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Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945

Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945

Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 450
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    Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945
    Book Description:

    Despite the historical importance of the Vietnam War, we know very little about what the Vietnamese people thought and felt prior to the conflict. Americans have tended to treat Vietnam as an extension of their own hopes and fears, successes and failures, rather than addressing the Vietnamese record. In this volume, David Marr offers the first serious intellectual history of Vietnam, focusing on the period just prior to full-scale revolutionary upheaval and protracted military conflict. He argues that changes in political and social consciousness between 1920 and 1945 were a necessary precondition to the mass mobilization and people's war strategies employed subsequently against the French and the Americans. Thus he rejects the prevailing notion that Vietnamese success was primarily due to communist techniques of organization. However,Vietnamese Tradition on Trialgoes beyond simply accounting for anyone's victory or defeat to an informed description of intellectual currents in general. Replying for his information on a previously ignored corpus of books, pamphlets, periodicals, and leaflets, the author isolates eight issues of central concern to twentieth-century Vietnamese. The new intelligentsia-indubitably the product of a peculiar French colonial milieu, yet never divorced from the Vietnamese past and always looking to a brilliant Vietnamese future-spearheaded every debate beginning ini 1925. After 1945, Vietnamese intellectuals either placed themselves under ruthless battlefield discipline or withdrew to private meditation. David Marr suggests that the new problems facing Vietnamese today make both of these approaches anachronistic. Whether the Vietnam Communist Party will allow citizens to subject received wisdom to critical debate, to formulate new explanations of reality, to test those explanations in practice, is the essential question lingering at the end of this study.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90744-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1938 at least eighteen million Vietnamese were being kept in check by a mere 27,000 colonial troops. Yet a scant sixteen years later, colonial forces totalling 450,000 were unable to avoid tactical disaster at Dien Bien Phu and compulsory strategic evacuation south of the seventeenth parallel. Finally, in the years 1965-1975, various combinations of American, Republic of Vietnam, South Korean, and other allied armed forces totalling up to 1.2 million men were outfoxed, stalemated, and eventually vanquished by the National Liberation Front and the People’s Army of Vietnam.

    A host of explanations have been offered for this dramatic transformation...

  6. 1. The Colonial Setting
    (pp. 15-53)

    The weather was mild, the trees verdant after the recent monsoons. In front of the Hanoi colonial court and prison buildings, beginning as early as 6:00 A.M., people gathered Monday, 23 November 1925, to watch the veteran revolutionary Phan Boi Chau (1867-1940) go on trial for his life.

    For the first time the Vietnamese public was to be allowed to enter the courtroom to observe a trial before the French High Criminal Commission. Once the doors swung open it quickly became evident that there was not enough space; many people were directed to adjacent rooms and could only hope to...

  7. 2. Morality Instruction
    (pp. 54-100)

    Once upon a time there lived a Vietnamese mandarin. A very difficult case was brought before him for adjudication. After pondering the situation at great length, he decided that the accused had been framed, and released him. Over-joyed, the man tried to present the mandarin with a gift. Outraged, the mandarin put the man in jail for one year. Some time later, the mandarin was ordered to a new post. As was his preference, he travelled on foot, with only one student and one satchel of belongings. Having walked a few miles, he noticed he was being followed by the...

  8. 3. Ethics and Politics
    (pp. 101-135)

    In October 1929,Phu Nu Tan Van[Women’s News] printed a letter from a wealthy Vietnamese landowner. Some thirty years earlier, it seems, this enterprising individual had pulled together a large sum of money to purchase the position of canton chief, his plan being to recoup rapidly by means of corruption and by arranging to marry into a wealthy family When income proved a bit slow, he managed to create problems where none had existed before, for example, inciting one family to take action against another, or searching local land records to uncover discrepancies. Each case yielded cover-up bribes or...

  9. 4. Language and Literacy
    (pp. 136-189)

    In September 1931, an aging collaborator politician, Ho Duy Kien, during an otherwise routine Cochinchina Colonial Council discussion on primary education, made the mistake of referring to the Vietnamese language as a “patois” similar to those found in Gascogne, Brittany, Normandy, or Provence. For the next few months, from one end of Vietnam to another, thequoc-ngupress denounced Ho Duy Kien as rootless (mat goc), unpatriotic, and unrepresentative. Writers pointed out that Vietnamese had no less than 17 million speakers, a very long period of development, an abundant oral tradition, and a small but treasured corpus ofnom(demotic...

  10. 5. The Question of Women
    (pp. 190-251)

    One evening a schoolteacher of philandering tendencies left home without telling his wife when he’d be back. Following traditional norms, she faithfully held back dinner untill 11:00 P.M., then sent an older child to try to locate papa and ask him to come home. When papa was nowhere to be found, mama heeded the hunger pangs of her children and put dinner on the table. Then, at 2:00 A.M., with everything cleaned up and the children asleep, papa returned. Although his wife proceeded to bring everything out to serve him, he was angry that she and the children had already...

  11. 6. Perceptions of the Past
    (pp. 252-287)

    Young Vietnamese intellectuals developed a passion for heroes in the 1920s. They read Chinese historical novels in translation, and were thrilled by the courage and righteousness of the military leaders.¹ They also marveled at the audacity of Christopher Columbus, the idealism of Abraham Lincoln, and the patriotic zeal of Sun Yat-sen. Finally, they rediscovered Vietnamese heroes, most obviously the leaders of ancient struggles against the Chinese and the Mongols, but increasingly those who had fought the French as well. Once the colonial authorities understood this trend they banned the more volatile biographies.

    Meanwhile, a young journalist and schoolteacher named Dao...

  12. 7. Harmony and Struggle
    (pp. 288-326)

    In 1924 a middle-aged practitioner of Eastern medicine named Tran Huu D (1885-1939) began to castigate his countrymen for failing to pull themselves together to oust the French. Although drawing heavily from turn-of-the-century Chinese publications, particularly those of Liang Ch’i-ch’ao, he aimed his message at the new Vietnamese intelligentsia, and employed a hard-hittingquoc nguessay style. By 1928 Tran Huu Do had thirteen tracts in circulation, of which no fewer than 25,000 copies had been printed.¹ Early that year the French decided to confiscate as many of Tran Huu Do’s pamphlets as they could find, and to sentence him...

  13. 8. Knowledge Power
    (pp. 327-367)

    In early September 1939, excited students at the Thang Long High School in Hanoi converged on the classroom of their young history teacher, Vo Nguyen Giap, to hear what he had to say about the news of war in Europe. They were disappointed when he stuck firmly to the syllabus and lectured on mid-nineteenth-century transformations in French capitalism. Undaunted, however, the students quickly surrounded him after class and asked a chorus of questions about the meaning of the war, about whether they should be happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic. Mindful of Sûreté informers, and perhaps stunned by Stalin’s agreement...

  14. 9. Learning from Experience
    (pp. 368-412)

    On 15 August 1945, Communist cadres in the outskirts of Hanoi listened to Allied radios report the unconditional surrender of Japan and Allied plans to send Chinese Nationalist and British troops into Indochina to disarm the enemy.¹ Following national strategic guidelines disseminated in March 1945, the Northern Region Committee of the Indochinese Communist Party, meeting a few miles from Hanoi, decided on its own initiative to seize power in the city. The closest Liberation Army units were at least one hundred kilometers from Hanoi, however, and there were probably not more than several score firearms in the hands of local...

  15. 10. Conclusion
    (pp. 413-420)

    Between that day in 1925, when several hundred spectators heard a French judge sentence Phan Boi Chau to life imprisonment, and the day in 1945, when a huge crowd listened to Ho Chi Minh proclaim independence, Vietnam underwent a profound transformation. In the mid-1920s, the colonial government had reason to believe that it had found a viable formula for the long-term, peaceful exploitation of Indochina. Only a smattering of Vietnamese dared to disagree openly. The vast majority accepted that change would have to come either by French fiat or by heavenly intervention, not by the actions of ordinary subjects.


    (pp. 421-428)
    (pp. 429-452)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 453-468)