I was looking at a newspaper called the Borneo Bulletin. It started to be published in 1953 in Brunei, but it was directed at readers in Sawarak and Sabah as well, that is, in all of what was then “British Borneo.”
In looking at some issues from 1959, I found the advertisements to be very interesting. They were all depicting aspects of a modern lifestyle, but modernity was presented differently to the members of different ethnic groups.
To the British, modernity meant sending your children back to the UK on the planes of the British Overseas Air Corporation and Malayan Airways so that they could go to school.
For the Chinese it meant eating Quaker Oats so that they could work better. . .
. . . and drinking Ovaltine so that they could play better. . .
. . . and eating Chivers Jam so that they could have a healthy family. . .
. . . and relaxing with the family by listening to a Blue Spot radiogram (i.e., combined radio and gramophone). . .
. . . and getting a good night’s sleep on a Dunlopillo mattress.
Finally, for the Malays, modernity apparently meant being able to “take it easy” by riding a Raleigh bicycle. . .
. . . a bicycle that was strong and gave people “the highest degree of technical skill.”
It’s well known that the British colonial system in the area of what is now Malaysia and Singapore led to the growth of inequality along ethnic lines. What I found interesting in these advertisements is that a sense of modernity was being employed in all of these advertisements to sell products.
Regardless of what people’s buying power was, someone else had a “modern” product that they wanted to sell them.
Filed under: Brunei, North Borneo, Sarawak | Leave a Comment
Not long after many colonized peoples around the globe gained independence in the middle of the twentieth century, some scholars started to notice that in many ways colonialism still existed, and that the place where it still existed was in people’s minds. Even though people had become politically free, their minds were still colonized.
During the colonial era, the colonizers came up with ideas about the colonized and their histories. After the colonial era ended, people from former colonies “resisted” their former colonizers by “re-writing” what the colonizers had said about them.
What is interesting, however, is that in “writing back” against the ideas that the colonizers had created, the former colonized used the exact same concepts that the colonizers had created, but simply reversed them, making themselves superior and the former colonizers inferior.
This is what scholars refer to as “mental colonization.” It refers to this phenomenon where the former colonized still use the concepts that their former colonizers created. People who cannot think beyond the concepts that the colonizers created are still “mentally colonized.”
A good example of this can be seen in an early article that Keith Taylor wrote. Even though Taylor was not a member of a colonized people, an article that he published in 1980 is nonetheless a perfect example of “writing back” against a colonizer by using the ideas that the colonizer created.
In an articled entitled “An Evaluation of the Chinese Period in Vietnamese History” (Journal of Asiatic Studies 23, no. 1:139-63), Taylor responded to a claim that Henri Maspero had made early in the twentieth century.
Maspero had argued that before the Chinese had come, the Việt had not been unified, and that it was the Chinese who taught the Việt how to unify and build a strong country.
Taylor responded to this by talking about figures like the Hùng kings to argue that there already existed a strong political tradition before the Chinese arrived, and that therefore, the Chinese had not taught the Việt how to unify and create a strong country.
So what Taylor did in this article was to take the ideas that Maspero had proposed and to argue against them. But in arguing against them, Taylor used the same concepts that Maspero had proposed.
Was Maspero right? Does it make sense to talk about political unity 2,000 years ago? Or is that a concept that’s not really applicable to that period of history? Was there a strong unified country anywhere in the world at that time?
Probably not, and it looks like this is something that Taylor has come to conclude, because in his recent book on Vietnamese history, he doesn’t even talk about the Hùng kings anymore.
So how can a scholar go from using the Hùng kings as evidence to counter the ideas of Henri Maspero to writing a book about the history of the Vietnamese in which he doesn’t even talk about the Hùng kings?
I would argue that what happened is that Taylor “decolonized” his mind. He must have come to conclude that the concepts that Maspero used to view the past were not accurate, and that it was therefore better to ignore what Maspero said and to come up with a new way of viewing the past, one that he himself created.
This is something that has not happened in Vietnam yet. And recently in reading some articles where I see people talking about the “Bách Việt,” I can see this very clearly.
The term “Bách Việt” was used by certain people in the area of what is today “China” over 2,000 years ago to refer to people who lived to their south. The “Chinese” at that time, saw the “Bách Việt” as “barbarian.”
Today there are Vietnamese who are “writing back” against this view, and are arguing that the “Bách Việt” were actually in many ways more “civilized” originally than the “Chinese.”
This is a classic example of the type of scholarship that gets produced by people who are mentally colonized. These scholars produce scholarship to refute the claims that Chinese made over 2,000 years ago. In doing so, however, they use the exact same mental concepts and categories that the Chinese did over 2,000 years ago.
The only difference is that they reverse the importance of these categories, and make the “Bách Việt” important and the “Chinese” not important. But they are still using the same categories that the “Chinese” created.
This is mental colonization, and it is China-centric scholarship. When you take Chinese ideas and reverse them, you are still using Chinese ideas, and your scholarship is therefore still China-centric.
It’s only when you move beyond the concepts and categories that others create, that you become truly independent. This is something that Vietnamese historians have not done yet.
To date, as far as I know, no Vietnamese postcolonial theorist has emerged who talks about these issues. Unlike in India and in the Pacific where postcolonial theory is very well developed, in Vietnam this is unexplored territory.
As a result, colonized minds continue to produce colonial scholarship. By reversing what the colonizers said, they think that they are doing something new, but by following the same concepts that the colonizers created, they remain mentally colonized and their scholarship remains colonial.
Filed under: Vietnam | 2 Comments
There was a magazine that was published in North Vietnam from the late 1950s into the 1970s called “VIET-NAM.” It was published in foreign languages and was a kind of “advertisement” for the country.
Like so many glossy magazines at that time from around the world, it contained many pictures, and most of the pictures were of women. I photographed some images from some issues of that magazine from the 1960s. I will present them here without commenting on them, as “a picture is worth a thousand words” already, so there’s no need for me to say anything additional. Enjoy these beautiful images of a bygone age!!
Filed under: The Two Vietnams | Leave a Comment
The text that I mentioned in the previous post, the An Nam chí nguyên, contains an entry on Mount Tản Viên which talks about a spirit there called Mị Nương who was reportedly the daughter of a Hùng king. This passage then goes on to tell what is now a very well-known story in Vietnam.
This is what it says:
On Mount Tản Viên there is the Mị Nương spirit. It is said that she is the daughter of the Hùng king. The king loved her and wanted to selected a talented man for her to marry. At that time there were two men on Mount Gia Ninh, one was called Sơn Tinh [literally, “mountain essence” or “mountain sprite”] and the other was called Thủy Tinh [literally, “water essence” or “water sprite”] who could pass through mountain stones and dive under water. They were both asked to request to marry [Mị Nương] by offering gifts of local products. The next day, Sơn Tinh presented gold, silver, precious gems, special birds and rare beasts at the king’s palace, and with these generous gifts he requested marriage and took Mị Nương to hide in Mount Lôi Động.
Thủy Tinh came later, and presented objects such as precious pearls, hawksbill turtles, special shells and sea turtles, but since Mị Nương had already been taken away by Sơn Tinh, he became furious and attacked Mount Lôi Động.
Sơn Tinh thereupon moved Mị Nương to the peak of Mount Tản Viên. Every year Thủy Tinh got resentful and attacked, but to no avail. Today it is still like this.
Mị Nương is also a numinous monster [linh quái]. She often reveals her form as a person with long hair and a long robe, and is just like a beautiful woman. For more details see the Gazetteer of Quảng Oai châu.
It is easy to recognize this as the famous Sơn Tinh – Thủy Tinh story, however it is also different from the version of that story that was eventually recorded in texts like the Lĩnh Nam chích quái. That version, for instance, does not talk about Mị Nương as a “numinous monster” with “long hair and a long robe” like a “beautiful woman.”
So where did that information come from?
1) The name “Mị Nương” is of Tai origin. “Mae nang” in Tai languages refers to a “lady” or “princess.” (Actually, we should probably call it “Sino-Tai” as “nang” is in Sinitic languages.)
2) In the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư there are references to Mount Tản Viên which refer to the “savages” (man 蠻) who lived around it. For instance, in 1207 Mount Tản Viên “mountain savages” (sơn man 山蠻) plundered, and in 1226 they fought with neighboring savages.
3) I don’t think the “Mount Lôi Động” is mentioned in other versions, but it’s interesting to note that the term “động” 洞 that is in this mountain’s name was also used to refer to places where “savages” lived.
When we add all of this information up, doesn’t it look like Mị Nương was a spirit that Tai-language speakers (“savages” from the perspective of the Việt and Ming Chinese) worshiped?
Filed under: Vietnam | Leave a Comment
In 1932, the École française d’Extrême-Orient published in Hanoi a text called the An Nam chí nguyên/Annan zhiyuan 安南志原. This publication contained an introductory study by Émile Gaspardone in which he attributed this work to a seventeenth century Chinese scholar-official by the name of Gao Xiongzheng 高熊徵, and tried to explain it’s incomprehensible title (The Source of the Treatise on Annan?).
This book has been in libraries in Western countries since that time, but I’ve seen very few scholars cite it. I know that I have seen John Whitmore and Li Tana both cite it, but I can’t recall having seen any other scholars working in Western countries use this work (there probably have been one or two others, but not many).
The same applies to Vietnamese scholars. Although several manuscript editions of this text exist in Vietnam, I think the only scholar I’ve seen cite it is Tạ Chí Đại Trường, but I’m not sure if he came across it while he was in Vietnam or after he went overseas (and again, there must be other people who have cited it, but not many).
Also, as far as I know, this text has never been translated into modern Vietnamese, even though it is one of the earliest texts we have concerning Vietnamese history.
I once asked someone why that is the case, and that person’s response was that “It is because it’s Chinese. . .”
In 1992, Zhang Xiumin 張秀民 published an essay on this text in which he argued that it is a combination of two texts: the Annan zhi jiyao 安南志既要 [Summary of the Treatise on Annan] by Gao Xiongzheng and the Jiaozhi zongzhi 交阯縂志 [Comprehensive Gazetteer of Jiaozhi].
According to Zhang Xiumin, the Jiaozhi zongzhi is a local gazetteer (difang zhi 地方誌) that was compiled in the early fifteenth century during the Ming occupation. As such, this is an extremely important text as it contains some of the earliest information recorded about that region.
Vietnamese scholars are skeptical of information about the region that was preserved in “China.” They suspect that this information was altered for political purposes.
Personally I find such suspicions to be very difficult to document, and also difficult to believe. Meanwhile, one of the most valuable texts for understanding Vietnamese history remains un-read, un-researched, and un-translated year after year after year.
For those who read Chinese, I’ve attached Zhang Xiumin’s essay below.
Filed under: Vietnamese history sources | 2 Comments
There are quite a few libraries these days that are using a technique called “crowdsourcing” to transcribe and digitize manuscripts that they have in their collections.
Essentially what libraries are doing are setting up web pages that allow anyone to read and transcribe the pages of a manuscript (i.e., they are asking a “crowd” of people to be a “source” of help). I have set up such a web page to try to transcribe the Hồng Đức bản đồ.
This is an experiment, and the web site seems to run a bit slowly (xin thông cảm), but hopefully it will work and eventually everyone will be able to benefit from having a nice, readable copy of this extremely valuable collection of maps.
The web page is here, and this is the information about the project:
Collectively Transcribing the Hồng Đức bản đồ
The Hồng Đức bản đồ is a very important early collection of Vietnamese maps. In 1962, a version of this collection of maps was published in Saigon. It contained modern Vietnamese transcriptions of the Hán Nôm text on the map. However, the images of the maps were not very clear, and this makes this published version difficult to use.
In an effort to make the Hồng Đức bản đồ accessible to everyone, we are asking anyone who is able and interested to help make a better version of the Hồng Đức bản đồ. Clear images of the maps have been prepared and uploaded to this page, however they do not contain modern Vietnamese transcriptions. Therefore we are asking people to help write the Vietnamese transcriptions. We have provided the 1962 version from Saigon that already contains the transcriptions, and are asking that people help match them to the clearer maps on this web site.
For directions on how to do this, please view the following video:
Our plan is to leave the Hồng Đức bản đồ and the transcriptions that volunteers provide on this web site, so that whoever wants to read it, can do so.
Finally, this version of the Hồng Đức bản đồ is being created under a Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike” (CC BY-NC-SA) license. What that means is that anyone is free to reproduce and alter the content of this web site. However if anyone does so, 1) this web site must be cited, 2) the content from this web site cannot be made commercial, and 3) any reproductions or transformations of the information of this web site must also follow the same rules as this license.
Hợp tác phiên âm bản đồ Hồng Đức
Hồng Đức bản đồ là một bộ tập hợp bản đồ Việt Nam cũ rất quan trọng. Năm 1962, một phiên bản của bộ tập hợp này được xuất bản ở Sài Gòn. Tập sách này gồm cả phần phiên âm những chữ Hán Nôm trên các bản đồ. Tuy nhiên, những hình chụp của các bản đồ này khá mờ, khiến cho người đọc không dễ dàng nhìn ra các kí tự trên bản đồ.
Với cố gắng đưa tập Hồng Đức bản đồ đến với nhiều độc giả, người thiết kế dự án này xin mời bất kì tình nguyện viên nào có thể và có hứng thú hợp tác làm một phiên bản tốt hơn cho bản đồ Hồng Đức. Những ảnh rõ nét hơn cho các bản đồ đang được chuẩn bị và tải lên trang này, song đây là những ảnh của các bản đồ không kèm theo phiên âm các chữ Hán Nôm có trên bản đồ. Vì vậy, dự án được thiết kế nhằm kêu gọi mọi người hợp tác làm phần phiên âm cho các bản đồ này. Trang mạng sẽ cung cấp phần phiên âm trong phiên bản năm 1962 của Sài Gòn và bằng việc đối chiếu với thông tin phiên âm này, mọi người có thể gõ ra phần phiên âm gắn vào những hình sao bản đồ rõ nét hơn trên trang này.
Xin mời xem đoạn video sau đây về hướng dẫn cách làm phiên âm:
Kế hoạch của đề tài này là sẽ để Hồng Đức bản đồ và phần phiên âm do các tình nguyện viên thực hiện mở trên trang mạng này; bất kì ai muốn đọc đều có thể truy cập vào đọc.
Phiên bản trình bày trên trang mạng này được làm ra dưới sự bảo trợ của một cam kết bản quyền Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike” (CC BY-NC-SA) (nghĩa là, giấy phép Tài sản Sáng tạo Công cộng cam kết “Ghi nhận công của người sáng tạo-Không thương mại-Sao truyền giống gốc). Điều này nghĩa là, bất kì ai thực hiện theo cam kết bản quyền sẽ 1) phải trích dẫn trang mạng này, 2) không sử dụng nội dung của trang mạng này vào mục đích thương mại, và 3) đảm bảo rằng bất kì sự tái bản hay chuyển đổi thông tin của trang mạng này phải tuân theo qui tắc của cam kết bản quyền này.
Filed under: Digital Southeast Asia, Vietnam | 2 Comments
In 1945, the Australian Imperial Forces were given the task of retaking from the Japanese the former British territories on the island of Borneo. To do this, the Australians had to first obtain as much intelligence as they could.
The wonderful people at the National Archives of Australia have digitized a lot of the materials that were produced at that time as part of the intelligence gathering effort.
I was looking at one report the other day which had a section on “Commercial Enterprises and Possible Cover Agencies.” This section contains a list of “Japanese firms operation in North Borneo. Captured enemy documents show that Japanese civilian firms are widely used as cover agencies for spies and subterranean movements.”
Here is the list:
Borneo Acquatic Products, Ltd
Borneo Daily News
Chosen Leather Co Ltd
Fukuosho Co Ltd
Gaya and Co
Hattori Watch Store
Higashiyama Industry Co Ltd
International (Kokusai) Traffic Co Ltd
Imperial (Teikoku) Textile Industry Co Ltd
Jesselton Brewing Industry
Kansai Electric Current Distributing Co Ltd
Kato Industry Co Ltd
Kato Suiso Do
Mitsui Products Co Ltd
Mitui (Mitsui?) Agriculture and Forestry Co Ltd
Motion Picture Distributing Co
Nanri Industries Co Ltd
Nichimei New Agency Co Ltd
Nissan Norin Co
Nippon Hides Co Ltd
Nippon Line Stock Promoting Co Ltd
Nippon Publication Distributing Co Ltd
North Borneo Association
North Borneo Daily News
North Borneo Material Supply Control Association
North Borneo Water Transport Section
Otsu Industry Co Ltd
Pilot Fountain Pen Co Ltd
Sankyo Traffic Co Ltd
Showa Commerce Co Ltd
Southern Development Case Office Ltd
Taiwan Fibre Co Ltd
Taiwan Colonial Co
Takashimaya-Iida Co Ltd
Takemura Cotton Industry Co Ltd
Tawao Cotton Industry Co Ltd
Tawao Industry Co Ltd
Tawao Sango Co
Tokio Marine Fire Insurance Co Ltd
Toyoda Motor Trucks Co Ltd
I’m attaching the images of this list below as it contains more information about some of these companies and their activities.
The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asian is a fascinating historical topic which has been researched to some extent, but there is much more that can be examined. What fascinated me about this list is that it points to an entire Japanese “business world” that must have existed in Southeast Asia at that time.
It would be wonderful if someone would research this topic.
Filed under: North Borneo, WWII and after in Southeast Asia | Leave a Comment
There is a book that came out in 2009 called Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory by Scott Laderman. This is what the description about the book says:
“In Tours of Vietnam, Scott Laderman demonstrates how tourist literature has shaped Americans’ understanding of Vietnam and projections of United States power since the mid-twentieth century. Laderman analyzes portrayals of Vietnam’s land, history, culture, economy, and people in travel narratives, U.S. military guides, and tourist guidebooks, pamphlets, and brochures. Whether implying that Vietnamese women were in need of saving by ‘manly’ American military power or celebrating the neoliberal reforms Vietnam implemented in the 1980s, ostensibly neutral guides have repeatedly represented events in ways that favor the global ambitions of the United States.”
While Laderman relies heavily on the writings produced by Americans, he does analyze some materials produced by tourism officials in South Vietnam. Their participation in the effort to promote tourism, and the ways in which they presented information to attract perceived customers is a topic I would like to know more about.
It’s a topic, however, that one can probably find a lot more information to research about with regards to neighboring Thailand.
Yesterday I stumbled across a magazine that was published by the Tourism Authority of Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s called Holiday Time in Thailand.
It provides a pretty wholesome view of Thailand, and talks about a wide variety of places that tourists can visit, from temples to beaches.
But one thing that’s pretty easy to notice is that many of the pictures are of women.
To talk about Thai orchids, for instance, there are pictures of women holding orchids. . .
. . . and with orchids in their hair.
I did find one picture of a Western woman, so there was some effort to try to say that Thailand was a place that foreign female tourists would enjoy visiting too.
But pictures like the one below of a lone woman on the beach seem to send a different message.
Then I found this following group of photographs interesting.
On the one hand it seems to be pointing out how modern and progressive Thailand is in that a group of women have the time, money and leisure to take a vacation.
Then on the other hand, like the picture of a lone woman on the beach, these images also seem to be kind of inviting.
When we see a man in the picture, he is just there in the background, and is not “threatening” in any way.
And then finally you have pictures like this one, with a young woman sitting at a bar holding up a drink and looking right at the camera. . . looking right at “you”! “Come to Thailand”!!
These images were designed to get people on airplanes, and it seems clear that the Tourism Authority of Thailand at that time had an image of who those people were.
It would be nice if someone would write a book about tourism in Thailand in this period and examine how the Thai tourism industry at that time intersected with the various powers and issues that Laderman discusses in his book.
Filed under: Thailand, Vietnam | Leave a Comment
Someone recently forwarded me an article that appeared in an online newspaper entitled “Kinh dịch là của người Việt” (The Yijing Belongs to the Việt).
There has been an effort for many years on the part of a small group of people to demonstrate that this ancient text was created by “Việt” peoples. It is a very nationalistic effort to try to say that “Việt” knowledge and culture came before “Chinese” knowledge and culture and that “China” is therefore indebted to the “Việt,” and not the other way around, as is commonly believed.
I need to read more of Lương Kim Định’s writings, but I believe that this effort to show that “the South” created the culture that “the North” now takes credit for started with him (but perhaps there are earlier examples of this line of reasoning?).
I’ve long wondered what it is that motivates people to keep trying to make this point, when most people don’t believe what they are saying. Is it just nationalism? Are nationalist feelings really that strong?
Amazingly, just by coincidence, a friend of mine who works for NASA sent me a sound file this morning of some kind of message that NASA space recorders picked up coming from some place outside of our solar system. My friend thought it kind of sounded like Vietnamese, so he sent it to me.
It is a bit hard to make out, but I think they’re saying. . .
“Kinh dịch là của người Việt”!! (The Yijing Belongs to the Việt)
Filed under: Vietnam | 15 Comments
Partly out of curiosity, and partly because I often hear academics in Southeast Asia talk about their desire to “engage” internationally and to raise the stature of their respective universities internationally, I decided to see how different History faculties/departments present themselves to the world on the Internet, or to use another term, I wanted to see what their “online presence” was like.
I started with the National University of Singapore.
The style of the History Department’s page didn’t excite me all that much (I think the Southeast Asian Studies Department at NUS has a more up-to-date web page), but it’s thorough and all of the right information is there.
You can click on faculty names and find out about the person and what her/his publications are. This is very similar to what many “Western” universities do.
Then I checked Ateneo University.
They have developed a very unique style of web page, but I have to admit that I found it quite annoying to try to use.
Also, while there is a “faculty roster,” it doesn’t tell you anything about the faculty members’ publications, but it does tell you where they got their degrees.
Chulalongkorn University’s web page informs you that you can study history at the graduate level.
But when you click on the link it just shows you the classes that you need to take.
And when I checked the Thai-language page, this is what I saw.
Then when you look at the University of Malaya web site, the Ateneo and Chulalongkorn web pages start to look very good by comparison, because the U of M site doesn’t provide any information.
Nor does the University of Indonesia site. It just tells you that a history faculty “exists” there. Oh, and should the University of Indonesia be worried that when you do a Google search for “university of indonesia history faculty” the first record that Google shows is for “Eric Tagliacozzo – Cornell University Department of History”?
Then finally there is Vietnam National University in Hanoi. The English-language page has some general information about how some of its faculty members have received various awards.
And the Vietnamese-language page has. . . absolutely nothing. [04 Dec 2013 update: The above link now redirects you to this fully-functioning web page. It looks like the Faculty of History must have developed its own web page and that the university web page was not linking to it, but it is now.]
To be honest, I was really surprised to see how bad these web pages are (other than the NUS page, which is fine).
In the current “Internet age” one’s online presence is incredibly important. And of course there are many universities in “the West” that have bad web pages (including one that I am closely connected to), but for universities that are eager to be “international” (and some of the above universities definitely fit into that category), there is nothing more important than having a strong online presence.
This idea of an online presence or “branding” might still be new in Southeast Asia, but it’s 2013 and this has been important for a long time already in the fast-paced world of the Internet age. So put yourselves online!!
Filed under: Southeast Asia, Vietnam | Leave a Comment