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The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism

The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism: Saigon, 1916-1930

Philippe M. F. Peycam
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism
    Book Description:

    Philippe M. F. Peycam completes the first ever English-language study of Vietnam's emerging political press and its resistance to colonialism. Published in the decade that preceded the Communist Party's founding, this journalistic phenomenon established a space for public, political contestation that fundamentally changed Vietnamese attitudes and the outlook of Southeast Asia.

    Peycam directly links Saigon's colonial urbanization to the creation of new modes of individual and collective political agency. To better justify their presence, French colonialists implemented a peculiar brand of republican imperialism to encourage the development of a highly controlled print capitalism. Yet the Vietnamese made clever use of this new form of political expression, subverting colonial discourse and putting French rulers on the defensive, while simultaneously stoking Vietnamese aspirations for autonomy. Peycam specifically considers the work of Western-educated Vietnamese journalists who, in their legal writings, called attention to the politics of French rule.

    Peycam rejects the notion that Communist and nationalist ideologies changed the minds of "alienated" Vietnamese during this period. Rather, he credits colonial urban modernity with shaping the Vietnamese activist-journalist and the role of the French, even at their most coercive, along with the modern public Vietnamese intellectual and his responsibility toward the group. Countering common research on anticolonial nationalism and its assumptions of ethno-cultural homogeneity, Peycam follows the merging of French republican and anarchist traditions with neo-Confucian Vietnamese behavior, giving rise to modern Vietnamese public activism, its autonomy, and its contradictory aspirations. Interweaving biography with archival newspaper and French police sources, he writes from within these journalists' changing political consciousness and their shifting perception of social roles.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52804-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. MAPS
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The year was 1926. On April 4 an event of great significance took place in the southern metropolis of Saigon that would set off a small revolution in the minds of many Vietnamese. From neighborhoods in and around Saigon, as well as from the northern and central parts of the country, 50,000–70,000 men and women defied French colonial order. Following the precedent set the previous year of a national funeral given to Dr. Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic, they marched in silent protest through the city to pay tribute to the nationalist figure Phan Châu Trinh,...

  6. Part 1. The Origins of Saigon’s Public Sphere

    • CHAPTER 1 Social Order in the Colonial City
      (pp. 13-33)

      As France and its empire became engulfed in the First World War, the colonial port city of Saigon found itself developing into, to paraphrase Henri Lefebvre, a “space of possibilities.”¹ Within its boundaries, a compelx process of imposed acculturation and social interactions led to new expressions of Vietnamese consciousness on both an individual and a collective level. Gottfried Korff has referred to this creative aspect of the colonial city as “internal” or “internalized urbanization,” which is concerned with mentalités “formed in the communicative relational system of the metropolis [that have the role of] acting, thinking and feeling in the process...

    • CHAPTER 2 French Republicanism and the Emergence of Saigon’s Public Sphere
      (pp. 34-68)

      Recent interest in alternative histories of modern Vietnam, “beyond teleology,” encourages us to reexamine what conventional historiographies have considered a failure: the experiment of a Vietnamese political culture rooted in plurality, multiple cultural influences, and nonviolent, argumentative scrutiny.¹ This political genealogy mixed French colonial republican discourse and colon (colonist) populist traditions with remnants of Confucian Vietnamese behavior. A unique blend or métissage facilitated the autonomy of individual political action and, with it, the introduction of new forms of expression and topics of debate. This culture found its original expression in political newspapers in the metropolis of Saigon, the place most...

  7. Part 2. The “Newspaper Village” as a Political Force

    • CHAPTER 3 In Search of a Political Role (1916–1923)
      (pp. 71-113)

      Born out of the social and political landscape of colonial Saigon, a culture of public contestation through the press crystallized in the aftermath of World War I, comparable to the rise of the press in other countries that witnessed the simultaneous development of modern society and mass print media. Until the end of the 1920s, Saigon saw the most active, independent press in the whole of Indochina, and this centrality of political journalism remained a unique feature in the modern history of Vietnam. It was not until the heyday of the now defunct Republic of Viet Nam (1955–1975) that...

    • CHAPTER 4 Scandals and Mobilization (1923–1926)
      (pp. 114-148)

      Saigon was a site of unprecedented economic prosperity during the period 1923–1926. New settlers from all over Vietnam and overseas poured into the city, boosting its population at a rate of 6 percent annually (from 232,100 in 1918 to 324,000 in 1931). Less noticeable but nonetheless crucial for the development of the Vietnamese political press was the growing number of young Vietnamese freshly graduated from Franco-Vietnamese schools and colleges in the country and in France. Increasing numbers of them were entering journalism with a new kind of political stance and an aggressive style. They were at odds with the...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Limits to Oppositional Journalism (1926–1930)
      (pp. 149-215)

      Spring 1926 marked the moment when Saigon’s “newspaper village” (làng báo chí) was a political reality. The political events of that spring demonstrated that newspapers could serve as a powerful force of popular mobilization against the regime. Later that year, Sagion’s public sphere underwent a third metamorphosis toward more autonomy—and, simultaneously, its relative marginalization within the Saigonese and Cochinchinese political economy. A tectonic shift in power relations had begun: the colonial regime was on the defensive and relying heavily on repressive measures. To their dismay, Vietnamese activists realized that the socialist governor general Varenne had neither the ability nor...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 216-222)

    The emergence of a public sphere of oppositional political activism in Saigon challenged traditional Vietnamese patterns, as well as those associated with the colonial power. It produced forms of political expression previously unknown in Vietnam, combining an individualist desire to leave one’s mark through public action—an impulse associated with the cross-cultural urban modernity embodied by journalists—with aspirations for collective and national political liberation. The central thread that underscored the Vietnamese press was the painful yet necessary combination of an essentially elitist, top-down mode of expression with the need to shape, relect, and mobilize an autonomous native public opinion...

    (pp. 223-224)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 225-280)
    (pp. 281-294)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 295-306)