1. CONSTRUCTING MEMORY
1. Reading Revolutionary
A remarkable feature of the personal memoirs (hoi ky) published in northern Vietnam following the establishment of the Communist state in 1954 is how little they have to do with personal memories. Like virtually all forms of writing about the past that were sanctioned by the cultural authorities of the Vietnamese Workers Party (VWP) during the 1950s through 1970s, autobiographical memoirs were fashioned to shape a collective public memory rather than to express an individual private one. As a result, Communist Vietnamese memoirs from the era tend to provide much greater insight into the thinking behind official state projects than the putatively timeless and subjective dimensions of human experience.
Prison memoirs (hoi ky nha tu) form an important subgenre of revolutionary memoirs (hoi ky cach mang), a new literary form pioneered and promoted by the VWP after it came to power. While they describe the party's leading role in colonialera labor and peasant movements and during the heady days of the August Revolution in 1945, a striking number of revolutionary memoirs relate tales of political imprisonment and episodes of prison resistance. Indeed, the genealogy of the genre is often traced back to two classic first-person prison narratives from the late 1930s. According to one party literary critic, “Le Van Hien's Kontum Prison (1938) and Cuu Kim Son's Prison Break (1939) mark the beginning of the genre known today as the revolutionary memoir.” These works, along with a handful written during the anti-French
It is tempting to read Vietnamese revolutionary prison memoirs as part of a rich transcultural and transhistorical tradition of writing from confinement. Indeed, the themes that have dominated prison writing historically—prison as a refuge, prison as a catalyst for intense friendship, prison as a matrix of spiritual rebirth—may also be found in the Vietnamese texts. More remarkable, however, is the absence within the subgenre of what W. B. Carnochan has called “the larger metaphorical pattern” of prison writing—the theme of artistic expression itself as liberation or freedom from constraints. While this absence may be difficult to discern within any single text, a consideration of the subgenre as a whole brings it into sharp relief.
A survey of revolutionary prison memoirs reveals little variation in terms of form, content, or thematic orientation. Virtually all works within the subgenre highlight the political education and successful resistance efforts of jailed Communist activists. They employ structurally identical episodes to illustrate colonial cruelty and Communist heroism. In some cases, different memoirs even use the same stylized language: poor sanitary conditions in colonial prisons are part of a strategy to “murder inmates bit-by-bit” (giet dan giet mon); Communist prisoners, however, maintain an “indomitable spirit” (tinh than bat khuat) and struggle to “transform the imperialist prison into a revolutionary school” (bien nha tu de quoc thanh truong cach mang).
The proliferation of such narrative and linguistic repetitions implies that works within the subgenre should not be read—like the Autobiography of Malcolm X or even Gramsci's Prison Notebooks—as acts of individual resistance to the coercive power of a total institution. On the contrary, they suggest that revolutionary prison memoirs must be understood as versions of the “revolutionary master-scripts” that Christoph Giebel finds in the commemorative installations exhibited in the official museums built by the Communist state. Like museum exhibits, they function to “trumpet the accomplishments of the Party, provide shining examples of anti-imperialist heroism, and teach the younger generation the lessons of past struggles.” This is not surprising, since they were commissioned, subsidized, and sometimes even transcribed or ghostwritten by state-controlled publishing houses and literary associations
Given the circumstances in which revolutionary prison memoirs were produced, an analysis of the subgenre yields insight into the efforts of the leaders of the new Communist state during the late 1950s and 1960s to construct and promote an official public history of their rise to power. As I will suggest, there are several reasons why prison narratives by Communist leaders played an important role in these efforts. First, images of confinement figure prominently in two literary traditions that were familiar to the reading public: the classical Vietnamese tradition and the French romantic tradition. Second, the notoriously brutal colonial prison system provided a particularly dramatic setting in which to stage heroic revolutionary performance. And third, an emphasis on prison experiences drew attention away from the upperclass backgrounds of Communist leaders during an era in which the party's proletarian and peasant origins were an important component of its public image. In addition, I will suggest how the subgenre systematically highlighted certain features of colonialera juridical incarceration while simultaneously suppressing others to accomplish the goals it had been created to accomplish.
THE LITERATURE OF CONFINEMENT
IN THE CLASSICAL TRADITION
Before examining the way in which political considerations during the 1950s and 1960s shaped the conventions of Communist prison memoirs, it is useful to consider how older literary traditions may have influenced the genre. It is significant that many of the party leaders who determined the parameters of cultural production during the early years of the DRV came from literati families and therefore possessed some familiarity with a classical literary tradition in which images of exile and incarceration figured prominently. Such images anticipated some of the thematics of Communist prison narratives in their emphasis on displacement, isolation, and spiritual resistance. Hence, when the party began to promote the prison writing of its leadership in the mid-1950s, it benefited from the fact that the political classes, if not the reading public more generally, possessed a cultural familiarity with the basic conventions of the genre.
Images of confinement first appear in the classical tradition through poetic depictions of Buddhist monasticism. As with Communist prison
Figure 1.1. Hoa Lo Prison, known during the American War as the Hanoi Hilton, is now a museum. Photograph by Hue-Tam Ho Tai.
|Deep in the mountains runs a crystal brook.|
|Above the ancient cloister drift white clouds.|
|To visitors the monks won't say a word—|
|wind's blown through pines and opened their closed gate.|
By emphasizing the remoteness (“deep in the mountains”) of the “ancient cloister,” the poem recalls important similarities between monastic and prison life. Further affinities can be found in the distinctly carceral
Colonial jails in Indochina might be described as fulfilling a religious function. They forced a significant segment of the Vietnamese intelligentsia to withdraw from the world, endure privation, sort out their thoughts and attempt to master the self and external reality. In this sense, prisons were not unlike Zen monasteries except that the acolytes were not there by choice and those in charge were not seen as teachers but as the enemy.
Images of confinement in Buddhist poetry extended beyond perceived similarities between jails and monasteries. Compassion for human suffering prompted poets working within the Buddhist tradition to focus on the plight of the poor and destitute. Three centuries before Le Thieu Dinh, the Venerable Huyen Quang, the third patriarch of the Truc Lam Buddhist sect, composed a poem about the emotional devastation suffered by the families of prisoners. Entitled Pity for Prisoners, it is among the oldest surviving Vietnamese poems about jail and prisoners.
|They write letters with their blood, to send news home.|
|A lone wild goose flaps through the clouds.|
|How many families are weeping under the same moon?|
|The same thought wandering how far apart?|
While the thematics of early Buddhist poetry may recall features of twentieth-century prison writing, the Vietnamese Confucian literary tradition anticipated the modern genre more directly. This tradition included a subgenre of plaintive appeals by imprisoned scholars, a good illustration of which is Nguyen Trai's A Cry of Innocence, produced after the famous scholar was arrested for treason in 1430.
|Through ups and downs I've drifted fifty years.|
|My love for my old mountain I've betrayed.|
|False honors bring real sorrows—such a joke!|
|Many traduce one loyal man—woe's me!|
|When I can't dodge what comes, I know there's fate.|
|If culture will survive, it's Heaven's wish.|
|In jail, a shame to read the overleaf:|
|how is my plea to cross the Golden Gate?|
The prison poetry composed by Cao Ba Quat in the mid–nineteenth century offers another example of writing from confinement within the Vietnamese Confucian tradition. An influential official during the 1850s,
|Night falls, the flood spills over,|
|Cold winds have driven Autumn hence.|
|My eyes are weary with following the days|
|Suspended between heaven and earth, a poet lies in jail|
|Pillowing my head, I see my sword lying there inert.|
|By the dim light of the lamp, I contemplate my ragged coat.|
|Full of the ardent force of life|
|I must remain walled in, voiceless and mute.|
Imprisoned Vietnamese poets sometimes reflected on their own confinement by conjuring up sympathetic images of caged animals. Around 1750, the scholar Nguyen Huu Cau led a failed revolt against the Trinh family in the North. Cau, who was arrested and eventually put to death, is credited with writing the poem The Bird in a Cage while in jail awaiting execution.
|In all the world one cage holds this small self|
|whose eyes once roamed the space of winds and clouds!|
|But why, oh, why did I get snared and caught|
|to brood, to moan, to mourn my gift of flight?|
|I used to preen my feathers, flap my wings—|
|and now I sing of freedom in a jail!|
|Orioles dip and dart by the north hedge.|
|Phoenixes chirp and coo on the south branch.|
|Let carpers, east and west, all wag their tongues.|
|At my first chance, from bondage I'll break loose.|
|Straight-winged, I'll soar and race toward yonder blue.|
|I'll smash my chains and visit the suncrow.|
|Upon this earth, who knows my heart?|
Echoes of Cau's imprisoned but undefeated bird can be found in The Lu's wellknown poem Memories of the Jungle, in which a caged tiger is employed to symbolize the predicament of Vietnam under the French. Another metaphorically pregnant caged tiger appears in What's My Crime, a revolutionary poem penned by Tran Huy Lieu in 1938.
|You've bolted me in prison—What's my crime?|
|I love my country—do I break the law?|
― 27 ―
|A furnace tempers iron into steel.|
|Fire tests true gold and leaves no room for doubt|
|A tiger waits his chance to flee the cage|
|The dragon bides his time to break the lock|
|Pull any dirty trick you may devise—|
|just try and shake my purpose, I dare you.|
For Communist literary critics, the insertion of prison writing by party members into an older, indigenous literary tradition brought Vietnamese Communism's nationalist character into sharp relief. For example, in 1960, Tran Huy Lieu likened the spirit of Ho Chi Minh's Prison Diary to the “strong and proud will” of Nguyen Huu Cau's imprisoned bird. In 1966, the poet and critic Xuan Dieu drew similar comparisons between Ho's poetry and Nguyen Trai's A Cry of Innocence. The most elaborate effort to place revolutionary prison poetry within an indigenous literary lineage was carried out by Dang Thai Mai,  who traced “a long and powerful tradition of prison poetry” from a handful of classical Chinese and Japanese prison poets (Lac Tan Vuong [Lo Xinwang], Ly Thai Bach [Li Po], and Van Thien Tuong [Wen Tienxiang]) to the nineteenth-century prison verse of Cao Ba Quat and his nephew Cao Ba Nha.
Communist prison writing also drew on a more recent tradition of prison poetry produced by patriotic scholargentry who had been arrested and jailed for political subversion in the early decades of the twentieth century. Much of this work emerged after 1908, when French security forces cracked down on the Eastern Travel Movement (Phong Trao Dong Du), the Eastern Capital Free School (Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc), and an outbreak of antitax demonstrations in Annam. Several dozen scholars involved in these movements, including the influential anticolonialist Phan Chau Trinh, were deported to penitentiaries at Con Dao and Lao Bao and held for the following decade. To pass time in prison, the scholars formed poetry-writing clubs, which they ironically referred to as thi dan after the literary associations for cultivated men that were popular during the imperial era. Although many of the poems composed in the prison thi dan were lost (or never written down to begin with), some were preserved in memory, copied down, and published by prisoners after their release.
The most energetic anthologist of this early twentieth-century prison poetry was Huynh Thuc Khang. In 1904, Khang turned his back on a superb educational career and promising prospects in the imperial bureaucracy to join forces with other Confucian literati devoted to
While the poetry of imprisoned scholargentry tended to convey a more melancholy tone than the relentlessly upbeat writings produced by Communist prisoners in the 1930s, the traditions shared certain thematic preoccupations. For instance, the Communists'attempt to link incarceration and education originated with the writings of Huynh Thuc Khang's generation. On Con Dao in 1908, Phan Chau Trinh advised Khang to try to turn the prison into a “natural school” (truong hoc thien nhien), a comment that anticipated a common trope within Communist prison writing that linked incarceration and political education. Moreover, the emphasis in Communist prison writing on spiritual resistance despite physical confinement mirrors a common theme in scholar-gentry prison verse. It can be seen, for example, in Phan Chau Trinh's Dap Da Con Dao (Breaking Rocks on Con Dao):
|A man stands tall upon Con Dao|
|he makes a din that makes the mountain shake.|
|Hammer to shatter heap on heap of rocks.|
|Break stone by hand to hundreds of small chips.|
|To granite turn your body day by day.|
|Can sun or rainstorm daunt an iron heart?|
|When they're laid low, those who will save the world|
|endure and let no trifle bother them.|
Although the popularization of scholar-gentry prison poetry intensified with Huynh Thuc Khang's efforts in the late 1930s, political prisoners jailed earlier in the decade were not unaware of the older tradition. In a memoir of his incarceration for political activity published in 1935, future Communist Party member Ton Quang Phiet recalled speculating that imprisonment will make him as famous as Ngo Duc Ke and Le Huan, two prominent prison poets from the generation of patriotic
AND THE CULT OF INCARCERATION
Just as the early cultural czars of the DRV were exposed to images of confinement from an older Vietnamese literary tradition, they were also familiar with a wealth of prison narratives found in nineteenth-century French romantic literature. During the early twentieth century, Vietnamese students studied Michelet's famed account of the storming of the Bastille and Pascal's depiction of spiritual redemption in a solitary cell. In the 1920s, Ho Bieu Chanh became Indochina's first broadly popular prose novelist by rather shamelessly adapting plots from Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo. His first blockbuster, The Ship Master of Kim Quy Island (Chua Tau Kim Quy), lifted completely the narrative structure of The Count of Monte Cristo, including a melodramatic version of the spiritual rebirth in confinement of the hero Nguyen Van Anh (Dantes in the Dumas novel). Chanh's second commercial success, Ngon Co Gio Dua (Blades of Grass in the Wind), a Vietnamese reworking of Les Mise´rables, followed the tribulations of Le Van Do, a petty thief whose fortunes take a dramatic turn after he, like Jean Valjean, escapes from prison. The aquatic prison escape in Nguyen Hong's classical colonial novel Cua Bien (The Ocean's Mouth) is also frequently compared to Jean Valjean's.
Victor Hugo, whose “lifelong obsession” with the death penalty and images of crime and punishment is well documented, was perhaps the most beloved writer in the colony. First translated into Vietnamese in 1913, his novels were serialized repeatedly in newspapers and magazines, and his poetry became a staple of the elite Franco-Vietnamese educational curriculum. By 1925, Hugo had developed such a reputation among the budding southern middle classes that the Saigonese bureaucratic functionaries who founded the syncretic Cao Dai religion in 1925 placed him alongside Jesus, Confucius, and Buddha as a patron saint of the faith. His portrait still graces the entranceway of the Holy See in Tay Ninh.
In a revealing interview conducted in 1991, party General Secretary
I started reading Les Mise´rables and the image of Jean Valjean was very striking to me—a poor man, so poor he had to beg for his daily bread. … It touched the strings of my heart directly—I was very moved. I decided, I could not be satisfied with a society where there is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor.
Linh's affection for Hugo's tales of crime, punishment, and redemption may also be connected to the fact that he spent over ten years in colonial prison prior to 1945.
Evidence suggests that French romantic carceral images exerted a powerful influence over the welleducated Vietnamese youth who entered radical politics in the 1920s and 1930s. Such influence is apparent in the widespread use of the Bastille as a potent symbol within leftwing anticolonial rhetoric. In 1925, the fiery radical journalist Nguyen An Ninh published a provocative account of the storming of the Bastille in his Saigon newspaper, La Cloche Feˆle´e (The Cracked Bell), and questioned why Vietnamese history had never witnessed an equivalent event. During the 1930s, revolutionaries intensified their employment of Bastille imagery in the legal oppositional press and in underground publications. Consider the following Vietnamese-language leaflet seized by the Security Police (Suˆrete´) at a Bastille Day parade in Qui Nhon in 1931:
Brothers and sisters. Each year in Indochina, as in France and her other colonies, the imperialists spend hundreds of thousands of piasters to commemorate the 14th of July. As spectators, our compatriots unconsciously assist in the celebrations. Here is the origin of this observance, which we mistakenly call French Tet. On July 14, 1789, the Republican Party revolted in Paris. An armed mob demolished the monarchy's great prison, the Bastille, released the political prisoners who demonstrated in the streets. The French decided to celebrate annually, July 14, in order to commemorate their great victory and the triumph of liberty over the absolutist regime. Brothers and sisters, in celebrating July 14, French imperialism extols its love of liberty but conceals its ferocious and barbarous sentiments evidenced here by the prisons of Hanoi, Saigon, Quang Ngai, and all the provinces and in which suffer a considerable number of our compatriots. Brothers and sisters, rise up. Unite with one heart and protest against these arrests and imprisonments, overthrow French Imperialism, and in the spirit of the Parisian revolutionaries on July 14, 1789, destroy the prisons of Hanoi, Saigon, and the provinces and deliver our brothers and sisters who are condemned there.
Other evidence exists of the popularity of French romantic prison imagery among radical Vietnamese youth. In 1928, the Suˆrete´ seized a Vietnamese-language copy of Silvio Pellico's My Prisons from an illegal publishing house in Saigon. This account by the Milanese liberal who spent a decade in Metternich's political prison, the Speilberg, had enjoyed a stunning success in nineteenth-century France, where five separate translations had been completed following its publication in the 1830s. Dang Thai Mai, the dean of party literary critics, claims to have read Pellico's memoir while a student in Hue in the late 1920s.
Still, the sensational prison narratives of Dumas and Hugo, replete with dramatic escape attempts and feats of great personal courage, appear to have exerted the widest impact among Indochinese youth. In his 1929 memoir Sitting in the Big Jail, Trotskyist Phan Van Hum compared his own predicament to that of the protagonist of Hugo's The Last Days of a Condemned Man. Hugo and Dumas also figure in Pham Hung's 1960 prison memoir, In the Death Cell.
In the Central Prison there was a library for the French. I borrowed some books and after reading them, summarized the stories for the other prisoners. To their delight, we read Les Mise´rables by Hugo and Les Trois Mousque-taires by Dumas.
The central theme of revolutionary prison memoirs is the transformation of colonial jails into revolutionary schools. Education and imprisonment are prominently linked in titles such as Hoang Anh's Nha Tu De Quoc Tro Thanh Truong Hoc cua Chien Si Cach Mang (Imperialist Prisons Become Schools for Revolutionary Fighters), Tran Huy Lieu's Tu Hoc trong Tu (Self-Study in Prison), Nguyen Luu's Nha Tu Son La, Truong Hoc Cach Mang (Son La Prison: A School for Revolutionaries), Nguyen Thieu's Truong Hoc trong Tu (Prison School), Nguyen Duc Thuan's Truong Hoc Xa Lim (Cell School), and Nguyen Duy Trinh's Lam Bao va Sang Tac Tieu Thuyet trong Nha Lao Vinh (Writing Newspapers and Novels in Vinh Prison). In the scholastic prisons of such accounts, revolutionaries spend their first months in confinement studying Marxism-Leninism and practical skills and then apply what they have learned to protest poor conditions, organize fellow inmates, and convert non-Communist offenders to the revolutionary cause.
Tran Huy Lieu's depiction of Communist prisoners in Con Dao penitentiary in the early 1930s is exemplary:
Under French colonialism, owing to powerful conviction and innovative and skillful organization, communists turned prisons into schools for the study of literature and revolution. The imperialists tried to use prisons to kill revolutionaries, but we made prisons into a place to recruit and train cadres. After graduating from such schools, many cadres displayed not only a heightened skill and an indomitable spirit but an increased cultural level as well.
Tran Huy Lieu's reference to the “powerful conviction” and “indomitable spirit” of imprisoned cadres points to another preoccupation in revolutionary prison memoirs. Successful resistance, in these accounts, is always a function of the superior will and psychological doggedness of Communist prisoners. Le Duan's recollections of his experience on Con Dao make the point:
In prison, wherever we chanced to meet, we, brothers and comrades from the north, center and south, spent our time pondering, planning, discussing how to struggle to defeat the imperialists and colonialists. Right from the outset, we decided to turn the prison into a school. When still at large, we had joined the revolution out of love for our country and hatred for the imperialists. But in prison, thanks to our indomitable will, we were able to read, and study and consequently to understand Marxism-Leninism, and thus we became confident in the victory of the Vietnamese revolution.
In addition to drawing attention to the importance of revolutionary training and political commitment, another concern of revolutionary prison memoirs is to portray Communist prisoners as dauntless and heroic figures. Many accounts contain clearly hyperbolic depictions of physical endurance and courage or episodes in which Communist prisoners masterfully, almost effortlessly, outwit their guards. Elaborate depictions of dramatic escape attempts, a ubiquitous feature of the genre, most clearly reflect this tendency. For example, in We Escape from Prison, Nguyen Tao fills nearly three hundred pages with three separate accounts of Communist prison breaks, each more daring and oddsdefying than the last.
DISTORTIONS AND ELISIONS
Revolutionary prison memoirs function not only through the experiences they repeatedly convey but also by those they continually suppress.
Compounding their neglect of common-law prisoners, revolutionary prison memoirs never mention that the punitive regime applied to ordinary lawbreakers was considerably more onerous and brutal than the one to which political prisoners were subjected. Transported to an inhospitable frontier region, fed an insufficient diet, and forced to perform dangerous corve´e labor from which political prisoners were normally exempt, commonlaw inmates had few opportunities to embark on the ambitious program of self-improvement and personal cultivation compulsively described in revolutionary prison memoirs. For most uneducated and impoverished petty lawbreakers, it is likely that a stay in a colonial prison was less like a semester in school and more like a night-marish term in a concentration camp.
Exemplary is the tragic experience of Con Dao prisoner Nguyen Van Vien, whose case was brought to the attention of a colonial inspector in 1932. Caught stealing a buffalo in 1898 at the age of twenty-three, Vien was exiled to Con Dao by an indigenous provincial tribunal. As a result of a series of bureaucratic mishaps, Vien remained confined on Con Dao for the same theft almost thirty-five years later. That Vien is rescued from historical oblivion by virtue of an apparently sympathetic passage culled from a French inspector's report and not from the voluminous writings of fellow political prisoners is symptomatic of the limited field of vision exhibited by revolutionary prison memoirs.
While “revolutionary prison memoirs” typically ignore the existence of common-law prisoners, several are instructive in the open contempt they display toward criminals. Such an attitude is evident in one of the genre's progenitors, Huynh Thuc Khang's Thi Tu Tung Thoai [Prison Verse], first published in Hue in 1939:
In prison there are gangs of scoundrels so violent-tempered that a dirty look or a small comment will provoke them to fight. For prisoners to be murdered in their sleep is unexceptional. During the initial months of our captivity with the common prisoners, we felt miserable. During the day we would rest and at night we'd discuss literature and talk politics—we didn't dare to interact with the common-law prisoners.
To further explain the absence or denigration of nonpolitical pris-oners in revolutionary prison memoirs, it is important to recognize how strictly the VWP's cultural authorities policed the content of published material in general and prison narratives in particular after coming to power in 1954. A pertinent example is the party's heavy-handed response in 1955 to Phung Quan's loosely fictionalized adventure novel, Vuot Con Dao (Escape from Con Dao). In a disapproving review article published in Van Nghe (Literary Arts), critic Vu Tu Nam chided Phung Quan for subordinating the heroism of imprisoned Communists to the courage and savvy of common-law prisoners:
Phung Quan's book depicts party leaders on Con Dao as excessively simple-minded and naı¨ve. In reality, the ward of solitary-confinement cells, where our best and brightest cadres were concentrated, was the nervecenter of the island. According to Phung Quan's description, inmates in this ward were demoralized and broken in spirit. Phung Quan deliberately glorifies common soldiers and ordinary prisoners while ignoring the mighty political strength of cadres and party members.
Vu Tu Nam's critique was buttressed and elaborated in attacks launched by powerful cultural officials such as To Huu and Tran Do, who, unfortunately for Phung Quan, were also former political prisoners. As Phung Quan was besieged by the ideological assaults and prison credentials of his critics, Escape from Con Dao fell into disrepute, and he was forced to undergo public self-criticism. Apparently, Phung Quan's reprimand was not lost on future authors of fictional and putatively nonfictional prison narratives, virtually all of whom made sure to relegate common-law prisoners to the distant margins of their accounts.
Like common-law offenders, non-Communist political prisoners are also underrepresented in the accounts of revolutionary prison memoirs. From the 1920s through the 1940s, the colonial state imprisoned anticolonialists of different political persuasions, including various kinds of anarchists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, nationalists, and radical Buddhists, as well as members of syncretic religious sects, secret societies, and underworld gangs. During the late 1930s, French-language newspapers in Saigon
In the rare cases when non-Communist political prisoners are mentioned, it is only to compare their feebleness in captivity with the strength of the Communists. Le Duan's recollections are typical in this regard:
Among the political prisoners, there were also non-communists, such as members of the Nationalist Party, adherents of the “national revolution” tendency such as Mr. Nguyen An Ninh, and Trotskyists such as Phan Van Hum and Ta Thu Thau. But none of them could equal the communists in endurance, dauntlessness and self-sacrifice. The more difficulties and hardships they met, the more the communists were steeled and tempered. They survived the most atrocious ordeals while others did not.
An irony of Le Duan's comments is that Trotskyists Phan Van Hum and Ta Thu Thau did in fact survive the “atrocious ordeal” of colonial imprisonment, but upon release in 1945 they were executed by Le Duan's Viet Minh during sporadic roundups of prominent figures from rival nationalist groups.
The tendency of revolutionary prison memoirs to focus solely on Communist prisoners further distorts the historical record by conflating the eighty-year history of imprisonment in Indochina with developments after 1930, the year the Communist Party was founded. While the highly organized defiance of Communist inmates after 1930 represented a qualitative change in the nature of colonial prison resistance, it is important to recognize that the colonial penal system had been generating significant levels of collective violence since its foundation in 1862. In fact, it is arguable that the sporadic and largely uncoordinated resistance to the penal system spearheaded by prisoners during World War I actually surpassed the level of violent opposition attained under Communist leadership in the 1930s. Moreover, enduring features of the colonial penal system that promoted successful Communist activity in prison (i.e., architectural shortcomings, administrative instability, discontented guards, confused and neglected systems of classification, inadequate supervision for forced labor) were equally responsible for facilitating
Also missing from revolutionary prison memoirs are vivid depictions of the texture of colonial prison life or evidence of the development of distinct subcultural formations behind bars. Descriptions of food, labor, discipline, hygiene, and the complex triangular relations obtaining between guards, prisoners, and French penal officials, for example, seem schematic and vague as compared with the meticulously detailed accounts of political education, self-improvement, and collective resistance. Moreover, revolutionary prison memoirs pay little or no attention to the prurient obsessions of French prison writing; there are few tales of betrayal, corruption, or rivalry among inmates and virtually none about suppressed desire, rape, or homosexuality.
In 1991, following the first significant relaxation of state censorship in northern Vietnam since the mid-1950s, the Institute of History posthumously released a brief prison memoir by Tran Huy Lieu, an important revolutionary from the 1930s and the DRV's most prolific historian. Originally written in 1950 and entitled Tinh trong Nguc Toi (Love in the Dark Prison), the account detailed Lieu's own loneliness and unrequited longings while incarcerated on Con Dao during the early 1930s. In one unusually frank passage, Lieu admitted to a temporary fascination with “brother T,” a fellow prisoner who had performed in drag in a play staged within the ward:
After viewing the play performed during Tet in Bagne II, I sent a letter over ten pages long to brother T, who, on that day, had played the role of a female courtesan. As the prison regime suppressed family sentiments and petty bourgeois romantic sentiments, we were often forced to seek other outlets.
The meaning of the passage is arguably ambiguous, but it is instructive that while many of Lieu's prison accounts were published during the 1960s, the memoir containing this passage was not released until after the Renovation (Doi Moi) policy of 1986. It is tempting to conclude that the decision to suppress its publication during the late 1950s and early 1960s was driven by a perception that the memoir alluded to
MORALE-BUILDING AND PROLETARIANIZATION
To further understand the most prominent elisions and distortions characteristic of revolutionary prison memoirs, it is useful to reconsider the genre's function within the political culture of the DRV. As has been suggested, one reason for the wide dissemination of the genre is that naked oppressiveness of the colonial prison system provided a dramatic setting for heroic performance. Revolutionary prison memoirs depict Communist militants fearlessly confronting the colonial state's most thoroughly repressive apparatus. They often juxtapose denunciations of sadistic guards, torture, and cramped quarters with celebrations of mass demonstrations, hunger strikes, and prison riots. “Prison writing,” according to party critic Hoang Dung, “simultaneously denounces the cruel crimes of our enemies, describes our intense feelings for the landscape of our homeland, and relates the miseries endured by martyred comrades in prison.”
In the early 1970s, the Institute of Party History and the Youth Publishing House endeavored to gather and publish Communist prison verse from the colonial era. Anthologists solicited submissions through literary newspapers and, in some cases, visited exprisoners in their homes to record poems that had been committed to memory but never written down. Prefacing their two-volume collection, Tieng Hat trong Tu (Songs Sung in Prison), the editors justified their efforts on didactic grounds: “The poetry of revolutionary fighters created in the prison of the French imperialists, from the foundation of our party to 1945, holds excellent educational value for the younger generations who grew up after the August Revolution.” At the time, the party's need to harness the “educational value” of prison poetry was based on anxiety about public morale raised by the American War. Thus, the compilation concluded by drawing links from colonialera prisons to those of the American-backed South Vietnamese regime: “Over the past few years, similar verse has unceasingly echoed in prisons of the American puppets in the south.”
Representations of revolutionary heroism were thought to possess a unique capacity to motivate and inspire in wartime. During Vietnam's war with China in the late 1970s, the Culture and Information
Besides portraying the VWP's leading figures as heroic, courageous, resourceful, and unswervingly dedicated to the revolutionary cause, revolutionary prison memoirs serve the party in another important way. By depicting colonial penal institutions as schools, revolutionary prison memoirs help conceal from their readership something particularly unsettling for the party about the social composition of its founding members. One of the striking things about the VWP is the high percentage of its early leaders who sprang from an elite background. According to Bernard Fall's comprehensive study of party leadership in the 1950s, approximately 75 percent of high-level party cadres come from solidly middle-class or upper-class families. This is clearly reflected in the privileged educational backgrounds many of them possessed. For example, Pham Van Dong and Truong Chinh received baccalaureate degrees from the exclusive Lyce´e Albert Sarraut in Hanoi. Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh, among others, attended the prestigious Franco-Vietnamese Quoc Hoc high school in Hue. And numerous top-level cadres, including Pham Hung, Le Duc Tho, and Le Duan, came from lowranking mandarin families who ensured that their sons received significantly more education than did most Vietnamese at the time.
Not only are the exalted educational careers of Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) leaders passively ignored in revolutionary prison memoirs; they are actively obscured by the obsessive comparisons offered between prisons and schools. In other words, a depiction of colonial prisons as the “universities of the Vietnamese revolution” conveniently draws attention away from the fact that the leaders of this explicitly proletarian and peasant revolution were products of the most elite educational institutions the colonial state had to offer. In this sense, revolutionary prison memoirs should be understood as serving a function similar to the party's well-documented proletarianization (vo san
It is in a similar context that the publication and massive dissemination of Ho Chi Minh's Nhat Ky trong Tu (Prison Diary), also in 1960, might be understood. During the 1920s and 1930s, when his future colleagues in the Politburo were earning revolutionary credentials in French jails, Ho was abroad carrying out Comintern directives. The fact that Ho did not possess the same colonial prison record as virtually all his colleagues was neatly effaced by the public appearance of the Prison Diary, which he supposedly wrote while incarcerated in 1942 by a warlord in southern China. Released almost twenty years after it was allegedly written and at the outset of a campaign to spread revolutionary prison memoirs of ICP leaders, the Prison Diary, which is easily northern Vietnam's most widely published and translated literary work as well as a core secondary-school text, suggests an explicit attempt to bring Ho's revolutionary credentials in line with those of his comrades.
Revolutionary prison memoirs reveal much about the forces shaping cultural production in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The party's need to reassert the legitimacy of its monopoly over political power required a popular literary form that cleaned up, embellished, and celebrated the history of its heroic struggles and sacrifices. The “prison-as-school” trope not only could play such a role but also proved useful in its capacity to obfuscate the exalted family and educational backgrounds of many party leaders. Moreover, revolutionary prison writing could draw on colonial and precolonial literary traditions that were both familiar to the reading public and genuinely popular among the Western-educated but nevertheless traditionally oriented leaders of the party. In short, while revolutionary prison memoirs may obscure more than they reveal about the history of imprisonment in French Indochina, they do reflect the political strategies, class anxieties, and distinctive sociocultural background of the first generation of the Communist Party leadership.
1. Tran Huu Ta, “Doc Hoi Ky Cach Mang: Nghi ve Ve Dep cua Nguoi Chien Si Cong San Viet Nam” [“Reading Revolutionary Memoirs: Thoughts on the Beauty of Vietnamese Communist Warriors”], Tap Chi Van Hoc [Journal of Literature] 2, no. 164 (1997): 17–28. [BACK]
2. See, for some examples, Nguyen Tao, Trong Nguc Toi Hoa Lo [In the Dark Prison, Hoa Lo] (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoc, 1959); Tran Dang Ninh, Hai Lan Vuot Nguc [Two Prison Escapes] (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoc, 1970); Tran Cung, “Tu Con Dao Tro Ve (Hoi Ky)” [“Return from Poulo Condore (Memoirs)”], Nghien Cuu Lich Su [Journal of Historical Studies] 134, no. 9 (1970):18–26; Bui Cong Trung, “O Con Dao” [“In Con Dao”], in Len Duong Thang Loi [On the Road to Victory] (Hanoi: NXB Hanoi, 1985); Ha Phu Huong, “O Nha Tu Lao Bao” [“In Lao Bao Prison”], Tap Chi Cua Viet, no. 3 (1990). The following (some reprints) can be found in Suoi Reo Nam Ay [The Bubbling Spring That Year] (Hai Phong: NXB Thong Tin-Van Hoa, 1993): Dang Viet Chau, “Nguc Son La 1935–1936” [“Son La Prison 1935–1936”]; Van Tien Dung, “Niem Tin La Suc Manh” [“Belief Is Strength”]; Xuan Thuy, “Suoi Reo Nam Ay” [“The Bubbling Spring That Year”]; Nguyen van Tu, “Toi Lam Cau Doi Tet o Nha Tu Son La” [“I Make Rhyming Couplets on New Year Occasion in Son La Prison”]. The following can be found in Tran Huy Lieu: Hoi Ky [Tran Huy Lieu: Memoirs] (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1991): “Tinh trong Nguc Toi” [“Love in the Dark Prison”], “Duoi Ham Son La” [“In the Son La Hole”]“Xuan No trong Tu” [“Spring Blooms in Prison”], “Tren Hon Cau” [“On Hon Cau”]; “Phan Dau De Tro Nen Mot Dang Vien Cong San” [“Striving to Become a Communist Party Member”]. [BACK]
3. Martha Grace Duncan, Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons: The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment (New York: New York University Press, 1996). [BACK]
4. W. B. Carnochan, “The Literature of Confinement,” in The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society, ed. Norval Morris and David Rothman, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 427. [BACK]
5. See the essay by Christoph Giebel in this volume. [BACK]
6. Tran Huu Ta, “Doc Hoi Ky Cach Mang,” 17. [BACK]
7. Huynh Sanh Thong, ed. and trans., The Heritage of Vietnamese Poetry (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979), 22. [BACK]
8. David Marr, Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1925–1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), 308. [BACK]
9. Nguyen Ngoc Bich, A Thousand Years of Vietnamese Poetry (New York: Knopf, 1975), 32. [BACK]
10. Huynh Sanh Thong, The Heritage of Vietnamese Poetry, 41. [BACK]
11. Nguyen Khac Vien and Huu Ngoc, ed. and trans., Vietnamese Literature: Historical Background and Texts (Hanoi: Red River, 1980), 383. [BACK]
12. For a biographical sketch of Nguyen Huu Cau, see Tran van Giap et al., Luoc Truyen Cac Tac Gia Viet Nam [Sketch of Vietnamese Authors] (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1971), 298. [BACK]
13. Huynh Sanh Thong, The Heritage of Vietnamese Poetry, 57. [BACK]
14. Nguyen Khac Vien and Huu Ngoc, Vietnamese Literature: Historical Background and Texts, 574. [BACK]
15. Tran Huy Lieu, “What's My Crime?” trans. Huynh Sanh Thong, Vietnam Forum, no. 13 (1990): 140. [BACK]
16. Tran Huy Lieu, “Doc Tap Tho Nhat Ky trong Tu cua Ho Chu Tich” [“Reading Chairman Ho's Prison Diary”], Nghien Cuu Van Hoc [Journal of Literary Studies] 6 (1960): 21. [BACK]
17. Xuan Dieu, “Yeu Tho Bac” [“Loving Uncle's Poetry”], in Tap Nghien Cuu Binh Luan Chon Loc ve Tho Van Ho Chu Tich [Selected Commentaries and Studies on Chairman Ho's Poetry] (Hanoi: Giao Duc, 1978), 79–81. [BACK]
18. Dang Thai Mai, Van Tho Cach Mang Viet Nam Dau The Ky XX (1900–1925) [Vietnamese Revolutionary Prose and Poetry in the Early Twentieth century] (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoc, 1964), 158. [BACK]
19. Ibid., 154. [BACK]
20. David Marr, Vietnamese Anticolonialism: 1885–1925 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971), 241–44. [BACK]
21. Huynh Thuc Khang, Tu Truyen [Autobiography] (Hue: Anh Minh, 1963), 66. [BACK]
22. See ibid. [BACK]
23. Nguyen The Anh, “A Case of Confucian Survival in Twentieth-Century Vietnam: Huynh Thuc Khang and His Newspaper Tieng Dan,” Vietnam Forum, no. 8 (1986): 182. [BACK]
24. Huynh Thuc Khang, Thi Tu Tung Thoai [Prison Verse] (Hue: NXB Tieng Dan, 1939, 42. [BACK]
25. Translation is from Huynh Sanh Thong, ed. and trans., An Anthology of Vietnamese Poems: From the Eleventh through the Twentieth Centuries (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), 118. [BACK]
26. Ton Quang Phiet, Mot Ngay Ngan Thu [The Eternal Day] (Hue: Phuc Long, 1935), 11. [BACK]
27. Nhuong Tong, Doi trong Nguc [Life in Prison] (Hanoi: Van Hoa Moi, 1935), 12. [BACK]
28. Literary scholars point out that prisons and imprisonment have figured prominently in the French literary tradition. Victor Brombert writes of an “explosion of prison literary images in nineteenth-century France.” Victor Brombert, The Romantic Prison: The French Tradition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978). According to W. B. Carnochan, “From the Royal hostage Charles d'Orle´ans (1394–1465) to Genet … theprison has always been a more fertile source of poetry in France than in England and America.” Carnochan, “The Literature of Confinement,” 432. [BACK]
29. “In the area of literature, what the youth of Vietnam had available to read in school and out of school were works of French Classicists and Romantics.” Cong Huyen Ton Nu Nha Trang, “The Role of French Romanticism in the New Poetry Movement in Vietnam,” in Borrowings and Adaptations in Vietnamese Culture, ed. Truong Buu Lam, Southeast Asia Paper No. 25 (Honolulu: Center for Asia and Pacific Studies), 52–62. [BACK]
30. See John Schaffer and Cao Thi Nhu Quynh, “Ho Bieu Chanh and the
31. For a discussion of the novel and its debt to Dumas, see Alexander Woodside, Community and Revolution in Vietnam (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), 268. [BACK]
32. See Tran Hinh, “Victo Huygo va cac Nha Van Viet Nam” [“Victor Hugo and Vietnamese Writers”], in Hugo o Viet Nam [Hugo in Vietnam], ed. Luu Lien (Hanoi: NXB Vien Van Hoc, 1985), 418. [BACK]
33. Ibid., 420–21. [BACK]
34. On Hugo's preoccupation with crime and punishment, see Brombert, The Romantic Prison, 91–117. [BACK]
35. Dang Anh Dao, “Victo Huygo va con Nguoi Viet Nam Hien Dai” [“Victor Hugo and Vietnamese Today”], in Hugo o Viet Nam, ed. Luu Lien, 367. In 1926, Pham Quynh introduced Hugo's work to the readers of the influential journal Nam Phong. Portions of Les Mise´rables were serialized in Tieng Dan in the early 1930s. In 1936, novelist Vu Trong Phung published a Vietnamese translation of Lucrèce Borgia entitled Giet Me [Matricide]. According to Nguyen Dang Manh, Phung also translated (but never published) Le Dernier jour d'un condamne´. See Nguyen Dang Manh and Tran Huu Ta, eds., Tuyen Tap Vu Trong Phung [Collected Works of Vu Trong Phung], vol. 1 (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoc, 1993), 12. [BACK]
36. Victor Oliver, Cao Dai Spiritism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976). For more on Cao Dai, see Jayne Werner, Peasant Politics and Religious Sectarianism: Peasant and Priest in the Cao Dai in Vietnam (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1981). [BACK]
37. In the same interview, Linh discussed his admiration for French romanticist Hector Malot. The interview appears in Neil Sheehan, After the War Was Over (New York: Vintage, 1993), 75. [BACK]
38. Tran Hinh argues that Hugo influenced the poetry of To Huu, the ICP's most celebrated poet. He also notes that Ho Chi Minh often recalled reading Les Mise´rables while a student in Hue. Tran Hinh, “Victo Huygo va cac Nha Van Viet Nam,” 412. [BACK]
39. Tran Van Giau, “The First Propagandist for the Ideas of 1789 in Vietnam,” Vietnamese Studies, no. 21 (1991): 12. [BACK]
40. For an examination of Bastille imagery in political rhetoric during the 1930s, see Peter Zinoman, The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862–1940 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), 256–57. [BACK]
41. De´poˆt d'Archives d'Outre-Mer (AOM) in Aixen-Provence: Service de Liaison des Originaires des Territoires Franc¸ais d'Outre-Mer (SLOTFOM), Series 3, Carton 49 Dossier: Les Associations Anti-Franc¸aises et la Propagande Communiste en Indochine, July–August 1931. [BACK]
42. Daniel He´mery, Re´volutionaires vietnamiens et pouvoir colonial en Indochine (Paris: Maspe´ro, 1975), 155. [BACK]
43. Silvio Pellico, My Prisons (London: Oxford University Press, 1963). [BACK]
44. Dang Thai Mai, Van Tho Cach Mang Viet Nam Dau The Ky XX, 76. [BACK]
45. Nguyen Van Vinh translated Dumas's Les Trois mousquetaires into quocngu
46. Phan Van Hum, Ngoi Tu Kham Lon [A Stay in the Central Prison](1929; reprint, Saigon: NXB Dan Toc, 1957), 129. [BACK]
47. An early revolutionary and longtime Politburo member, Pham Hung eventually became head of the Central Committee Directorate for the South (COSVN). [BACK]
48. Pham Hung, In the Death Cell (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960), 75. [BACK]
49. Hoang Anh, “Nha Tu De Quoc Tro Thanh Truong Hoc cua Chien Si Cach Mang” [“Imperialist Prisons Become Schools for Revolutionary Fighters”], Tap Chi Cong San [Communist Review] 1, no. 40 (1990): 3–9; Nguyen Luu, “Nha Tu Son La, Truong Hoc Cach Mang” [“Son La Prison, School for Revolutionaries”], Nghien Cuu Lich Su [Journal of Historical Studies] 103(1975): 57–71; Tran Huy Lieu, “Tu Hoc trong Tu” [“Self-Study in Prison”], Nguyen Thieu, “Truong Hoc trong Tu” [“Prison School”], Nguyen Duc Thuan, “Truong Hoc Xa Lim” [“Cell School”], Nguyen Duy Trinh, “Lam Bao va Sang Tac Tieu Thuyet trong Nha Lao Vinh” [“Writing Newspapers and Novels in Vinh Prison”], all in Truong Hoc sau Song Sat [School behind the Iron Bars](Hanoi: NXB Thanh Nien, 1969). [BACK]
50. Tran Huy Lieu, “Tu Hoc trong Tu,” 142. [BACK]
51. “Le Duan Recalls Days as Prisoner on Con Son,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service–East Asia Service-76 (9/3/76, Hanoi Vietnamese News Agency in English, 1454 GMT). [BACK]
52. Escape attempts figure in most “revolutionary prison memoirs,” and a sizable number are concerned almost exclusively with the planning and execution of breakouts. For examples, see Nguyen Tao, Vuot Nguc Dak Mil [Escape from Dak Mil] (Hanoi: NXB Thanh Nien, 1976); Tran Dang Ninh, “Vuot Nguc Son La” [“Escape from Son La Prison”], in Suoi Reo Nam Ay, 176–208; Ngo Van Quynh, “Am Vang Cuoc Vuot Nguc” [“Echo of an Escape”], in Suoi Reo Nam Ay, 208–18; Vu Duy Nhai, “Nho Lai nhung Ngay Thoat Nguc Son La” [“Recalling the Days of Escape from Son La Prison”], in Suoi Reo Nam Ay, 264–83; Tran Huy Lieu, “Nghia Lo Khoi Nghia—Nghia Lo Vuot Nguc” [“Nghia Lo Uprising—Escape from Nghia Lo”], in Tran Huy Lieu: Hoi Ky, 278–344; Tran Tu Binh, “Thoat Nguc Hoa Lo” [“Escape from Hoa Lo Prison”], in Ha Noi Khoi Nghia [Hanoi Uprising] (Hanoi: NXB Hanoi, 1966). [BACK]
53. Nguyen Tao, Chung Toi Vuot Nguc [We Escape from Prison] (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoa, 1977). [BACK]
54. For an analysis of the composition of the Indochinese penal population during the 1930s, see Zinoman, The Colonial Bastille, chaps. 4 and 7. [BACK]
55. Ibid. The issue is complicated by the fact that political activists were often sentenced for common-law crimes. [BACK]
56. AOM–Affaires Politiques 7F 1728 Dossier: Mission d'Inspection: Rapport fait par M. Le Gregam, Inspecteur des Colonies sur les ı
ˆles et les pe´nitenciers de Poulo Condore, February 23, 1932, 33. [BACK]
57. Dang Thai Mai placed Huynh Thuc Khang's prison memoirs along with the accounts of Le Van Hien and Cuu Kim Son as a formative influence on the producers of “revolutionary prison memoirs.” Dang Thai Mai, Van Tho Cach Mang Viet Nam Dau The Ky XX, 123. [BACK]
58. Huynh Thuc Khang, Thi Tu Tung Thoai, 50. [BACK]
59. For a general treatment of the ICP's literary policies in the 1950s, see Hirohide Kurihara, “Changes in the Literary Policy of the Vietnamese Worker's Party, 1956–1958,” in Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, ed. Takashi Shiraishi and Motoo Furuta (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 1992), 143–64. [BACK]
60. Phung Quan, Vuot Con Dao (1955; reprint, Hue: NXB Thanh Hoa, 1987). [BACK]
61. Vu Tu Nam, “Mot So Y Kien Tham Gia Ket Thuc Cuoc Tranh Luan: Phe Binh Cuon Vuot Con Dao” [“Some Opinions regarding the Debate: A Critique of Escape from Con Dao”], Bao Van Nghe [Literature and Arts Newspaper], July 28, 1955, 3. The same article noted that over one hundred letters commenting on Vuot Con Dao had been sent to the journal Sinh Hoat Van Nghe [Literary and Artistic Activities], some by readers who had served time in colonial prisons. [BACK]
62. Georges Boudarel, Cent fleurs e´closes dans la nuit du Vietnam: Communisme et dissidence, 1945–1956 (Paris: Jacques Bertoin, 1991), 121–24. [BACK]
63. After going through four editions in the first half of 1955, Vuot Con Dao was pulled from circulation and only republished in 1987. For more on the public criticism of Phung Quan and his novel, see A. T. “Hai Cuoc Thao Luan ve Viet Bac va Vuot Con Dao” (“Two Debates about Viet Bac and Escape from Con Dao”], Bao Van Nghe, March 20, 1955. [BACK]
64. The official attacks against Phung Quan and Vuot Con Dao anticipated by almost two years the repression of the northern literary movement known today as Nhan Van Giai Pham. For two cogent accounts of Nhan Van Giai Pham, see Hoang Giang, “La Re´volte des intellectuels au Vietnam en 1956,” and Georges Boudarel, “Intellectual Dissidence in the 1950s: The ‘Nhan Van Giai Pham'Affair,” both in Vietnam Forum, no. 13, (1990): 144–79. [BACK]
65. Phan Van Hum, Ta Thu Thau, and Ho Huu Tuong were members of competing Trotskyist factions during the 1930s and 1940s. Nguyen An Ninh was an eclectic radical who combined strains of Marxism, anarchism, Buddhism, and southern Vietnamese secret society traditions. [BACK]
66. For a characteristic treatment of communist-nationalist conflict behind bars, see Tran Van Giau, Su Phat Trien cua Tu Tuong o Viet Nam Tu The Ky XIX den Cach Mang Thang Tam [Ideological Development in Vietnam from the Nineteenth Century to the August Revolution], vol. 2 (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa hoi, 1975), 592–600. [BACK]
67. “Le Duan Recalls Days as Prisoner on Con Son.” [BACK]
68. On the Viet Minh's execution of Ta Thu Thau, see David Marr, Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), 435. [BACK]
69. For an extended discussion, see Zinoman, The Colonial Bastille, chaps.5 and 6. [BACK]
70. The classic account in this vein is J. C. De´mariaux, Les Secrets des ıˆles Poulo Condore: Le grand bagne indochinois (Paris: J. Peyronnet & Cie, 1956). [BACK]
71. Tran Huy Lieu, Tinh trong Nguc Toi [Love in the Dark Prison], in Tran Huy Lieu, Tran Huy Lieu: Hoi ky, 137. [BACK]
72. Hoang Dung, ed., Tho Van Cach Mang 1930–1945 [Revolutionary Poems and Prose, 1930–1945] (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoc, 1980), 12. [BACK]
73. Interview with Vo Van Truc, editor of Tieng Hat trong Tu, Hanoi, December 5, 1991. [BACK]
74. Vo Van Truc, ed., Tieng Hat trong Tu, vol. 1 (Hanoi: NXB Thanh Nien, 1972), 193. [BACK]
75. Ibid., 144. [BACK]
76. Ty Van Hoa Thong Tin Son La, Tho Ca Cach Mang Nha Tu Son La 1930–1945 (Son La: NXB Son La, 1980), 7. [BACK]
77. Ibid. [BACK]
78. Ibid., 36. [BACK]
79. As Alexander Woodside points out, “It does not slander the political contributions of one of the most hard-working and resourceful peasantries in all Asia to point out … that the Vietnamese revolution was led for the most part by the sons of the traditional intelligentsia, and that this was the section of Vietnamese society which found itself earliest and most often in demeaning circumstances of cultural and political conflict with the colonial power.” Wood-side, Community and Revolution in Vietnam, 303. [BACK]
80. Bernard Fall, The Viet Minh Regime, Data Paper No. 14 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1954), 74. [BACK]
81. Hy Van Luong's discussion of the elite origins of the Vietnamese revolutionary leadership is particularly instructive. Hy Van Luong, “Agrarian Unrest from an Anthropological Perspective: The Case of Vietnam,” Comparative Politics 17, no. 2 (January 1985): 165–70. See also Douglas Pike, History of Vietnamese Communism, 1925–1976 (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1978), 67. [BACK]
82. On the proletarianization movement, see Gareth Porter, “Proletariat and Peasantry in Early Vietnamese Communism,” Asian Thought and Society 1, no.3 (1976): 333–46. [BACK]
83. Nowhere is this connection between imprisonment and proletarianization more clearly stated than in an interview French writer Andre´e Viollis conducted with a former political prisoner in Saigon on October 14, 1931. Describing the significance of his prison experience, the young revolutionary told Viollis: “It was that [prison] which made me a revolutionary, more so because I was not born into the proletarian class.” Andre´e Viollis, Indochine S.O.S (1935; reprint, Paris: Les Editeurs Franc¸ais Re´unis, 1949), 25. [BACK]
84. For a surprisingly frank discussion of the checkered publishing history of Nhat Ky trong Tu, including the suppression of almost two dozen poems in the original manuscript, see Phan Van Cac, “Tu Ban Dich Nam 1960 den Ban Dich Bo Sung va Chinh Ly Nam 1983” [“From 1960 Translation to the Supplemented and Corrected Translation of 1983”], in Suy Nghi Moi Ve Nhat Ky Trong Tu [New Reflections on the Prison Diary], ed. Nguyen Hue Chi (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1990). [BACK]
2. “The Fatherland Remembers
Commemorating War Dead
in North Vietnam
Shaun Kingsley Malarney
The dead soldier was one of the greatest threats to the legitimacy and authority of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the first three decades of its existence. Tens of thousands of northern Vietnamese died in military service, first in the French War (1946–54), then in the struggle to unify the country from 1959 to 1975. During these years, the DRV government began to articulate what Hue-Tam Ho Tai refers to in the introduction to this volume as the “official narrative” of war in order to legitimize the war efforts and strengthen the population's will to fight. This narrative, which highlighted Vietnam's history of repelling foreign aggression, also gave extensive attention to dead soldiers so that their deaths would be regarded as noble and meaningful.
This chapter will examine how the experience of warfare and the government agenda to glorify war death affected the social and cultural life of Thinh Liet commune, a northern Vietnamese community located to the south of Hanoi. It will describe the many social and cultural innovations that years of warfare produced, such as the linkages made between past and contemporary struggles, and the creation of new categories of heroes and heroic action. The main objective is to explore the ritual responses to war death that emerged during the American War (1963–75) in Vietnam. As Mark Bradley points out in this volume, the North Vietnamese state employed numerous methods to ennoble war death that included film, war memorials, museums, novels, poetry, and paintings. Among the most important was the government's creation
THE “JUST CAUSE” OF NATIONAL LIBERATION
One of the most important elements in the Vietnamese state's agenda for legitimizing the war attempt was its attempt to draw on the prestige that has historically accrued to those who protected the country from foreign aggression or liberated it from foreign occupation. Over the centuries, the Vietnamese have fought numerous wars, many of which began after outsiders invaded Vietnamese soil. In many of these instances, going into battle and dying to save the nation were portrayed as honorable pursuits. Indeed, fighting for the nation was described in some cases as a “just cause” or “righteous obligation” (chinh nghia). The compelling nature of liberating or protecting Vietnam could be seen in the public veneration of military heroes. The Vietnamese pantheon of great historical figures is composed overwhelmingly of men and women who have battled foreign armies. The Trung Sisters, who defeated a Chinese army in a.d. 39, general Tran Hung Dao, who, through a brilliant stratagem, destroyed the fleet of the Mongol invaders in the thirteenth century, or Le Loi, who cast out the Ming and then established the Le dynasty in the fifteenth century, are among the most revered figures in Vietnamese history. While official historiography glorifies these heroes, their importance among the people is equally great. The accomplishments or “meritorious work” (cong duc) of some military heroes were such that supernatural qualities have been attributed to them. General Tran Hung Dao is a case in point. Many Vietnamese consider him to have been a “living god” (than song) sent to rescue the Vietnamese. He is referred to frequently by his spirit name, Duc Thanh Tran; his powers carried on after his death, and his spirit, propitiated
In constructing their narrative of warfare, the Vietnamese Communists highlighted and popularized the historical continuities between their contemporary struggles and Vietnam's earlier struggles. The very first armed military unit formed on December 22, 1944, by the Communists in the caves of Cao Bang Province, a humble group of thirty-four individuals with two revolvers and thirty-one rifles, was called the “Tran Hung Dao Platoon” in honor of the great general. Official propaganda also spoke of the great examples of Vietnam's military heroes and the lessons to be learned from them. General Vo Nguyen Giap, Vietnam's key military strategist during the French War and the mastermind of the victory at Dien Bien Phu, even declared:
The contemporary ideas of our party, military, and people for the offensive struggle cannot be separated from the traditional military ideas of our people. During our history, all victorious wars of resistance or liberation, whether led by the Trung Sisters [first century], Ly Bon [sixth century], Trieu Quang Phuc [sixth century], Le Loi [fifteenth century], or Nguyen Trai [fifteenth century], have all shared the common characteristic of a continuous offensive aimed at casting off the yoke of feudal domination by foreigners.
Communist leaders also described their struggle as a sacred activity. For example, in an August 1965 speech to an antiaircraft unit in Hanoi, Party General Secretary Le Duan proclaimed, “Saving the nation is a sacred obligation [nghia vu thieng lieng] of the people. … Wearede-termined to fight and win to keep our independence and freedom, to secure our health and happiness, and to build the nation into a wealthy and beautiful Vietnam.” Throughout both wars, the nation and the military necessity of saving and protecting it, were placed in indisputably sacred space. The wars were not simply described as wars (chien tranh)in official discourse. The French War was described as a khoi nghia, rendered in one dictionary as to “rise up in arms (against an oppressive rule).” The American War was described as the “War of National Salvation Against the Americans” (Chien Tranh Chong My Cuu Nuoc). Dying and suffering in the name of such a cause, which was similar to
ARTICULATING THE NEW VIRTUE
The legitimation of Vietnam's military effort extended far beyond the appropriation of the legacy of resisting foreign occupation. One of the most explicit moves in the ideological realm was the creation and elaboration of a new set of definitions for noble and virtuous actions. Prior to the Revolution, official ideology had emphasized the Confucian virtues of devotion to the emperor and the mandarinate. In the Communist state, the act of devotion remained salient; only the objects changed. According to the new definition, the objects of virtuous action became the fatherland (to quoc), the people (nhan dan), the party (dang), and particularly the Revolution (cach mang). Actions carried out in the interest of these four collective entities were virtuous (conversely, actions carried out for the emperor, the mandarinate, or the old order were all stigmatized). The critical element in the construction of the new virtue was the transcendence of selfinterest and the selfless devotion to the collectivity. As Le Duan declared, “The revolutionary differs from the nonrevolutionary in that he knows to forget himself for the service of the collectivity, for the common interest. Before all else he always thinks of the Revolution and the collectivity. He always knows to place the interests of the fatherland, the interests of the collectivity, above the interests of the individual.” “To relentlessly think of one's self, of one's family,” the general secretary commented on another occasion, “is inadequate, selfish.”
The revolutionary formulation of selfless virtue was conjoined with the public glorification of death and personal sacrifice to advance the revolutionary cause. The greatest virtue was achieved with death, a transformation that reached its apotheosis in the concept of “sacrifice” (hi sinh). The word hi sinh predates the Vietnamese Revolution. Semantically, it matched the English-language meaning of sacrifice, that being simply to give up something, usually to gain something else. With the Vietnamese Communists, the semantic domain of hi sinh was recast, and sacrifice was associated with, and virtually restricted to, those who died doing the Revolution's bidding. Sacrifice came to connote giving up one's life in a just cause to protect and improve the collectivity. Party officials provided precise definitions of what constituted sacrifice. “Thus
The willingness to sacrifice was publicly rewarded because a sacrificial death was portrayed as a glorious and noble death, one that further grew in nobility from the willingness and enthusiasm with which it had occurred. It was also a death that was to be eternally remembered and remain an example for those who survived. The glorification of sacrifice was elaborated at the very highest reaches of the party. Discussing the deaths of a number of Party members who were killed or executed by the French, Ho Chi Minh declared, “The blood of the martyrs has made the revolutionary flag dazzlingly red. Their courageous sacrifice has prepared the earth of our nation to bloom into a flower of independence and result in our freedom. Our people must eternally record and remember the meritorious efforts of the martyrs. We must constantly study their courageous spirit to transcend all difficulties and tribulations, and realize the revolutionary work that they have passed on to us.” Death by “sacrifice” placed one into a venerable and heroic category, one that transcended the individual's physical annihilation.
The revolutionary elaboration of “sacrifice” has had important linguistic consequences in everyday conversation as well. The verb “to die” in Vietnamese takes multiple forms, with each particular form providing important social information about the deceased. Common people, for example, are generally said to mat, “to be lost,” or bi chet, to “suffer death.” Elderly people qua doi, or “pass from life.” The emperor in prerevolutionary times would bang ha, or “pass far below.” The deaths of Ho Chi Minh and other high officials are often described with the poetic and respectful expression tu tran, “to leave this world.” Communist revolutionaries and soldiers killed during the struggle against the enemy can indeed “suffer death,” but officially and in everyday parlance, people say that they have been “sacrificed” (hi sinh). The death of Hoang Van Thu, a member of the Central Committee of the Indochinese Communist Party who was captured by the French and later executed, provides a fitting example. Thu's death is thus recounted in an official biography: “On May 24, 1944, he was sacrificed at the Tuong Mai Rifle
Figure 2.1. Grave of soldier killed during border war with China, 1979, Tam Nong District Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Phu Tho. Photograph by Natalia Puchalt.
The ennoblement of death and sacrifice for the Revolution continued after the death of the individual. Instead of merging them into an anonymous mass of war dead, all those who died carrying out the work of the Revolution were officially grouped into the social category of “martyr” or “revolutionary martyr” (liet si) (fig. 2.1). The construction of this category represented an innovation by the state. Like hi sinh, the word liet si predated the revolutionary era. Party officials, however, recast it semantically to indicate those who had died for the Revolution
SUPPORTING THE WAR EFFORT
In 1959, the North Vietnamese leadership began the struggle to reunite Vietnam. Over the next five years, the government sent tens of thousands of infiltrators to the South, and combat slowly increased. In February 1965, the United States began its Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam, marking America's definitive commitment to the war in Vietnam. Although many North Vietnamese had died in combat in the years leading up to 1965, their numbers increased significantly afterward. As a result, the government began instituting a number of new policies and practices to prevent its efforts to glorify and ennoble people's sacrifices from seeming hollow and to display its gratitude and appreciation for those who had given their lives in battle.
One of the first steps taken by the government in this period was the modification of the structure of public administration and official policies to make them more responsive to the needs of those who had family members in the military. When the government established the original structure of commune-level rural administration in 1945, one of the five
Government policies toward these families also changed. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the government had instituted the collectivization of agriculture across the North. Officials recognized that having a child serving in the military represented the loss of a high-quality laborer for the family; therefore, the government instructed local agricultural cooperatives to provide policy families with increased food rations. For many families, the policy family designation ended when their son or husband returned home from the war. For the less fortunate who were killed or maimed while fighting in the military, the designation remained in place, and their family continued to benefit from government support. The families of war dead (gia dinh liet si) in particular received a number of special dispensations not available to others. Among benefits that were extremely important in the years before the 1986 introduction of the Renovation (Doi Moi) policy were preferential admissions to hospitals for members of their families, priority status for entering schools
Beyond instituting policies that cared for those with relatives in the military, the government also expanded its ceremonial corpus to recognize those who fought and died. As early as 1947, when the government declared July 27 as War Invalids and Martyrs Day (Ngay Thuong Binh Liet Si), the government began publicly commemorating war dead. This holiday, irregularly organized in the late 1950s and early 1960s, became an annual occurrence starting in 1967. On this day, government officials held ceremonies in which they mourned the fallen soldiers and expressed their gratitude, with both speeches and possibly small gifts, for the families of martyrs. The memories of the war dead's singular contributions were also kept alive through the creation of exclusive ceremonies or the delineation of special areas in local cemeteries reserved for war dead. If a martyr's corpse was returned, it was to be buried in this cemetery; in keeping with the revolutionary campaign to simplify funeral rites that had begun in 1954, a small headstone that recorded the deceased's name, rank, and death date was placed on it. Officials mandated that these cemeteries should not be neglected or divorced from everyday social life. Regulations from Ninh Binh Province noted that “everyone has the responsibility to protect and care for the martyrs'
Figure 2.2. Tam Nong District Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Phu Tho. The column reads “The Fatherland Remembers Your Sacrifice.” Photograph by Natalia Puchalt.
The most important ceremonial innovation by the government in this period was the creation of an official memorial service for war dead (le truy dieu). This new ceremony represented an effort by the state to individually recognize the sacrifice of those who died in battle. Its structure is worth examining in detail. The organizational process for the official service was set in motion by the receipt of official confirmation of a soldier's death by the People's Committee of his native commune. Official word was vital because the ceremony could only be performed for those the military recognized as martyrs. In Thinh Liet, receipt of the
The government's memorial ceremony, like regular funerary ceremonies, took place in the home of the fallen soldier. In Thinh Liet commune, it was generally held at two o'clock in the afternoon and lasted for one hour. Unlike a regular funeral in which mourning attire was worn, the family and their guests dressed in their normal clothing. The official presence at the ceremony was extensive. The communal administration was represented by the president of the People's Committee, the village militia commander and the social policy officer. The agricultural cooperative was represented by the chairman. The party was represented by the secretary of the commune's party cell, the secretary of the residential cell in which the family resided, and at least one person from each of the party's mass organizations, such as the Women's Association or the Youth Association. On some occasions every member of the executive committees of the administration and the party cell were also in attendance. Beyond the official personnel, the ceremony was also heavily attended by kin, friends, and covillagers.
The social policy officer presided over the official ceremony. He brought a bouquet of white tuberoses (hoa hue) to the ceremony (white is a mourning color in Vietnam, and tuberoses are commonly featured in funerary ceremonies). When the delegation of officials arrived at the late soldier's home, the flowers were placed on an altar constructed for the dead soldier. After one minute of silence, the policy officer began the eulogy of the fallen soldier. The purpose of his visit, he stated, was to officially commemorate both the person and the sacrifice of the soldier. The soldier had selflessly sacrificed his life (hi sinh) so the war effort could succeed. The nobility of the soldier's death was reiterated in the standardized statement the policy officer then read:
In our people's glorious revolutionary effort against the Americans to rescue the nation, Comrade [the soldier's full name] has with his comrades-in-arms raised up the spirit of struggle, surpassed all difficulties and hardships to carry― 57 ―out the responsibilities of his unit, and sacrificed his life on (day, month, year).
The cadres and soldiers of the unit are infinitely sorrowful and proud to have had a person united in will, a comrade-in-arms, who has offered up[cong hien] his life in the struggle for an independent and free country; who swore to never stop raising up the will to fight and the strength to eliminate the enemy; who brought forth all his spirit and strength to carry on to victory in the war of national salvation against the Americans and to fulfill all the responsibilities that the party, government, and the people gave him.
Dear family members:
Comrade [soldier's name] has left us. The fatherland and people have lost a loyal and faithful child. His unit has lost a person united in will, a comrade-in-arms. His family has lost a loved one. All of the cadres and soldiers of the unit respectfully send their wishes and ask to “divide the sadness” with the family. They hope that the family will turn its grief into activity for the revolution, strengthen their hatred for the American enemy and their lackeys, and with the rest of the people and soldiers firmly resolve to realize the sacred words from President Ho's will, “Resolve to completely defeat the American enemy,” to protect the North, liberate the South, and unite the fatherland.
By organizing the ceremony, the government gave thanks to the family for its sacrifice. The grief of the families was evident during the ceremony. Even though the memorial service often occurred some time after the soldier's death, people wept openly throughout.
Following his speech, the policy officer delivered three items to the soldier's family that formalized the state's recognition of the soldier's sacrifice. The family first received a government-issued “death announcement” (giay bao tu). This began with the statement “We very regretfully declare and confirm” and was followed by the soldier's name, rank, and unit. The form also noted if the soldier had been “sacrificed.” Other important information included the date of death, place of death, place of burial, and, if it were the case, confirmation that certified the soldier was a revolutionary martyr. Although these categories were helpful, the information on them was sometimes extremely vague. In some cases they noted only that the soldier had died in the South in the struggle against the Americans and that his unit had buried his body near the front. Still, this certificate was necessary for future interactions with the local administration and government bureaucracy. The family was also given a certificate, approximately twelve by fifteen inches, upon which was inscribed in large red lettering, To Quoc Ghi Cong, literally rendered as “The Land of the Ancestors Records Your Work,” but perhaps more accurately translated as “The Fatherland Remembers Your Sacrifice.” This certificate recorded the name, natal commune, and death
The Vietnamese state went to great lengths to ensure that its claims regarding the glory and nobility of suffering and dying for the cause were compelling. It not only glorified those who suffered and died in public discourse but also created a range of new public ceremonies that expressed the honor and nobility of those actions. For many Vietnamese, these ideas and ceremonies were indeed compelling. People described dying for the country as an “honor” (vinh du). Relatives of those killed in battle often employ the verb cong hien, which in effect means to give something up to something greater than oneself, to describe their family's sacrifice. People gave up their lives to ensure Vietnam's independence and freedom or, as one veteran stated, “to bring back happiness and comfort to the people.” Official commemoration, however, was exclusively dedicated to the glorification and ennoblement of the cause. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was officially an atheist state that rejected any notions of the supernatural; thus nowhere in the ceremonies was there reference to the ultimate fate of the soul or other existential anxieties that war death could produce.
THE DILEMMAS OF WAR DEATH
It is difficult to describe the extent of the trauma and violence experienced by the North Vietnamese during the American War. For both combatants and noncombatants alike, the war was a period of relentless fear and intense anguish. Parents agonized when their sons went off to fight, knowing that they would probably never return, while the soldiers, stuck in the malarial jungles and forests of southern and central Vietnam,
In addition to the obvious grief and anguish caused by losing a loved one, the death of soldiers in battle presented a number of powerful cultural dilemmas for the Vietnamese. Death is not a taboo subject in Vietnamese social life. People talk about it openly, sometimes in surprising ways. When an elderly person is about to die, family members often go to the homes of friends, neighbors, and relatives and candidly say, “Grandmother [or grandfather] is about to die,” and then invite them to the house to be there when she dies. Nevertheless, local conceptions distinguish between good and bad deaths. A good death has a number of features. Being advanced in years, having many children as survivors, dying quickly and painlessly, having one's corpse complete, and dying at home all constitute a favorable end because they readily facilitate the most important concern following death, the passage of the deceased's soul from this world to what the Vietnamese call the “otherworld” (the gioi khac). When a person dies, his or her soul leaves its corporeal form and begins to wander the area near the corpse. The soul is not yet aware that the body is dead (this recognition will not come for several days). If it is in a familiar place, such as its home or near its family's ancestral altar, and has not died in a violent manner, it calmly stays near the scene. After this, family members can begin the funeral rites that will send it on its way to the otherworld. These will be carried out at the family ancestral altar, the portal through which the soul begins its passage. If the rites are correctly performed, the soul will move to the otherworld to become a benevolent family ancestor who will care for the family and reciprocally be cared for by those it left behind.
A bad death includes such factors as dying young, childless, violently, away from home, and/or in such a manner that the corpse is mutilated
The deaths of soldiers in combat often involved every possible dimension of a bad death. Young, childless men died painful, violent deaths, usually hundreds of miles from home. The corpses of many remained intact to be buried by their comrades, but, as the author Bao Ninh describes in his novel of the American conflict, The Sorrow of War, others “had been totally vaporised, or blasted into such small pieces that their remains had long been liquidised into mud.” Some were buried by their comrades with simple rites, often in makeshift graves with no permanent altars, while others were never buried and had no funerary rites performed for them. All these deaths had the potential to create an
FAMILY COMMEMORATION OF WAR DEAD
When soldiers left their training areas for the front, the prospect of death was immediate. North Vietnamese soldiers generally traveled to the front on foot, trekking several hundred miles through the dangerous trails and malarial jungles of the Central Highlands. This region, known to the Vietnamese as the Truong Son (Long Mountain) range, included in its western salient the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Through this thin, rugged, and sparsely inhabited stretch of central Vietnam and southern Laos, thousands of soldiers and countless tons of war mate´riel passed, all under the imminent threat of American air strikes devoted to interdicting the flow of human traffic through the region. Beyond the military casualties, soldiers died of disease, accidents, and even attacks by local wildlife. When a soldier was killed, his unit was responsible for reporting the cause of death and burying the corpse. Military units usually had soldiers attached to them who were in charge of the war dead. After they had discharged their duties, the family was then to be informed of the soldier's passing.
Official confirmation that a soldier had been killed while serving in the military was notoriously slow in coming, sometimes taking years to arrive. To give one example, on October 4, 1971, Nguyen Tien Dat of Giap Tu died in an American air strike on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, yet his family did not receive official notification until May 7, 1974. Delays in notification frequently were caused by poor communications within and between military units, and with the rear areas, although some Vietnamese speculate that the party deliberately delayed notification to keep
The death of a young soldier in battle, in addition to creating a number of anxieties regarding the ultimate disposition of his soul, also complicated the performance of funerary rites for him. Conventional Vietnamese funerary rites, including even the extremely simplified reformed rites propagated by the party after 1954, function under two guiding assumptions: first, that the deceased will generally have surviving children; and second, that the deceased's corpse will be physically present
The deaths of soldiers during the American War necessitated the performance of thousands of funerary rites in which the deceased's corpse was absent. In Thinh Liet, virtually no corpses were returned; this is the main reason that the commune does not have a cemetery for war dead. One common form for these rites in Thinh Liet was a private ceremony arranged by families and known as a le tu niem or le tuong niem. This type of funeral, which can be glossed as a “remembrance of the dead,” was organizationally distinct from the regular funeral held under normal circumstances; its defining characteristic was its modest, familial nature. Funerals typically mobilized people and resources throughout the village; the remembrance ceremony was a family affair in which only a restricted number of family and close kin were present. Funerals also adhered to a lengthy and complex set of rites that began immediately after death. The remembrance ceremony was a simple affair that lasted only a few hours. It was also generally held several days after a family learned of their loved one's death, whereas normal funerary activities began immediately after death. Both events, however, were united in their objective of giving succor to the deceased's soul and helping it make its transition to the otherworld.
When the news of a soldier's death initially arrived, the first task was to set up a funeral altar to commemorate the deceased. These altars were always set up in the home of the deceased's parents and arranged in the
News that a native son had been killed in the war spread quickly throughout the village. The ubiquitous kinship ties between covillagers facilitated this transmission, but a sense of shared experience, perhaps even commiseration, in the face of war and its consequences produced a heightened sense of togetherness that was accentuated when a local villager was killed. Almost all families had or knew someone serving in the military, and everyone knew that next time the loss might be theirs. The news of death therefore disseminated rapidly, and village families were quick to demonstrate their sympathy for the aggrieved family. Just as they would in a normal village funeral, kin and covillagers went to the house of the deceased to express their condolences and “divide the sadness” (chia buon) of the bereaved family. Upon entering the deceased's home they would light three incense sticks, which they had brought, say a brief prayer, and place the sticks in the incense urn on the altar. Their visit gave public expression to their sympathy, simultaneously helping the grieving to cope with their loss and providing a testament to the dignity and esteem of the deceased and his death. What was most remarkable about these visits was their singularly affective nature. Virtually every village family would send at least one representative to visit the family of the deceased soldier to express their condolences. Many sent more. When they arrived, however, they brought no gifts. They were not reciprocating former debts incurred during their own family funerals, nor were they sealing a future obligation with a material prestation. These visits fell beyond the purview of “exchanging debts through eating and drinking” that characterized all other funerary
Village families continued to pay visits to the deceased's family for several days after the news first arrived. During these days the home was full of people, but the family's sobbing was still audible in neighboring homes. At about the same time as the number of visitors began to tail off, the family performed the “remembrance of the dead” ceremony, which was always organized in the home of the deceased's family. All immediate family members who could attend were present, as well as a small number of other close relations. The ceremony usually took place in the daytime. Prior to its conduct, family members would go through the normal preparations that preceded family rituals: cleaning the house and the family altar and purchasing any ritual items, such as incense, that would be used in the ceremony. They would also prepare a nice set of clothes for the event. Family members wore their everyday clothing during the ceremony; the elaborate mourning attire of regular funerals, such as gauzy white tunics and peaked cheesecloth caps, was absent. The only items of standard funeral attire visible at the ceremony were the white mourning headbands worn by those junior to the deceased.
All the rites in the remembrance ceremony were carried out before the altar constructed for the deceased. As in other Vietnamese mortuary rites, the purpose of the ceremony was to propitiate the soul of the deceased so it could rest in peace in the otherworld. The ceremony began with the entire family assembled on the floor in front of the altar to say prayers (khan) for the deceased's soul. Straw mats had been laid on the floor, and the senior members of the family, with the mother and father placed in the most prized positions nearest the altar, were seated in the front of the group. The task of inviting the deceased's soul back to the home was given to a senior male, usually an uncle or greatuncle, from the deceased's patriline. Standing before the altar, the man repeated the invocations to bring the soul home. Once these were completed, and the soul successfully installed in the altar, the family members individually performed a brief reverence of the spirit. Clasping three incense sticks, each person would stand and kowtow before the altar one, three, or five times. These prayers and obeisances were somewhat nonspecific, yet they were dedicated to ensuring the general wellbeing of the soul in the
The second phase of the ceremony involved the direct propitiation of the soul (cung). Apart from the simple act of helping the soul make its transition to the otherworld, the remembrance ceremony was also dedicated to providing specific items, such as food, clothing, or money, that the deceased could use there. Prior to the ceremony, paper votive objects (hang ma) that symbolized clothing or money were placed on the altar along with an array of food items. After the initial prayers were said, one person assumed responsibility for propitiating the deceased's soul with the objective of delivering these items to the deceased in the otherworld. A spirit priest (thay cung) assumed this role in some house-holds, but since the Revolution endeavored to eliminate all rites performed by spirit priests and placed them under official surveillance, some families instead chose a younger sibling of the deceased. The choice of a younger sibling was linked to the prohibition against genealogically senior family members propitiating their juniors. The propitiator knelt on the floor before the altar and said prayers to entreat the deceased's soul to accept the assembled items. The food items were transmitted through the smoke from the incense burning on the altar. To deliver the money or clothing, family members took the paper items outside and covertly burned them in the family compound, allowing their substance to travel to the otherworld through the smoke. Although this practice was considered “superstitious” and prohibited by the party, many families still burned these items. When these rites concluded, the deceased's soul had been provisioned for life in the otherworld. It had also been installed in the family altar and thenceforth would always be propitiated there.
The prayers and offerings to the deceased's soul usually did not exceed one hour. The remembrance ceremony then concluded with the family members and guests sharing a meal to commemorate the deceased. The foods were simple meat and vegetable dishes, a selection partially determined by wartime scarcity. When the rites were over, the food offered to the deceased was taken off the altar. It was then placed on trays with other dishes, and the assembled group ate the dishes together, usually sitting on the mats laid out on the floor before the altar. This private family meal was the only occasion in which the consumption of food was involved in commemorating the death of a soldier. Unlike funerals, which sometimes featured grand feasts that lasted for days, the remembrance ceremony included no feast. As such, there was
THE COMMEMORATIVE PROJECT TODAY
The reunification of Vietnam in 1975 did not mark the end of official efforts to commemorate war dead. Soon after the war was over, the government began commissioning the construction of monuments for war dead (dai liet si) in localities across Vietnam. These monuments are now visible in nearly every commune and district. Often tall spires adorned with a red or gold star at their apex, and the words “The Fatherland Remembers Your Sacrifice” or “Eternally Remember the Debt to the Martyrs” written across the base, they provide continued public testimony to those who gave their lives for the nation. The most spectacular monument for war dead, completed in 1995, now sits directly across from Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square (fig. 2.3). The irony of this nationwide commemorative effort is the fact that it excludes those who died while serving in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Like their North Vietnamese counterparts, thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers died in battle during the war years. Although in the pre-1975 period the southern government constructed its own monuments and cemeteries to commemorate its dead, these were removed after the unification of the country in 1975 (fig. 2.4). As a result, when one sees monuments to war dead in contemporary southern or central Vietnam, they commemorate those who fell fighting the French or fighting for the North. Those who died fighting for the South have effectively disappeared from official discourse. The needs of their family members are no less pressing than those in the North, but the state has not dedicated itself to glorifying or remembering them.
In nearly all northern communes today, the administration organizes a ceremony for the local war dead on War Invalids and Martyrs Day. Led by the president of the commune's People's Committee and assisted by the social policy officer, the party and administration reiterate their thanks and appreciation to those who have sacrificed themselves, and restate the glory and nobility of what they have done. When the speeches are completed, the families of war dead receive a small gift, such as
Figure 2.3. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum seen through the Shrine to the Unknown Soldier, Hanoi. Photograph by Natalia Puchalt.
Figure 2.4. ARVN cemetery, Ho Chi-Minh City, razed after 1975. Photograph by Hue-Tam Ho Tai.
The main commemorative ceremony for families remains the soldier's death anniversary. Up until the mid-1980s, wartime scarcities and government regulations prohibiting largescale death anniversary ceremonies restricted their size. Over the past decade, families have begun to organize everlarger ceremonies. Today, an average death anniversary ceremony will feature a communal meal for fifty to sixty people. It begins with rites dedicated to caring for the dead soldier's soul, similar to those performed during the commemoration of the dead ceremony. The ceremony is always conducted before the altar in the home of the deceased's parents, the soul is invited back and propitiated, and some votive paper items, such as money or clothes, may be burned for the soul's use in the otherworld. The main participants are also close family members. If the soldier was survived by his widow, she will participate in these rites at her in-laws'home. Almost all widows of war dead in Thinh Liet commune remain in the home of their husband's parents, particularly if they have children, and almost never remarry; doing so is considered an act of infidelity to the late husband. Despite their social importance, in Vietnamese villages, patrilineages have assumed no ritual role in commemorating war dead. The rites remain firmly with the husband's immediate family. Once the rites are concluded, a communal meal is held for the
In recent years, other methods of commemorating and caring for the souls of war dead have emerged. A number of Thinh Liet families have installed the souls of dead soldiers in the local Buddhist temple. The virtue of installing the soul there is that it receives care and sustenance from all ceremonies conducted in the temple. Such souls are said to “eat of the Buddha's good fortune” (an may cua Phat) and will not be left uncared for if there are no more family members to conduct rites. A nun at the temple claims that several dozen families have done this, though the figures are disputed by some local residents and are impossible to verify. Families who perform this rite will later conduct a ceremony at the temple on every death anniversary and will also participate in ceremonies for dead souls at the temple in the first two weeks of the seventh lunar month.
The most remarkable form of commemoration to emerge in Thinh Liet was the dedication of an altar to war dead in the communal house of Giap Tu village. This communal house had been destroyed during a battle with French soldiers in February 1947, producing a great deal of later conflict over which spirits inhabited it. When the house was refurbished in the late 1980s, local men decided it was appropriate for villagers to pay respects to local war dead there. This movement reached its zenith on the eleventh of the first lunar month in 1992, the lunar year anniversary of the aforementioned battle, when local villagers conducted a ceremony to propitiate the souls of eleven local guerrillas who had died that day. The ceremony featured trays of offerings as well as a moving eulogy by the son of one of those killed. The organizers, mostly older men, hoped the ceremony would become an annual event, but resistance mounted, particularly among older women. They felt that while villagers should propitiate war dead, the communal house was not the appropriate venue. As a result, the ceremony was never organized on a large scale again. In early 1996, the altar for war dead in the communal house was rededicated to the spirit of the land (tho dat) on which the communal house sits. For a short period afterward, some villagers continued to pay their respects to the war dead in the communal house, particularly on the battle's anniversary, but public rituals stopped. In 1997, the village succeeded in raising enough money to construct a small monument dedicated to the village's war dead. This monument, which records the name of every Giap Tu soldier who died in battle, as well as the names of a number of “Heroic Vietnamese Mothers” (“Ba Me Viet
The problem of war dead in Vietnam persists to this day, especially for those whose loved one's remains have never been recovered. The number of the missing apparently runs into the hundreds of thousands. Many families continue to organize trips to southern and central Vietnam to search for remains. In early 1996, for example, the skeletons of two soldiers were brought back to Thinh Liet commune and buried in the local cemetery near their mothers. Given the widespread practice of secondary burial three years after the initial burial—when the coffin is opened, the bones cleaned and transferred to a large urn, and the urn buried in a different location—the local ritual corpus is well suited to putting the soldiers to their final rest. Concern with finding soldiers'remains is visible in the public media as well. Vietnamese television has broadcast a number of shows that followed both family and military efforts to locate remains. The magazine The New World (The Gioi Moi)even published an article in October 1996 that described a “new method for finding the burial place of soldiers.” This was a form of divination in which a family member placed one chopstick in the ground and tried to balance an egg on top of it. If the egg did not fall, the deceased's remains were directly below. This method was apparently successful in locating the remains of several soldiers, including one who had been missing since December 1946. The Ministry of Labor and War Invalids and the Central Committee for War Veterans also publish War Veterans of Vietnam (Cuu Chien Binh Viet Nam), a magazine dedicated to circulating information regarding the location of war dead and their graves. Nevertheless, accurate knowledge is often difficult to find, and several trips by Thinh Liet families have been unsuccessful.
Anthropological research has shown that mortuary rites in virtually all societies contain the idea that death is transient and that such rites allow the deceased to be reborn into a new community and existence. Drawing on the work of the French sociologist Robert Hertz, Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry have concluded that at the end of mortuary rites, “the collectivity emerges triumphant over death” while the soul is transferred “from one social order to another (albeit imaginary) order.” What is most distinctive about the death of soldiers in contemporary Thinh Liet
The existence of two distinct communities of remembrance based on the same subject has a number of historical parallels. After Lenin's death, the Soviet Communist Party attempted to create a secular cult surrounding his person that would serve to unify the people, yet for many Russians, Lenin was absorbed into the community of saints and heroes of Russian history and commemorated as such. The Vietnamese Communist Party attempted to construct a similar cult around the person of Ho Chi Minh, but in early 1996 it disbanded a cult in a northern province that worshiped Ho as the nineteenth king of Vietnam's mythical first dynasty, the Hung kings. Conversely, the government in contemporary Japan tries to assert that the commemoration of dead soldiers at the Yasukuni shrine is a simple act of gratitude for the fallen, whereas for many rightwing groups and financial supporters, the rites held at the shrine are a celebration of the Japanese empire. What is notable in each of these cases is that the deceased and the rituals associated with them are used to make specific claims about the nature of the social world, be it the necessity of political unity, the glory of empire, or the simple need to put the dead to rest.
The existence of two distinct communities of remembrance around war dead in Thinh Liet does not imply any incommensurability between the two communities or the popular rejection of the state's assertions. To return to the language used by Mark Bradley, we do not see in Thinh Liet the formation of “counter-memory” in these rites. Instead, people
1. See Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Introduction, this volume. [BACK]
2. The North Vietnamese state's agenda accords with the actions of other nations. With the rise of the nation-state, the glorification of dead soldiers and war death through tombs of unknown soldiers, military funerals, memorial days, shrines for war dead, and other commemorative sites and activities has grown more elaborate. For examples, see Helen Hardacre, Shinto and the State, 1868–1988 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989); Eric Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870–1914,” in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 263–307; Bruce Kapferer, Legends of People, Myths of State (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988); George L. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); and Nina Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead (New York: Basic Books, 1994). [BACK]
3. Thinh Liet commune is located approximately ten kilometers south of the center of Hanoi and is composed of the three villages of Giap Nhat, Giap Nhi, and Giap Tu. I conducted field research there from March 1991 to August 1992, from December 1993 to February 1994, and in July 1996 and July 1998. [BACK]
4. See Mark Bradley, this volume. [BACK]
5. Elements of resistance to state commemorative rites can be seen in the Vietnamese case in Shaun Kingsley Malarney, “The Limits of ‘State Functionalism'and the Reconstruction of Funerary Ritual in Contemporary Northern Vietnam,” American Ethnologist 23 (August 1996): 540–60; or, in the Chinese case, in Rubie Watson, ed., Memory, History, and Opposition under State Socialism (Sante Fe, N.M.: School of American Research Press, 1994). [BACK]
6. Douglas Pike, PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam (New York: Da Capo Press, 1986), 13. [BACK]
7. Ibid., 28ff. [BACK]
8. Vietnam, Institute of Philosophy, Dang Ta Ban Ve Dao Duc [Our Party Discusses Ethics] (Hanoi: Uy Ban Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi Viet Nam, 1973), 269. [BACK]
9. Ibid., 289. [BACK]
10. Dang Chan Lieu and Le Kha Ke, Tu Dien Viet-Anh: Vietnamese-English Dictionary (Hanoi: NXB Uy Ban Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1971), 371. [BACK]
11. Vietnam, Dang Ta, 275. [BACK]
12. Ibid., 272. [BACK]
13. Ibid., 275. [BACK]
14. Ibid. [BACK]
15. Ibid. [BACK]
16. Nguyen Q. Thang and Nguyen Ba The, Tu Dien Nhan Vat Lich Su Viet Nam [Dictionary of Vietnamese Historical Figures] (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1991), 269. [BACK]
17. Ho Chi Minh quoted in Pike, PAVN, 313. [BACK]
18. Translation of the term pho ban chinh sach xa is difficult because technically, by designating the official as a “deputy” (pho), there would be a corresponding superior. However, this was not the case with this position. Since the position was devoted exclusively to the government's social policies for families with members in the military, I have chosen to translate it as “social policy officer” in order to reduce confusion. [BACK]
19. The militia commander had a number of important responsibilities during this period, including organizing a local militia composed of men who were not serving in the military, ensuring that young people entered the military, and propagandizing about the honor of military service. It is important to note, however, that at least at the beginning of the American War, the military still enjoyed tremendous prestige. Part of this derived from its defeat of the French, but it had also been augmented by its high profile in postwar reconstruction. Phillip B. Davidson, Vietnam at War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 284. [BACK]
20. See also Pike, PAVN, 315. [BACK]
21. Ibid., 318. [BACK]
22. For a discussion of the revolutionary reforms of funerals, see Malarney, “The Limits of ‘State Functionalism.'” [BACK]
23. Ninh Binh, Cultural Service, Cong Tac Xay Dung Nep Song Moi, Con Nguoi Moi va Gia Dinh Tien Tien Chong My, Cuu Nuoc [The Task of Building the New Ways, the New Person and the Progressive Family in the War of National Salvation Against the Americans] (Ninh Binh: Ty Van Hoa Ninh Binh, 1968), 64. [BACK]
24. Ibid. [BACK]
25. Government of Vietnam, Nhung Van Ban ve Viec Cuoi, Viec Tang, Ngay Gio, Ngay Hoi [Documents on Weddings, Funerals, Death Anniversary and Public Festivals] (Hanoi: NXB Van Hoa, 1979), 24. [BACK]
26. Those who died but were not martyrs would also receive these certificates. [BACK]
27. Rendering the expression to quoc in English is difficult because literally it can be read as the ancestors'land or country, but it can also be fairly translated
28. The example of vinh du in a Hanoipublished dictionary reads, “Hi sinh cho To quoc la mot vinh du: It is an honour to lay down one's life for the fatherland” (Dang and Le, Tu Dien Viet-Anh, 762). [BACK]
29. See Arthur P. Wolf “Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors,” in Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society, ed. Arthur P. Wolf (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1974), 131–82. [BACK]
30. In cases in which a young person dies but is thought to be of particular sacred potency, an altar might be built inside the family home to worship that spirit and bring its blessings onto the family. In Thinh Liet commune, no such altars have been built for dead soldiers. Concern about the depredations of wandering malevolent spirits is evident in the placement of a tray with bowls of rice porridge outside of the home during all funeral rites. This practice feeds the wandering ghosts but keeps them outside of the home and ancestral altar. [BACK]
31. If a person dies outside of the home, the corpse and casket cannot be brought into the home, and all rites must be conducted in another location. Dying outside the home is such a concern that terminally ill Vietnamese are often granted permission to leave the hospital so they can return home to die. [BACK]
32. This concern for the wholeness of the corpse is seen in other mortuary rites, such as the obsessive concern shown during the secondary burial ceremony (cai tang) to collect the deceased's every bone, including all hand, finger, and toe bones. [BACK]
33. Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War (London: Secker and Warburg, 1991), 21. [BACK]
34. One interesting question raised by these innovative rites is why, given Vietnam's long history of warfare, they did not emerge earlier. Given a lack of historical materials on the subject, no answer can be given. [BACK]
35. The Vietnamese government has never released figures for the number of its soldiers killed in the American War. During the war years, Vietnamese had no precise knowledge of the number of their soldiers killed. Conversely, the government did publish grossly exaggerated figures for the number of Americans killed during the war; such figures were prominently displayed in the Army Museum in Hanoi. [BACK]
36. See, for example, Toan Anh, Nep Cu: Tin Nguong Viet Nam, vol. 1(Saigon: Hoa Dang, 1969), 62–63. [BACK]
37. See Malarney “The Limits of ‘State Functionalism,'” for a fuller discussion. [BACK]
38. Paper votive objects were not present in all ceremonies because the government suppressed their production. Some families still used them, despite official regulations. Food items, however, were universally present. [BACK]
39. See Shaun Kingsley Malarney, “Ritual and Revolution in Viet Nam” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1993), 308–59. [BACK]
40. The fifteenth of the seventh lunar month is the Vietnamese All Soul's Day. [BACK]
41. Such spirits can also be described with the term tho dia, in which the
42. One number frequently mentioned is three hundred thousand missing, but this can never be verified. [BACK]
43. Xuan Cang and Ly Dang Cao, “Tim Mo Liet Si bang Phuong Phap Moi?” [“Discovering the Graves of War Dead by a New Method?”], The Gioi Moi, October 1996, 8–11. [BACK]
44. Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry, “Introduction,” in Death and the Regeneration of Life, ed. Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 4. [BACK]
45. See Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983). [BACK]
46. See Shaun Kingsley Malarney, “The Emergent Cult of Ho Chi Minh? A Report on Religious Innovation in Contemporary Northern Viet Nam,” Asian Cultural Studies 22 (1996): 121–31. [BACK]
Revolution and Its Tutelary Spirit
in the Village of My Hoa Hung
Like Peter Zinoman's and Shaun Malarney's studies in this volume, this chapter focuses on one particular commemorative practice employed by the Communist Party–dominated state in Vietnam to satisfy its need for appropriate self-representation and to shape and control the ways in which the past is remembered. But whereas the commemorative messages in highly selective and stylized prison memoirs analyzed by Zinoman and in official ceremonies for the war dead discussed by Malarney seem, at least superficially, to possess an internal consistency, it is inconsistency in message and form that appears at first sight in the object of this investigation. The commemoration in his native place of Ton Duc Thang (1888–1980), one of Vietnam's most prominent Communist revolutionaries, a southerner who became the country's second president, contains an ostensible paradox. It can be found in the fact that the remembrance by the Party of one of its heroes has taken on openly religious forms since the mid to late 1980s. Put differently, a paradox suggests itself when, under a selfproclaimed secular, even areligious political regime, the childhood home of this highranking Communist in My Hoa Hung village in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang has been turned into a shrine where popular rituals of hero spirit worship are performed.
Closely tied to the shrine of Ton Duc Thang are several museum exhibits in the south of Vietnam that present versions of the life of this leading public persona. These historical displays not only are
First, religious or quasireligious forms of popular or stateled veneration of revolutionary heroes are by no means a new phenomenon— one might only mention the widespread talismanic use of renderings of Mao Zedong's image among Chinese—and have been observed in East and Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. But especially in the last case, too little attention has been paid thus far to explaining the social conditions in which these worshiping practices appear, or the ideological-cultural concepts that undergird them and lend these rituals their meanings (and would steer us away from superficially seeing them as paradox).
Second, the analytical or theoretical tools of international debates, for example, in museology, while generally useful, possess certain limitations in describing historical representation and museum projects in Vietnam. Again, an attempt should be made to understand more from “within” how local Vietnamese contexts have shaped the specific forms in which these exhibits have appeared.
Third, with the growing interest in issues such as historical memory, commemorations, the “invention of tradition” (to refer to Hobsbawm), public ceremonies, symbols, and the (re)fashioning of historic sites—in Vietnam and elsewhere—what has tended to become emphasized are disjunctures, shifts, contestations, and tensions, discursive and otherwise. While these foci certainly can yield important insights and help undermine longheld assumptions, they have been remarkably weak in constructing counterarguments of an explanatory inclusiveness. In the case of the socalled Commemorative Area for Ton Duc Thang in An Giang, an analysis of the shrine and the adjacent museum can easily— and legitimately—demonstrate the stark contrast between the two structures, their inherent contradictions vis-à-vis the revolutionary master script of Marxian provenance, or the multiplicity of contending voices and signs. In this chapter, however, I want to move beyond the uncovering of tensions and instead propose a view—one view—of the Ton Duc Thang worship in which its various elements, far from being paradoxical, might merge into a culturally coherent and intelligible message, with the shrine providing the form and the museum exhibit its contents.
In the end, I will propose that such an integrated commemorative statement, veiled as it might manifest itself at the Ton Duc Thang shrine, needs to be read within its proper regional context. The southern museum-shrine—itself an instrument of official memory construction— seeks to modify and even subtly critique the predominant representations of revolution and war emanating from the North. This last aspect of my argument points to critical differences among the three studies in this volume that are otherwise related in their focus on commemoration by the Communist state. For example, Peter Zinoman does more than Malarney and myself in analyzing the narrative strategies and conventions built into a particular commemorative genre, and how such a customized version of revolution “worked” in the interest of the state leadership. More so than Zinoman and myself, Shaun Malarney is concerned with the popular reception (emendation, supplementation) of such stateinitiated practices—a perspective largely absent from this chapter because, as I will argue, Ton Duc Thang's shrine does not target the local population as its primary audience. Rather, my chapter shows that stateorganized commemoration in Vietnam is not a unified or uniform project, but that even official interpretations of the commemorated past vary in space and time; that is, they are subject to important regional and generational differences. In this sense, Ton Duc Thang's museum-shrine can be seen as an intervention in a debate where, despite its muted and hidden nature, nothing less is at stake than the selfidentity of the revolutionary camp.
In 1887, Ton Duc Thang's parents, Ton Van De (d. 1938) and Nguyen Thi Di (d. 1947), built a house in the hamlet of My An, which belongs to the village of My Hoa Hung. The village is situated on Ong Ho island in the lower Mekong River, just four kilometers from Long Xuyen, the commercial and administrative center of An Giang province. Ton Duc Thang, born in 1888, was the couple's first child. Being a boy, he was tutored, probably from 1897 at the latest to about 1901, by a private teacher in Long Xuyen, who likely had contacts with the famed anticolonialist Phan Boi Chau (when the latter came to An Giang in 1902to recruit for his Eastern Travel Movement [Phong Trao Dong Du]) and, later on, with the anti-French conspiracy of 1916 under emperor Duy Tan. Ton Duc Thang's commemorators in An Giang stress the great influence of this fervent anticolonialist teacher on Ton Duc Thang's early politicization. Ton Duc Thang received instruction in the Chinese script
We do not know how frequently Ton Duc Thang returned to his childhood home between 1906 and 1929, the beginning of his sixteen years of imprisonment under the French. In fact, as is the case with many other aspects of his biography, little of a concrete nature can be said at all about this period of his life. From 1906 to 1915, Ton Duc Thang allegedly became a worker in Saigon and was involved in several early protest strikes there. Records show that he was admitted to Indochina's only vocational school, the Saigon School for Asian Mechanics (Ecole des me´caniciens asiatiques de Saı¨gon), in 1915, but left a year later for metropolitan wartime service at the naval arsenal in the southern French port of Toulon.
His sojourn as a navy mechanic in France lasted from 1916 to 1920. During that time Ton Duc Thang is said to have accomplished his most famous revolutionary deed. In late 1918, France sent a flotilla to the Black Sea as part of the Allied entry into the Russian civil war on the side of “white,” counterrevolutionary forces. The anti-Bolshevik intervention collapsed in the spring of 1919 amid widespread mutinies of these French navy units. Ton Duc Thang was not among the French expeditionary force in the Black Sea. But since the late 1940s or early 1950s, Vietnamese Communist propagandists and historians have celebrated him for his active and crucial involvement in the Black Sea mutiny as crew member of a French warship. In defense of Soviet Russia, Ton Duc Thang supposedly even raised a red flag on his naval vessel. This fabricated story has become the basis for propagandistically connecting the Russian and Vietnamese revolutions in an act of imagined ancestry.
Back in Saigon, from 1920 to 1929, Ton Duc Thang apparently was active in early efforts to organize workers. In 1925, he claims to have directed a famous strike of navy shipyard workers, which historian Tran Van Giau subsequently called Vietnam's “first political” walkout. In 1926, he joined the newly formed local branch of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League (Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Mang Dong Chi Hoi, or, in brief, Thanh Nien), a forerunner to the Vietnamese Communist Party, which had been organized the previous year by Nguyen Ai Quoc (later to become Ho Chi Minh) in Guangzhou in southern China. Ton Duc Thang quickly rose in the ranks of the Vietnamese
After his arrest in 1929, Ton Duc Thang would revisit his childhood home only twice. In the wake of the August Revolution of 1945, when the Communistled Viet Minh, the League for the Independence of Vietnam, seized power, and Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), Ton Duc Thang was liberated from sixteen years of incarceration on the infamous Con Dao prison islands in the South China Sea. Shortly thereafter, in November 1945, he made his way to My Hoa Hung to see his old mother. But since he was in danger of being captured by the French, who by then had largely retaken control of the South, he stayed only one night, as the story goes, before making his way north to Hanoi to join the DRV government. Subsequently, the French War (1946–54) broke out, followed by Vietnam's division at the seventeenth parallel, massive American intervention in the 1960s and 1970s, and more, drawnout warfare. And thus Ton Duc Thang's next trip back home would not take place until after the end of the American War, in October 1975, after the de facto unification of the North and the South, when then-president Ton Duc Thang was able to visit his native place one last time.
The thirty years in between those two final visits to his birthplace had seen Ton Duc Thang's rapid rise to political prominence in the DRV, even though his actual influence in the power structure of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) always remained negligible. His leadership of, among others, the National Assembly, the United (later, Fatherland)Front, and the USSR-Vietnam Friendship Association, as well as his vice presidency under Ho Chi Minh after 1960 and his presidency from 1969to his death in 1980, attest to the representational usefulness of Ton Duc Thang for the Communist Party–led state. This can be explained by his seniority—he surpassed all other party leaders in terms of both age and the length of imprisonment under the French—and his unique symbolic value in multiple capacities: as an undisputed proletarian, anticolonial revolutionary, alleged internationalist activist, and a southerner (reinforcing the DRV's claim to authority over all of Vietnam).
In 1984, four years after his death, the Ministry of Culture, upon the suggestion of local cadres, declared Ton Duc Thang's childhood home a culturalhistoric monument. After Ton Duc Thang's brother Ton Duc Nhung (b. 1896) and sister-in-law (b. 1897) both died in 1986, their son's family moved to an adjacent building, and renovations of the original house and the creation of a “commemorative area” (khu luu niem)
In August 1988, in celebration of Ton Duc Thang's hundredth birthday, the commemorative area in My Hoa Hung was solemnly inaugurated.
Ton Duc Thang's childhood home is a rather large structure on pillars, with well over one hundred square meters of living space (fig. 3.1). The house has at least four bedrooms, the main living room, and a spacious porch. Some of the walls show elaborate wood carvings, and the interior is decorated with valuable furniture and several large pieces of lacquer art. The main item on display, in the center of the house and its living room, is an altar with Ton Duc Thang's portrait, electric candles, decorative plants, and incense burners. Behind Ton Duc Thang's altar and standing along a wall is a second altar that can more easily be identified as a traditional place for ancestral veneration. This function is underscored by the display around it of photos of Ton Duc Thang's parents, brother, and sister-in-law. The neatly kept grave sites of these four relatives, which are equally important in Vietnamese practices of ancestral worship, are situated behind the building and consciously drawn into the overall exhibit by way of a wellmaintained, wellmarked path.
The nearby exhibition building (erected about fifty meters from Ton Duc Thang's childhood home) is a large, rectangular concrete structure on pillars standing in water. Its design hardly conveys the impression,
Figure 3.1. The author and Ton Duc Thang's nephew in front of Ton's childhood home and shrine, My Hoa Hung village, An Giang. Photograph by Christoph Giebel.
The exhibit itself consists mainly of pictures tracing Ton Duc Thang's life in chronological manner: from his native place and family, his vocation as a mechanic in Saigon and France, his alleged role in the Black Sea mutiny (symbolized by a painting of a warship with a hoisted red flag), his early revolutionary activities back in Vietnam leading to his arrest, trial, and imprisonment on Con Dao, to his rise to prominence at the side of Ho Chi Minh in the newly independent state, and finally
Overall, the commemorative area in My Hoa Hung serves as a destination point for secular pilgrimages. Since 1988, schools and factories have frequently organized tours to My Hoa Hung, and in the short time span until the Eastern European revolutions of 1989, delegations of “fraternal” East bloc countries paid their respects. Photos of these organized visits are displayed in the museum, and a visitors'album further attests to this function of the site. According to museum personnel, especially around nationally symbolic dates—Ho Chi Minh's and Ton Duc Thang's birthdays, Independence Day—the commemorative area hosts youth camps. During my sojourn in My Hoa Hung, however, the education cadre accompanying me from Hanoi and I remained the only visitors, and my companion's worshiping with incense in front of Ton Duc Thang's altar was the only ritual act I witnessed. None of the local people, in particular, came to the compound. Several staff members were at hand, but they seemed to have few duties. I strongly suspect, though cannot prove, that after a flurry of visits and ceremonies during the initial years, in the 1990s the site has become permanently underutilized and, for considerable stretches of time, practically deserted.
Nevertheless, more so than any other memorial place for Ton Duc Thang, including the Ton Duc Thang Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, My Hoa Hung was conceived to provide the official commemoration of the revolutionary with an immediate spatial quality. Ton Duc Thang's childhood home becomes part of several imaginary maps: reaching back in time, it links up with other popular heroic figures of Vietnamese history, one after the other resisting outside aggression. Reaching out into simultaneous time, it becomes one of the places of origin of the modern Vietnamese revolution where revolutionaries all march in unison. Finally, it becomes part of a global map of revolutionary internationalism and humanism to enhance the national prestige of Vietnam.
As noted earlier, the commemorative area is filled with contrasting images and messages, of which I will mention only a few. For example, Ton Duc Thang's veneration results in the partial superseding of the standard biographical script. In his native place, the official claim that he came from a family of poor peasants is rejected, and no attempt is made to hide that the family was, in the words of Ton Duc Thang's nephew, “rather rich” (and could, after all, afford a private education for the firstborn son). Further, Ton Duc Thang's childhood home, nicely decorated and built mainly of wood in the traditional style of a peasant
What, then, can one make of the commemorative area that is apparently so filled with contrasts and contradictions and that in its quasireligious worship of a Communist leader creates tensions with the state's strictly secular orientation? Is it possible to distill from the commemorative place a unified theme, with a form and contents that fit?
As a first step—one that aims to identify a mold or form for the site— I propose that it is not only ancestral worship rituals with which Ton Duc Thang is venerated. Rather, his childhood home resonates even more with the Vietnamese traditional religious belief in the spiritual properties of the country's landscape and history. Although the building is always referred to only as “President Ton Duc Thang's childhood home,” it in fact is meant to be a shrine or temple (den) for Ton Duc Thang's hero spirit—a tutelary deity for the locale as well as a figure of national stature that has entered the pantheon of Vietnamese heroic guardian spirits.
By this I do not mean that Ton Duc Thang was made the village patron spirit (thanh hoang) of My Hoa Hung. In prerevolutionary Vietnam, the cult of a village patron spirit was always performed in the village's communal hall (dinh) and was based on the community's own choice of its guardian deity, which clearly is not the case here. As I will describelater, the local population, which traditionally would enjoy the benevolentacts of its patron spirit, is not really meant to be the recipient of the kind deeds by Ton Duc Thang's spirit; it is thus not the primary audience for the shrine's message. And since veneration takes place at Ton Duc Thang's birthplace—and not at the local communal hall— “origins” of some sort appear as a primary concern to the commemorative project.
I argue, however, that Ton Duc Thang's temple consciously models itself on the religious belief (or state ideology, as Stephen O'Harrow calls
Vietnamese hero spirit tales form a genre with a set of conventional features from which, I will argue, Ton Duc Thang's shrine liberally quotes. To describe their generic makeup, I will briefly turn here to the most prominent collection of such stories of tutelary deities, Ly Te Xuyen's fourteenth-century compilation Spiritual Powers of the Viet Realm (Viet dien u linh tap). Keith Taylor and Oliver Wolters have written detailed studies on the Spiritual Powers of the Viet Realm, which, while differing in their approaches and arguments, complement rather than contradict one another. Both Taylor and Wolters argue that the compilation of heroic spirit tales was used for the interests of the court elites. They differ, however, in their interpretations of the spirits'utility to these elites. Taylor traces the tales back to two main concerns: first, to what he terms “Ly dynasty religion,” in which royal authority is sanctioned by spiritual powers. Second, at the time of compilation, when dynastic succession was contested and irregular, these spirits functioned as examples of loyalty to rulers. But also highlighting the psychological comfort that the belief in protective deities continued to give later ruling classes in dangerous times, he concludes that the spirit world was a “protective screen” that “was seen by the Vietnamese as a shelter from alien threats and domestic disorder.” Further, “by ritually acknowledging these spiritual powers, Vietnamese kings opened legitimizing space for their claims upon the obedience of the people.”
Wolters, who mainly works with later versions of the Spiritual Powers of the Viet Realm, places his emphasis differently: in the spirit tales he
Wolters has characterized the tales'often uniform plots in two ways. First, in instances of outward threats, there is
the invariably successful relationship between Vietnamese rulers … and the local spirits but only if the ruler alertly apprehends a spirit's presence, if necessary testing it, appoints it to a post of military responsibility, and rewards it for its contribution to victory. The spirit, who always salutes the ruler, now joins the entourage. When this procedure is followed, victory is “certain.”
Second, concerning domestic order, the genre would present
a spirit's marvelous “manifestations” of spiritual power, its dramatic disclosure to a ruler …, theruler's wonder and grateful provision of a “shrine,” the villagers’ “incessant” worship at the shrine, the spirit's “response” to the villagers'needs, and the “favours” enjoyed by rulers and villagers alike.
To sum up what is important for my purposes here, guardian spirits protect the country from external threats and the ruler against internal, village-level challenges. Their role often is to facilitate a harmonious relationship between elite and village (sub) cultures, or between rulers and the people. Although both sides benefit from the tutelary services of the deity, the spirit's mediation is not one of equidistance, but one ultimately done in the ruler's interest. Spirit tales and local temples both are didactic tools, then, to focus popular allegiance toward the ruler. Finally, spirits and rulers can come together either through the ruler's proper apprehension and recognition, or goi hon, the “calling up,” of a worthy spirit, or by way of the spirit announcing (disclosing) itself to a worthy ruler.
If Ton Duc Thang's childhood home is indeed a guardian spirit shrine— creating, so to speak, the site's form or mold—and if it were to establish
Again, the works of Oliver Wolters and Keith Taylor are of relevance here. Wolters and Taylor have both undertaken structuralist readings of Vietnamese annals and discerned dominant themes—or what they call “sentences” or “statements”—to shed new light on the histories the annals are concerned with, as well as on their authors and their intentions. Wolters in particular sees such a “sentence” as a signifying system representing the totality of “recurrent ‘units,’” that is, words that are syntactically related but do not necessarily always appear with one another; for those portions of the Complete Historical Records of Dai Viet (Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu), annals that were compiled in the mid–fifteenth century, he identifies one such “sentence” as signifying “good government.”
Coming back to the exhibit on Ton Duc Thang's life, we will disengage ourselves from a primary concern with the ideological (and museological) master script that makes the commemorative site appear such a paradox. Rather, we will take such an idiom less seriously and see it perhaps only as a required stylistic convention in contemporary Vietnam, where one has to draw from the reservoir of Communist Party–sanctioned politicalideological terminology. Once we focus instead on other “recurrent units,” or recurrent expressions, the exhibit can reveal a dominant theme that actually makes sense in conjunction with Ton Duc Thang's hero spirit shrine. I refer here to the museum's repeated and quite prominent emphasis on “simplicity,” “sacrifice,” “selflessness,” “loyalty,” and “service” —all, of course, exemplified by and combined
As in the Ton Duc Thang Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, the exhibits on Ton Duc Thang's life in Long Xuyen and My Hoa Hung indeed pay particular attention to the characteristic frugality, devotion, and unpretentiousness of this revolutionary and national leader. Ho Chi Minh's words of praise of Ton Duc Thang to that effect are prominently displayed right in the entrances to both exhibits. And we are reminded of the concern Ton Duc Thang showed for others throughout his life: for example, for his own family members, whom he supplied in his youth with selfmade sandals (which are shown in the exhibits), or for his Vietnamese coworkers, one of them gravely sick, at the Toulon arsenal. We also meet him loyally caring for his fellow prisoners, even for those who initially tried to harm him, during the hellish years on Con Dao. We see him caring for the nation as a whole when, in 1945, he visits his mother, whom he had not seen since 1929, for only one night because of “urgent business” awaiting him in the capital. At My Hoa Hung, a painting of this last scene and a related quote ascribed to Ton Duc Thang underscore the importance placed on his unselfishness.
The theme of simplicity and selflessness is successfully reproduced beyond the exhibits. Two examples can illustrate this. First, in 1988, a symposium on Ton Duc Thang was held in Long Xuyen. The publication in 1989 of the symposium's proceedings then significantly carried the programmatic title “A Great Ordinary Person” —a phrase coined by Tran Bach Dang, the former Saigon party chief during the American War. And second, Dang Kim Quy reports that visitors to the commemorative area are often moved to tears while considering Ton Duc Thang's “life full of hardship and bitterness, yet pure, loyal, kindhearted and simple.”
The parts of the exhibits dealing with Ton Duc Thang's life after he became an accomplished national leader focus even more on his thriftiness, self-reliance, commonality with the people, and modesty. Among the material artifacts presented are his simple presidential clothes and worn shoes, his bicycle, alarm clock (a gift in 1957 from Vietnamese embassy personnel in Moscow), table fan, and photo camera—all of
Large black and white photos depict Ton Duc Thang's plain attire and rustic furniture in the presidential residence, or his bicycle repair tools, which he is said to have used until old age. The two explanations given are that Ton Duc Thang, even as president, at heart remained a mechanic who loved to tinker, and that he did not want to impose upon his presidential guard to fix his bicycle. Other pictures show him in-volved in practical, down-to-earth, handson, even mundane to trivial activities, like chatting with factory workers, reading to children, and tending his garden plants. Again, it is here that the core of the exhibits'didacticism is to be found. What becomes privileged is clearly not his revolutionary struggles, successes, and fame (a focus that is more pronounced in official biographical treatments emanating from the center of Communist Party power) but the fact that power, once achieved, was for Ton Duc Thang not an end in itself but the means to best serve the people—in other words, that power left him humble, committed, and uncorrupted. One plausible reading of the exhibits'statement would thus be about the correct demeanor of those who govern in the name of the Revolution.
How could this kind of ideal revolutionary leadership, of which Ton Duc Thang is portrayed to possess all the essential characteristics, and of which the Communist Party is the legitimate agent, be conceptualized? I have already identified central attributes such as “simplicity,” “sacrifice,” “selflessness,” “loyalty,” and “service.” They point to an activist government of officials operating under a set of ethics that take as their reference the common good. Its sense of self would be one of idealistic (and at the same time paternalistic) confidence in the right-eousness of its initiatives, its unfailing knowledge of “what is best” for the people, and its predictable success. Its continued power and authority would remain an unchallenged given so long as it remained tightly connected to the people, their experiences and circumstances, and in
Such a concept of proper rule extolled in the exhibits'statement is certainly not without historical precedent. Thus, my contention that Ton Duc Thang's museum-shrine produces both in form (hero spirit temple)and in contents (exhibits) a consistent statement must lead us at this point on an argumentative detour into premodern Vietnamese intellectual life. For quite a similar notion of proper rule was once articulated by the great scholar-official Nguyen Trai (1380–1442), and we need to examine his thought here in some detail.
Nguyen Trai lived through the tumultuous decades leading to the fall of the Tran dynasty in 1400, the brief reign of Ho Quy Ly (1400–1407), the harsh occupation of the country by an army of China's Ming dynasty (1407–27), and the subsequent restoration of independence under a new dynasty, the Le. Nguyen Trai himself played an important part in the defeat of the Ming; he joined Le Loi in organizing an anti-Ming resistance—the Lam Son uprising, begun in 1418—and the two men became the movement's key exponents. As emperor (1428–33), Le Loi would retain Nguyen Trai as his chief official; thereafter, their relationship was made a Vietnamese archetype of the fortunate link between a powerful ruler and his able and loyal minister.
Much has been written on Nguyen Trai in scholarly works. Without doubt, the ascent of Confucian axioms for the first time to a commanding position within Vietnamese elite culture is intimately connected to Nguyen Trai and the early Le dynasty. Tran Quoc Vuong actually called it an “irony of history” that the “Confucian bureaucratic-monarchic regime …, an exogenous element originating from North China …, received a particular boost from the time Dai Viet shook off the Ming yoke.” Nevertheless, Nguyen Trai “took … seriously the Confucian dictum of serving the state,” as John Whitmore has observed, and “strongly believed in an active role” [for scholar-officials]; in his work “service was his dominant theme.” Oliver Wolters, for his part, accentuates Nguyen Trai's major contributions differently; according to him, it was from
the selfless way peasants rallied against the Ming invaders [that Nguyen Trai]witnessed the people's response when a heroic style of leadership revived.[Therefore, his writings] stressed the ruler's responsibility to the people. … The people's wellbeing now became the test of good government, and the ruler's obligation to use educated officials is confidently formulated.
Finally, Esta Ungar writes that Nguyen Trai's thought
expressed an attachment to traditional Vietnamese values of the ruler as the heroic protector of the people, … [onto which] he grafted newer political constructs that … enlarged … the scope of activity of previous dynastic governments. … Inhissystem the people's welfare was the basic concern of the state.
Far from following the inward-looking neo-Confucian interpretation of such central concepts as “humaneness and justice” (ren yi, Vietn. nhan nghia), Nguyen Trai instead believed that nhan nghia obliged a ruler to “calm the people” (an min, Vietn. an dan), in the meaning of “securing the livelihood of the people” —an outwardly looking, activist stance informed by an “ethic of public service.”
Significantly, Ungar maintains that Nguyen Trai adapted in such notions the idealistic postulates of the eleventh-century socalled government school of Confucianism, an activist reform movement with strong roots in Mencian thought during the times of China's Northern Song dynasty. She sees a particular affinity to the work of Fan Zhongyan (989–1052),  who spearheaded the shortlived early Song reforms. Fan Zhongyan's famous precept that officials should “be the first to become concerned with the world's troubles and the last to rejoice in its happiness” became, in Ungar's words, “an article of faith among fifteenth-century Vietnamese public servants and scholars and was greatly encouraged by Nguyen Trai in his writings and his example.” James Liu conceptualized the ultimate vision of officialdom in the policies of Fan Zhongyan and his reform movement as an “ethocracy” based on moral principles and a strict sense of responsibility toward the people. This Confucian idealism with its “practical utilitarian spirit and … active political interest,” nicely complemented the emphases on practicality and dynamic leadership in Vietnamese political thought. However, we should keep the important fact in mind that Nguyen Trai adapted, but did not wholly adopt, the positions of early Song reformist Confucianism. Rather, as Ungar argues, he “merged” them with “the traditional Vietnamese leadership ethic,” which envisioned a heroic and just ruler in tune with, and aided by, the spiritual powers of the country.
Nguyen Trai fascinated DRV intellectuals already during the earlier years of the regime's consolidation and resumption of armed struggle. Tran Huy Lieu (1901–69), perhaps the most prominent and influential historian in those days, wrote regularly on Nguyen Trai,  and Nguyen Trai's collected works were published in Hanoi in 1969. Two reasons, one external and one internal, may best account for Nguyen Trai's appeal to the DRV. First, he, too, had put his service to the task of expelling foreign occupants (and had ultimately triumphed!). Second, by championing a Vietnamese version of Fan Zhongyan's “government school” of Confucianism (which predated neo-Confucianism), with its model of an “ethocracy,” Nguyen Trai spoke directly to the revolutionaries'concern, now that they were in power, about building up an efficient bu-reaucracy with cadres who nevertheless would avoid the corrupting internal dynamics of government and stay selfless and “close to the people.”
It is noteworthy that Tran Huy Lieu's revised and final treatment of Nguyen Trai, in 1966, contained an added chapter where Tran Huy Lieu employed “Nguyen Trai in our present endeavor to defeat America and save the country.” Patricia Pelley has argued that a strong anxiety among DRV historians about the persistent collaboration with U.S. overlords in the South made Nguyen Trai an even more compelling example, since he, unlike many of his contemporaries, was said to have resisted working with the occupying Ming. While this point is in itself quite convincing—although North-South collaboration patterns were exactly the reverse in the fifteenth century—Pelley's emphasis of Nguyen Trai as a counterhero, who is set in contrast to the negative types of foreign occupants and their local collaborators, overlooks Nguyen Trai's reaffirming role for the revolution's positive selfimage. It is the latter aspect, that is, the revolution's conscious utilization of Northern Song and early Le thought on good government, that I find even more intriguing. Tran Huy Lieu writes that Ho Chi Minh
often used Pham Trong Yem's [i.e., Fan Zhongyan's] precept to educate the cadres. Communists fight for the happiness of humanity and therefore must “be the first to become concerned with the world's troubles and the last to rejoice in its happiness,” and only the communists’ “being the first to become concerned with the world's troubles and the last to rejoice in its happiness” is really consequential and complete.
If I were to argue for an affinity between Confucianism and Vietnamese Communism, I would have no better argumentative grounds than those provided by the intellectual links from Fan Zhongyan via Nguyen Trai
Thus, much more needs to be done to understand the connections between Confucian idealism/humanism and Vietnamese Communism. For the latter, I suggest that it would be helpful to distinguish between the party in struggle and mobilization and the party in leadership and power, as these fundamentally different positions conditioned the revolution's varying judgments of Confucianism either as obstacle and opponent or as (partial) paragon and precursor. Alexander Woodside has hinted at this split perception with regard to the “mandarin” revolutionaries'concern over how to bridge the divide between their elite social backgrounds and the “masses” they were supposed to lead:
In East Asia, the Confucian gentleman was the universalist concerned with other people's troubles and with the troubles of the universe, the free spirit least bound by the particular concerns of the “petty man.” If memories of
I might add that, to the party in struggle, “self-serving ‘feudal'bureaucrats” not only figured in its memory but were, as “Confucian” bureaucrats serving the French or Emperor Bao Dai, real-life adversaries. The influence of specific, to varying degrees “Confucian,” thinkers like Fan Zhongyan or Nguyen Trai on the twentieth-century revolutionary leadership needs to be studied much more thoroughly. When Ho Chi Minh freely inserted Fan Zhongyan's famous eleventh-century dictum into a “rectification” speech in April 1961, he was not just using “old symbols … creatively” and in a calculated and conscious way, as Marr suggests; instead, he revealed a mind-set very much familiar with, and receptive to, Confucian humanism (and not just “less repelled” by it, as Woodside would have it), perhaps similar to how Bible-quoting Western politicians reflect a cultural environment suffused with certain strands of Christianity.
Finally, I should note in conclusion of my brief discussion of Nguyen Trai that his retreat on Con Son mountain in Hai Hung Province was turned into a national hero shrine,  and that Nguyen Trai became canonized, and continues to be venerated as, among the most important guardian spirits of the Vietnamese realm.
We can now end our detour through Vietnam's intellectual past and return to present-day My Hoa Hung by observing that Nguyen Trai's thought and his precedent as enshrined hero spirit of a national pantheon resonate clearly in the presentation of Ton Duc Thang's own museum-shrine. Although no specific mention is made of Nguyen Trai at the commemorative area for Ton Duc Thang, the exhibits'statement about the proper ways of a revolutionary government bears such resem-blance to the particular activist-idealist strand of Confucian ethics espoused by Nguyen Trai (and, as we have just seen, consciously utilized as a guideline for DRV cadres) that it is safe to presume a powerful allusion by the former to the latter.
Ton Duc Thang's commemorators hardly implied the correlation with Nguyen Trai's thought and hero spirit status in an arbitrary or random manner. Rather, the timing of important events likely suggested
I have offered ways of reading Ton Duc Thang's museum-shrine against a background of historical allusions and a multitude of cultural quotations and memories. On the one hand, his birthplace shrine establishes Ton Duc Thang as a guardian spirit who has joined the Vietnamese pantheon of historical hero deities. On the other hand, the museum exhibit propagates an ethos of the simple and selflessly devoted cadre, which similarly reaches back in time and connects with certain Confucian concepts espoused by a famous Vietnamese scholar-official.
But are we not dealing here with two quite different and incompatible cultural statements—the markedly non and pre-Confucian tutelary spirits of the Spiritual Powers of the Viet Realm, and Nguyen Trai and his version of Confucian idealist humanism? I would not agree. Esta Ungar has shown how, in Nguyen Trai's thought, Song reformist Confucianism was “merged with,” or “grafted onto,” established Vietnamese concepts of heroic leadership and the interplay between worldly and spiritual powers. And dynamic relations, not incompatibility, are described by Alexander Woodside when he writes of Vietnamese intellectuals:
[Their] inclination to [study popular traditions] accompanied the Confucianization of Vietnamese intellectual life, was provoked by it, and sometimes collided with its this-worldly sensibilities. … The mixture of acceptance and rejections varied with each thinker. … But it was the interplay between Confucian moral theories and the great ancient reservoir of Vietnamese religious and mythical formulations which most decisively shaped Vietnamese views of change before 1860.
I suggest that there is actually a distinct area of commonality in the two concepts. Nguyen Trai was concerned with an “ethocracy” of officials
It is in this fundamental concern that Ton Duc Thang's spirit temple and museum exhibit finally coalesce in a meaningful way. In its person-ification by Ton Duc Thang, the statement about an idealistic, selfless, and uncorrupted governing officialdom—an ethos of revolutionary cadres—itself is the enshrined spirit of My Hoa Hung. Simple and selfless Communist cadres are the agents (i.e., officials) of an abstract ruler, the Vietnamese Revolution, understood here not simply as the events of August 1945 but as an institutionalized cause or enterprise. Properly called upon and utilized, these officials ensure the ruler's success against outward threats and domestic disorder. Their primary concern with the people's livelihood constitutes the protection that the people expect from the ruler, in exchange for which they recognize the ruler's legitimacy and are loyal.
Instead of tensions, paradox, and subversion, this is, I suggest, the unifying theme that can make sense of the commemorative area. At Ton Duc Thang's birthplace, the uncorrupted cadre, who tirelessly and self-lessly works for the benefit of both the Revolution and the people, is venerated as a guardian spirit of the Revolution, and the museum functions as a modern temple inscription announcing the spirit's merit, achievements, and outstanding character.
I have tried here to find an interpretation that would make sense of what appeared to be a highly contradictory commemoration of a Communist leader at his birthplace. Whereas this search has taken me all the way back to the eleventh century, the site's contemporary context, the late 1980s, requires some attention as well. The waning of the Cold War and the decline and ultimate demise of the socialist camp in the 1980s increasingly weakened the external moral authority and political legitimacy that Marxism-Leninism had long afforded the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party. This process opened up space for a popular reembracing of the “traditional” at the same time that the Revolution itself
While the potentials for posthumous commemoration of Ho Chi Minh and Ton Duc Thang are necessarily greatly different for quite obvious reasons, it is nevertheless interesting that the mid-1970s saw the erection of a monumental mausoleum to Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, with a structure and a culticritual form outside Vietnamese practices, while spirit shrines-museums resonating with traditional political-cultural concepts appeared in the late 1980s in the countryside.
Commemorative confidence is one aspect that needs to be considered in this context. The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is one such expression of confidence by the Vietnamese Revolution. It was certainly Vietnamese, but it belonged—on equal terms, as symbolized by the chosen architectural-ritual form—to the larger moral order and authoritative structure of the socialist camp. In the “triumphalist spirit” of the mid-1970s, it felt firmly embedded in a grander historical design, the validity of which had just been proven by the revolution's singular feat of successfully achieving, against great odds, its outward goals of uniting the country and ending foreign domination.
In contrast, at the core of the commemorative effort in My Hoa Hung lies a deep crisis of confidence. Gone were the days of triumphalism and the shelter of a greater outside moral authority that would have provided a familiar choice of commemorative form. The Revolution had lost its sense of purpose, and the split between the trajectory it had prescribed for the country and the material-cultural tendencies of the people widened more and more. Amid the dramatic economic downturn of the mid1980s, rising social ills, widespread popular dissatisfaction with, or— worse yet—uninterest in, the revolutionary government, rampant corruption and loss of morale among its cadres, and the ominous decline of the global socialist camp, the organizers of Ton Duc Thang's museum-shrine “turned nativist” and (re)discovered in the traditional a new/old source of legitimacy and guidance. In exchange for one historical model of predictability, the now discredited Marxism-Leninism, they tapped into a model within the Vietnamese cultural repertoire that promised an equally predictable course of events, the invincible alliance between Vietnamese
But this should not be confused with a change of allegiance, or a turning away from the revolution. Despite the confidence crisis, Ton Duc Thang's commemorators remained committed and fiercely loyal to the Revolution. True to the obligations that their role as cadres entailed, their fundamental concern lay with its survival, and they were anxious to improve the quality of the revolutionary ranks. And so, triggered by the disconcerting changes in the fortunes of the socialist camp, yet another imagined ancestry of Vietnamese Communism was established through Ton Duc Thang. This ancestry was to be found in traditional concepts of authority and order of the country's spiritual and this-worldly realms and in the unbroken sequence of national heroes, who, with the aid of the spirit world to which they themselves would belong after death, had risen to defend the country and reaffirm these concepts. Placing the Communist revolution and Ton Duc Thang (and, of course, Ho Chi Minh) within this continuum reasserted a sense of pride in times of bedeviling self-doubts. But the veneration of guardian spirits also afforded Ton Duc Thang's commemorators with the “safe” and prudent form, and Confucian idealism with a consistent language, to express their warnings about revolutionary decline in the present. In that sense, the site entails more of an act of “talking back” at the state than of lecturing down to the people. Through Ton Duc Thang's museum-shrine, the selfless, activist, and uncorrupted cadre who would ensure harmony between the Revolution and the people was idealized. The nostalgia and criticism in this message only become explicit because of the statement's incompatibility with present times—times that to the commemorators likely appeared “out of joint.”
Amid the loud signals of distress is a faint message of hope. To explain this, I should take a brief look at Ton Duc Thang's commemorators. At the same time, the aspect of regionalism will—once again—have to be considered. The museum-shrine in My Hoa Hung and the symposium on Ton Duc Thang's life that coincided with the site's inauguration in 1988 were organized jointly by provincial cadres in Long Xuyen and former Saigon/southern party leaders, who were equally instrumental in establishing the Ton Duc Thang Museum in Ho Chi Minh City: Tran Van Giau, Tran Van Tra, Tran Bach Dang, Luu Phuong Thanh, and others. All of them were critical of the present and tried to foreground the South's contributions to the successes of the Vietnamese Revolution
And thus, in the end, the enshrined revolutionary ethos of loyal service at My Hoa Hung can be seen as the commemorators'self-image, and they themselves, along with Ton Duc Thang, come to embody the Revolution's guardian spirits. Just like the tutelary deities, they “announce” their willingness to serve the ruler. Once again, I turn to Oliver Wolters, who has described the attraction between ruler and guardian spirit as “the automatic response of local tutelary spirits to a ruler's presence, provided that the ruler had already shown signs of achievement and leadership,” but has also emphasized that spirits can admonish a ruler to “seek and follow virtus” (duc). Both dynamics, that is, response and admonition, are at work here and undertaken by people who are, on the one hand, loyal to the Revolution and, on the other hand— spurred by their memories of past glories—pained by its present state.
Their hopeful message is that the Revolution can be saved if it is able to refocus on its fundamental purpose, go back to its origins (symbolized by the temple at a prominent revolutionary's birthplace), “clean up its act,” and rediscover, accept, and use all the talents available—including those in the South. In a remarkable parallelism to traditional notions of authority and legitimacy, this message further implies that the people, when recognizing such a rejuvenated and reinvigorated rule, would certainly abandon their errant ways and once again follow the revolution. The ease with which this nativist reorientation is undertaken can be explained by the congruence of the two models that provide a sense of historical certainty: success will surely belong to the heroic leadership, aided by ethical and unselfish officials, when it is properly aligned with either the inherent spiritual powers of its domain or the correct forces in the dialectical materialism of the historical process.
In their idealization of the earlier days of the Communist Party–led society, when, supposedly, a revolutionary ethos of service guided the officialdom, and the people and their leaders were in harmony, Ton Duc Thang's commemorators reveal their distress over, and protectiveness of, the Revolution in its present endangered state. Idealization and protectiveness are thus both at work in this act of “calling the spirits” (goi hon): enshrined and recalled in the little village of My Hoa Hung are,
My discussions with Peter Zinoman and his “Declassifying Nguyen Huy Thiep,” positions 2, no. 2 (fall 1994): 294–317, have helped me to more clearly formulate the concerns expressed in this chapter. In its early phase, this study also profited in many ways from my interactions with Stephen O'Harrow, Keith W. Taylor, and Oliver W. Wolters. The final version owes much to the helpful criticism of Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Keith W. Taylor, Tamara J. Wang, Oliver W. Wolters, and Marilyn B. Young.
1. For a comprehensive treatment of the post-Tiananmen “craze” of Mao Zedong, see Geremie R. Barme´, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1996). See also the very brief but promising treatment of a Mao Zedong temple in Gushui, Shaanxi, by Begonia Lee, “Houses of the Holy,” Far Eastern Economic Review, June 6, 1996, 52. Shrines to Ho Chi Minh are mentioned briefly by Hue-Tam Ho Tai, “Monumental Ambiguity: The State Commemoration of Ho Chi Minh,” in Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, ed. K. W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1995), 273, 278. For Indonesia and its commemoration of pahlawan, see Klaus H. Schreiner, Politischer Heldenkult in Indonesien: Tradition und Moderne Praxis [Political Hero Cult in Indonesia: Tradition and Modern Practice] (Berlin: Reimer, 1995). [BACK]
2. See, e.g., Jo Blatti, ed., Past Meets Present: Essays about Historic Interpretation and Public Audiences (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, Institution Press, 1987); Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1992); Ivan Karp, Christine Mullen Kreamer, and Steven D. Lavine, eds., Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992); Robert Lumley, ed., The Museum Time-Machine: Putting Cultures on Display (London: Routledge, 1988); Susan Pearce, ed., Objects of Knowledge (London: Athlone, 1990); Kevin Walsh, The Representation of the Past: Museums and Heritage in the Postmodern World (London: Routledge, 1992). [BACK]
3. I am, of course, not uninvolved in these matters. See my “Telling Life: An Approach to the Official Biography of Ton Duc Thang,” in Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, 246–71. [BACK]
4. Information provided by Bui Cong Duc and Ngo Quang Lang, cadres of the An Giang Province Culture and Information Department and the provincial VCP Propaganda Board, Long Xuyen, May 4, 1992. [BACK]
5. Museum of the Revolution, Ho Chi Minh City: “Ecole des me´caniciens, Registre matricule, commence´le ier De´cembre 1907, termine´ le … 1918, Thang Ton duc.” The matriculation register was given to the museum in 1980. [BACK]
6. This point is argued in detail in chapters 1–3 of my dissertation “Ton Duc Thang and the Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1996). [BACK]
7. See ibid., chap. 5, and my forthcoming Striking Images: Ba Son 1925— A Case Study of the History and Historiography of Vietnamese Labor (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program). [BACK]
8. The French crackdown was triggered by a botched inner–Thanh Nien political murder in Saigon's Rue Barbier that exposed much of the clandestine organization to the French. Not surprisingly, the Rue Barbier case and Ton Duc Thang's significant role in it, remains a taboo subject in Vietnam. Since it is omitted from the commemoration of Ton Duc Thang, it will not concern me here. For details on the case, see my “Telling Life.” [BACK]
9. Huynh Kim Khanh, Vietnamese Communism, 1925–1945 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982), 254f. n. 49, discusses the length of incarceration as a “qualification for advancement.” [BACK]
10. An Giang provincial branch of VCP, circular no. 06/TT-TU, Long Xuyen, March 13, 1987 (document no. 39, Ton Duc Thang Museum, Ho Chi Minh City). [BACK]
11. See Lam Binh Tuong, “Trung Tu Di Tich voi Viec Phuc Hoi Noi That Ngoi Nha cua Chu tich Ton Duc Thang o My Hoa Hung (An Giang)” [“Re-constructing Historic Sites with Interior Renovations of President Ton Duc Thang's house in MHH (An Giang)”], and “Bao Ve Ngoi Nha Luu Niem Chu tich Ton Duc Thang o My Hoa Hung, Tinh Chat Phong Canh va Canh Quan” [“Protecting President Ton Duc Thang's home in My Hoa Hung, the Landscape Character and Beauty”], in Ban tuyen giao Tinh uy An Giang [An Giang Provincial Propaganda Commission], To Thanh Tam, ed., Mot con Nguoi Binh Thuong—Vi Dai. Ky Yeu Hoi Thao Khoa Hoc ve Chu Tich Ton Duc Thang Nhan Dip Ky Niem 100 Nam Ngay Sinh 20–8–1888–20–8–1988 [A Great Ordinary Person: Proceedings of the Symposium on President Ton Duc Thang Commemorating the Centennial of His Birth] (An Giang: Provincial Propaganda Commission, 1989), 59–64. Articles on the constructions in An Giang (July 27, August 5, 12, 1988) (document no. 149, Ton Duc Thang Museum, Ho Chi Minh City). Pamphlet of An Giang Culture/Information Department about the commemoration site, 1988 (document no. 84, Ton Duc Thang Museum, Ho Chi Minh City). Dang Kim Quy, “Ngoi Nha Luu Niem Thoi Nien Thieu Chu tich Ton Duc Thang” [“President TDT's Childhood Home”], Tap Chi Lich Su Dang [Journal of Party History], no. 5 (1991): 36.
Interview with Ton Duc Thang's nephew Ton Duc Hung, My Hoa Hung, May 4, 1992. [BACK]
12. President Ton Duc Thang himself is buried at Mai Dich state cemetery outside Hanoi, where, in the absence of Ho Chi Minh's remains, his grave occupies the “No. 1” position in the hierarchical layout of the cemetery. His grave's appearance is standardized with those of other state and party leaders; since it is thus obviously not meant as a focal point for rituals, it will not concern me in this discussion. [BACK]
13. Dang Kim Quy, “Ngoi Nha,” 36. I am grateful to Hue-Tam Ho Tai for suggesting to me the former symbolism. Cf. Danny J. Whitfield, Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Vietnam (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976), 255. [BACK]
14. Whitfield, Historical and Cultural Dictionary, 275f. See also the helpful, if awkwardly presented, materials in Nguyen Tien Huu, Do¨rfliche Kulte im
15. Stephen O'Harrow, “Men of Hu, Men of Han, Men of the Hundred Man: The Biography of Si Nhiep and the Conceptualization of Early Vietnamese Society,” Bulletin de l'Ecole Franc¸aise d'Extreˆme-Orient 75 (1986): 251. [BACK]
16. See, with such an emphasis, Yamamoto Tatsuro, “Myths Explaining the Vicissitudes of Political Power in Ancient Vietnam,” Acta Asiatica: Bulletin of the Institute of Eastern Culture 18 (1970): 70–94. [BACK]
17. Keith W. Taylor, “Notes on the Viet Dien U Linh Tap,” Vietnam Forum, no. 8 (1986): 26–59. See also an earlier brief discussion in his The Birth of Vietnam (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983), 352ff. Oliver W. Wolters, “Preface,” in his Two Essays On Dai-Viet in the Fourteenth Century (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Southeast Asia Studies, 1988), vii–xi. [BACK]
18. Taylor, “Notes on the Viet Dien U Linh Tap,” 45. [BACK]
19. Wolters, “Preface,” xix, xxviii, xxxv. [BACK]
20. First quotation: O. W. Wolters, “On Telling a Story of Vietnam in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 26(March 1995): 67. Second quotation: Wolters, “Preface,” xvi. The differences in perspective of Wolters's two generic sketches are, however, addressed in neither publication. [BACK]
21. See David G. Marr, Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920–1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), 263. [BACK]
22. Oliver W. Wolters, “Possibilities for a Reading of the 1293–1357 Period in the Vietnamese Annals,” Vietnam Forum, no. 11 (1988): 97. [BACK]
23. Keith W. Taylor, “Looking Behind the Vietnamese Annals: Ly Phat Ma (1028–54) and Ly Nhat Ton (1054–72) in the Viet Su Luoc and the Toan Thu,” Vietnam Forum, no. 7 (1986): 51. [BACK]
24. Wolters, “Possibilities,” 116f. [BACK]
25. To Thanh Tam, Mot con Nguoi Binh Thuong—Vi Dai. [BACK]
26. Dang Kim Quy, “Ngoi Nha,” 36. [BACK]
27. This happened in 1954, after Stalin's death, but before Khrushchev's denunciation of the Stalin personality cult. [BACK]
28. See my “Telling Life.” [BACK]
29. The archetypal image persisted despite the fact that, several years after Le Loi's death, Nguyen Trai and almost all his family met with a violent end in a court intrigue. [BACK]
30. Tran Quoc Vuong, “Traditions, Acculturation, Renovation: The Evolutional Pattern of Vietnamese Culture,” in Southeast Asia in the 9th to 14th Centuries, ed. David G. Marr and A. C. Milner (Singapore: Institute of South-east Asian Studies, 1986), 271. [BACK]
31. John K. Whitmore, “From Classical Scholarship to Confucian Belief in Vietnam,” Vietnam Forum, no. 9 (1987): 58. [BACK]
32. Oliver W. Wolters, “Assertions of Cultural Well-Being in Fourteenth-Century Vietnam,” in his Two Essays, 42. [BACK]
33. Esta S. Ungar, “Vietnamese Leadership and Order: Dai Viet under the Le Dynasty (1428–1459)” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1983), 19, 20. The following exposition is based on subsequent passages of the first chapter. [BACK]
34. Fan Zhongyan; also transcribed Fan Chungyen in the Wade-Giles system or, in Sino-Vietnamese transcription, Pham Trong Yem. [BACK]
35. James T. C. Liu, “An Early Sung Reformer: Fan Chung-Yen,” in Chinese Thought and Institutions, ed. John K. Fairbank, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 111. [BACK]
36. Ungar, “Vietnamese Leadership and Order,” 41. [BACK]
37. Liu, “An Early Sung Reformer,” 108, 131. [BACK]
38. Ungar, “Vietnamese Leadership and Order,” 10. [BACK]
39. E.g., Nguyen Trai, 2d ed. (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1969). For a very detailed list of Tran Huy Lieu's writings on Nyugen Trai, see Vien Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi Viet Nam, Vien Su Hoc [History Institute of the Social Science Institute of Vietnam], Hoi ky Tran Huy Lieu [Memoirs of Tran Huy Lieu], ed. Pham Nhu Thom (Hanoi: NXB Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1991), 495–97. For a more general bibliography of DRV writings on Nguyen Trai between 1956 and 1968, see Patricia Pelley, “Writing Revolution: The New History in Post-colonial Vietnam” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1993), 207–12, especially notes 65, 75, 77, and 78; and Ungar, “Vietnamese Leadership and Order,” 268 nn. 4 and 5. [BACK]
40. Chapter 11, “Nguyen Trai voi Viec Danh My Cuu Nuoc cua Chung Ta Hien Nay.” [BACK]
41. Pelley, “Writing Revolution,” 211f. [BACK]
42. Tran Huy Lieu, Nguyen Trai, 56. [BACK]
43. Ungar, “Vietnamese Leadership and Order,” 34. [BACK]
44. Marr, Vietnamese Tradition, 127–35. [BACK]
45. Nguyen Khac Vien, Tradition and Revolution in Vietnam, ed. David Marr and Jayne Werner (Berkeley, Wash.: Indochina Resource Center, n.d.[1974?]). Here especially his essay “Confucianism and Marxism in Vietnam,” 15–52. [BACK]
46. Nguyen Khac Vien, Tradition, 46–51; the quotation is from 48. Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 217. See also Marr, Vietnamese Tradition, 135. [BACK]
47. Alexander B. Woodside, Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), 237. Note the echo from Fan Zhongyan in the first sentence. [BACK]
48. Marr, Vietnamese Tradition, 134; Ho Chi Minh is quoted by Nguyen Khac Vien, Tradition, 49f. [BACK]
49. Whitfield, Historical and Cultural Dictionary, 48. [BACK]
50. I am grateful to Hue-Tam Ho Tai for suggesting this aspect of timing to me. [BACK]
51. Alexander B. Woodside, “Conceptions of Change and of Human Responsibility for Change in Late Traditional Vietnam,” Vietnam Forum, no. 6(1985): 108, emphasis added. [BACK]
52. See, among others who have observed that phenomenon, Hy Van Luong, “Economic Reform and the Intensification of Rituals in Two Northern Vietnamese Villages, 1980–1990,” in The Challenge of Reform in Indo-China, ed. Borje Ljunggren and Peter Timmer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 259–91. In this essay, however, I am less concerned with the effects of
53. Hue-Tam Ho Tai, “Monumental Ambiguity,” in Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, 280. [BACK]
54. To draw a parallel to premodern times, equal confidence exudes from the Vietnamese tales of heroic guardian spirits and the underlying concept of the spiritual properties of the land, as Oliver Wolters has pointed out with reference to the Spiritual Powers of the Viet Realm (Wolters, “On Telling a Story,” 67). Challenges to the ruling powers and threats to the country's security— recurrent themes in the Vietnamese experience—had been warded off, as one could very well see in retrospect, whenever ruler and tutelary deity had established a “winning” rapport in the proper manner described by the tales. [BACK]
55. Wolters, “Possibilities,” 129. [BACK]
56. Oliver W. Wolters, History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982), 102, emphasis added; and Wolters, “Preface,” xix. [BACK]