant nouveau riche and a wretched subaltern class. Although he occasionally employed a rudimentary Marxian vocabulary, Vũ Trọng Phụng’s critique of the socioeconomic order differed from the anticapitalism of local communists.¹ He paid little attention to the plight of the industrial working class or the poor peasantry, focusing instead upon the petty bourgeois and the lumpen proletariat. He ignored the underlying structural dynamics of the market economy while fixating on its damaging impact on traditional culture...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Question of Communism
    (pp. 85-130)

    Vũ Trọng Phụng’s attitude toward communism has attracted enormous attention since the late 1930s, but it remains controversial and poorly understood. In light of his anticapitalist views explored in the previous chapter, many of his contemporaries assumed that he was sympathetic toward communism.¹ Others, more familiar with his entire body of work, denied that it expressed a coherent ideological viewpoint or provided support for an organized political movement.² With the rise to power of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) after World War II, supporters of Vũ Trọng Phụng within the cultural bureaucracy of the DRV defended his work from the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Crisis of Vietnamese Sexuality
    (pp. 131-155)

    As with the rise of capitalism and the emergence of communism, the growth of sexual deviance and immorality in colonial Vietnamese society figured prominently in Vũ Trọng Phụng’s writing. While he rejected, as prudish and ill-informed, charges of pornography launched against his graphic, and sometimes lurid, treatment of prostitution, rape, infidelity, and the reckless sexual behavior of Vietnamese youth, he also acknowledged a deep professional interest in these topics. In response to an interview that attempted to probe his priorities as a writer, Vũ Trọng Phụng volunteered the following account of his literary mission:

    There are three kinds of work...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Banning Vũ Trọng Phụng
    (pp. 156-199)

    In 1960, the Vietnamese Workers’ Party (VWP) politburo member Hoàng Văn Hoan condemned Vũ Trọng Phụng in a twenty-page essay entitled “Thoughts on the Problem of Vũ Trọng Phụng’s Work within Vietnamese Literature.” The essay attacked Vũ Trọng Phụng’s politics, smeared his character, and disparaged, in considerable detail, his most important novels. “Vũ Trọng Phụng’s writing represents the most dangerous kind of literature,” Hoàng Văn Hoan alleged, “because it deceptively conveys a positive impression even though it is filled with poison.” Denouncing the recent promotion of Vũ Trọng Phụng’s legacy by “the Nhân Văn–Giai Phẩm clique,” he concluded: “Instead...

  11. CONCLUSION: Rehabilitating Vũ Trọng Phụng
    (pp. 200-212)

    Following the ban imposed upon it in 1960, Vũ Trọng Phụng’s work remained off limits in communist-ruled Vietnam for over twenty-five years. The lifting of this ban is typically seen as an outcome of Renovation, the “conservative” reform policy launched by the Communist Party in the mid-1980s that sought to liberalize the economy while maintaining the Party’s monopoly over political power. Renovation’s Janus-face may be seen in its impact on local intellectual life. It permitted the growth of limited forms of journalism, scholarly inquiry, and the fine arts, while prohibiting exploration of sensitive political issues or historical topics such as...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 213-260)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 261-278)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 279-300)