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Lục Xì

Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi

Translated, with an introduction, by SHAUN KINGSLEY MALARNEY
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    Lục Xì
    Book Description:

    What does it mean when a city of 180,000 people has more than 5,000 women working as prostitutes? This question frames Vu Trong Phung’s 1937 classic reportage Luc Xi. In the late 1930s, Hanoi had a burgeoning commercial sex industry that involved thousands of people and hundreds of businesses. It was the center of the city’s nightlife and the source of suffering, violence, exploitation, and a venereal disease epidemic. For Phung, a popular writer and intellectual, it also raised disturbing questions about the state of Vietnamese society and culture and whether his country really was "progressing" under French colonial rule. Translator Shaun Kingsley Malarney’s thoughtful and multifaceted introduction provides historical background on colonialism, prostitution, and venereal disease in Vietnam and discusses reportage as a literary genre, political tool, and historical source. A fully annotated translation of Luc Xi follows, in which Phung takes readers into the heart of colonial Hanoi’s sex industry, portraying its female workers, the officials who attempted to regulate it, the doctors who treated its victims, and the secretive medical facility known as the Nha Luc Xi ("The Dispensary"), which examined prostitutes for venereal diseases and held them for treatment. Drawing from his interviews with doctors, officials, and prostitutes and the writings of French doctors on prostitution and venereal disease, Phung provides a rare, firsthand look at the damage caused by the commercial sex industry. His sympathetic portrayal of the Vietnamese underclass is considered one of the most accurate, but he also provides one of the most acerbic, humorous, and critical views of the changes wrought by colonialism in Southeast Asia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6061-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION Vũ Trọng Phụng and the Anxieties of “Progress”
    (pp. 1-44)
    Shaun Kingsley Malarney

    “If we are genuinely concerned about our society and our race, then we must honestly understand the causes of our fears and anxieties.” It was with these words that Vũ Trọng challenged his more timid readers at the end of the introductory chapter to his classic 1937reportageon prostitution and venereal disease in colonial Hanoi,Lục Xì.Phụng did indeed have many worries and fears. By the late 1930s the city of Hanoi, which had by that point been under French colonial control for over fifty years, had a vast commercial sex industry. According to contemporary estimates, the...

  6. 1 A Blemish on the City
    (pp. 45-47)

    One day, during an interview about venereal disease, Mayor H. Virgitti commented to a correspondent from the newspaperLa Patrie Annamite,“In the city of Hanoi, there are at a minimum five thousand women supporting themselves through prostitution. Five thousand! Yet how can we know everything about them, especially when the solid morality and good character for which the Annamite woman was formerly renowned have become exceedingly fragile due to the allure of changing customs?”¹

    That is the judgment of a Frenchman, a member of the French elite, a top-level official, on the “progress” of our society. To put it...

  7. 2 The Muse of the Dispensary Girls
    (pp. 48-54)

    Dr. Joyeux still holds the position of director of the Municipal Hygiene Service.¹ His office is located upstairs in a large building belonging to the mayor’s office, the place where all Hanoi residents must go at least once a year when it comes time to pay their head tax. To get up there, you must go past the tax office and the business license office and then go up an ironwood staircase. Turning left, you pass a medical examination room run by the city where the government distributes medicine to the poor free of charge. You then get to a...

  8. 3 A Few Statistics and a Little History
    (pp. 55-60)

    We need to consult the elderly in order to be clear about where the Dispensary was in the past. Before 1900, it appears that the government had placed it on Hàng Cân Street. A decision of Governor General Paul Bert stated that “Prostitutes who are shown to have a disease must be arrested and held in the Dispensary until they have recovered from their disease.”¹ That was written in 1886, meaning that it came two years after the French government had signed the Protectorate treaty with the Huế court. If we go along Hàng Cân Street today, we cannot find...

  9. 4 There Must Be Harm
    (pp. 61-64)

    From the time that humans have lived together as a society, perhaps since antiquity, humanity has been tortured by the scourge of prostitution, like the pain of an infected boil or a cancer. Despite the numerous methods used to eliminate it, it still insistently trails behind in all the history books, and it will certainly never make any concessions. Prostitution is an awful calamity, but if humans did not have it, it would destroy them.

    The efforts of the philosophers, the legislators, and the missionaries to eliminate it have all ended in defeat. For centuries, the books of sociologists, the...

  10. 5 Strolling inside the Dispensary
    (pp. 65-74)

    The Dispensary door had truly opened.

    The door opened easily and created a space wide enough for a good number of people to slip in. Was it due to the magic words from the tale of Ali Baba? No. It was due to a visit to the Dispensary by the labor ambassador Godart of the Popular Front government.¹ But that was many days before.

    People had worked hard to prepare, reform, fix, and change everything within the Dispensary, all with the aim of showing Mr. Godart the recent progress of this institution dedicated to eliminating venereal diseases and controlling prostitution....

  11. 6 The Girls’ Squad
    (pp. 75-80)

    The guard at the Dispensary door, after looking suspiciously through a small round porthole, opened one side of the large doors for me. . . . It was 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. It was not a morning for medical inspections, but in the office I saw Mr. Mas, the inspector of the Girls’ Squad, and a crowd of ten girls.¹ Five officers were busy rummaging through papers. These women had papers but had fled without permission. Some had voluntarily returned to comply with the law; others had the law pick them up and bring them in. One man among...

  12. 7 Women of the Book of Sorrows
    (pp. 81-87)

    Victor Hugo said, “In humanity, there is no one who is so pure that they have never been punished.” Anatole France wrote, “Naiveté is usually only more luck than righteousness.” The philosopher Esquirol took that sentence even further: “People who are even in a small measure rich in feeling can perhaps fully recognize that in spite of having a very clear conscience, a person can still be imprisoned or exiled, and because of that, people must pay attention to the fate of the imprisoned.”¹

    Those were some of the ideas that unexpectedly came to mind when I, for the third...

  13. 8 Medical Examination Day
    (pp. 88-94)

    Throughout the morning on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Dispensary guards do not bolt the door shut but merely close it.¹ These are the “scheduled” days. From 7:00 a.m. until 8:30 a.m., about fifty rickshaws stop in front of the gray door of a building that holds within an untold number of secrets. The rickshaws come from all directions and gather there: Hàng Thát Alley, Yên Thái Alley, Gia Ngý Street, Ðào Duy Tý Street, Cửa Ðông Street, Ðuông Thành, Nam Ngý Alley, Án Sát Siêu Alley. . . . From these rickshaws descend some eighty women. (That is one-half of...

  14. 9 Student and Teacher
    (pp. 95-105)

    On December 2, 1933, the governor general signed a decision establishing for Indochina a Committee for the Elimination of Venereal Diseases. On May 2, 1934, at the request of Mayor Virgitti, the government set up an organization called the Prophylactic League (Ligue Prophylactique), whose goal it was to investigate this complex problem in the Hanoi region, implement the hundreds of opinions that people had put forth for dealing with prostitution, and then convey to the committee the results of the methods that had been experimented with in order to determine if they could be applied to all of Indochina. The...

  15. 10 The Authorities’ Perspective
    (pp. 106-123)

    Can we describe the Dispensary as a charitable facility for courtesans and absolutely never touch upon the prostitution problem? People have already written a great deal about this problem. Thus, just as with the contemporary venereal disease situation, no matter how much is written, there is never a fear of writing too much, and no matter how much is spoken, it is still not enough.

    For a journalist who wants to do areportageon prostitution, it is necessary to go out carousing, to go scrounging around for prostitutes in all of the out-of-the-way places. But our ethics do not...

  16. 11 Holding Papers
    (pp. 124-133)

    The women of the Dispensary live the lives of the “closed gates and high-walled women’s apartments,” like the secluded young women of high-born nobility. . . . They had asked the administration to prevent me from entering the Dispensary! I can no longer go where they are! Luckily I thought of a way around this: if it has come to this, then I can probably arrange it so that they must come to where I am! And it is this fact that distinguishes them from other secluded young women.

    Therefore, this evening a boy from the seedy hotel V. L....

  17. 12 Tearing Up Papers
    (pp. 134-150)

    On that day more than ten men and women, whose tattered and untidy clothing showed that they belonged to Hanoi’s poor (streetside water sellers, the unemployed, unsuccessful beggars, etc.), had come to seek the aid of the municipal physician, Dr. Nguyễn Huy Qùynh, an assistant to Dr. Joyeux. They had come to get medicine for infected eyes, sores, scabies, etc. Among them one could see a young, seriously dressed teenage boy sitting on the long bench. In his hand he held a set of rolled-up papers. He had the look of someone going to ask for something, with a face...

  18. APPENDIX 1
    (pp. 151-152)
  19. APPENDIX 2
    (pp. 153-154)
  20. NOTES
    (pp. 155-166)
    (pp. 167-172)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 173-176)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-182)