A Confucian/Anti-French Critique of the Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục

I recently came across a fascinating text from the early twentieth century that contains a critique of the Dông Kinh Nghĩa Thục. The Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục (東京義塾, Tonkin Free School) is a school that was set up in Hanoi in 1907 where “modern” (Western) subjects where taught, and where students were encouraged to learn to read and write in Vietnamese using the Romanized script (quốc ngữ) rather than classical Chinese (Hán).

This school was shut down by the French colonial authorities a year later. The usual explanation for this is that the French accused some of the leaders of the school for being involved in tax protests that broke out at that time in central Vietnam.

In the modern (nationalist) history of Vietnam, the brief existence of this school is regarded as an important moment in the nationalist struggle against French colonial rule when Vietnamese sought to take steps to modernize their society, but ultimately were stopped by the French).

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Reading Khải Định – The Last Vietnamese Emperor

One major “blind spot” that exists in our understanding of modern Vietnamese history concerns what happened at the Nguyễn Dynasty court in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For most of the nineteenth century, historians can consult compilations based on Nguyễn Dynasty court records that are known as “veritable records” (thực lục 實錄), but no such collections were made for the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Court documents from that period, however, do still exist.

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Erasing Confucian Temples (Văn Miếu 文廟) from Vietnamese History

I’ve recently been doing some research using a nineteenth-century geography called the Đại Nam nhất thống chí 大南一統志 (Unified Gazetteer of Đại Nam). As usual, once you start looking closely at a text and comparing that text with what has been written about it. . . you run into all kinds of problems.

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Gia Long’s De-Localization of Hanoi’s Văn Miếu

When the Nguyễn Dynasty came to power in 1802, there was a Confucian Temple (Văn Miếu 文廟) in Long Hồ hamlet, outside the imperial citadel. In 1807, Emperor Gia Long ordered that a new Confucian Temple be constructed in the nearby An Ninh hamlet.

That same year, Emperor Gia Long also ordered that a shrine dedicated to the father of Confucius (Khải Thánh từ 啓聖祠) be constructed.

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Area Studies is the New Philology

Knowledge production continuously transforms alongside changes in society and technology. At times, however, societal and technological changes are so profound that forms of knowledge that had previously been considered of central importance get displaced by new ways of knowing.

We are currently living in such a time of profound social and technological change (think globalization and the Digital Revolution), and area studies is a realm of knowledge production that is losing its position of previously held importance.

Interestingly, were we to look back at the rise of area studies in the decades following World War II, another time of profound change (think decolonization and the Cold War), we would find that area studies at that time itself replaced an earlier way of investigating and knowing the world: philology (the study of literary texts).

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The Digital Age World Does Not Need Southeast Asian Studies – And That’s the Problem

Today I stumbled across an article by historian Thongchai Winichakul on “Southeast Asian Studies in the Age of STEM Education and Hyper-Utilitarianism.” Being a fan of Thongchai’s work on Thai history, and seeing that this essay covers a topic that I’m always interested in – Southeast Asian Studies in the current (digital) age – I decided to read it.

It is no secret that the world of area studies in general, and the humanities in particular, are not faring well these days. What I find problematic is that in discussing this issue many academics simply try to argue that area studies (or history or the humanities, etc.) is important because it promotes/teaches critical thinking or certain knowledge that leads to a more meaningful life.

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Exploring Brunei

For the past six months I have been living in Brunei. Before coming here, like many people I know, I knew very little about the country and did not know what to expect.

After arriving, I quickly realized that Brunei is incredibly beautiful.

At present there isn’t much of a tourism industry. And while that will likely change to some extent in the years ahead, hopefully whatever changes come will not disrupt the lifestyle and beauty of the country.

I’ve been making videos to document my explorations (and to practice video editing). I’m sharing the ones I’ve made here for anyone who is curious to see what beautiful Brunei looks like, as it is indeed beautiful.

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Ooi Keat Gin, An Historical Encyclopedia of Southeast Asia, & the State of Southeast Asian Studies

In this video, Professor Victor T. King of the Institute of Asian Studies at Universiti Brunei Darussalam continues his discussion with Professor Ooi Keat Gin, an historian in the School of Humanities at Universiti Sains Malaysia. They begin by talking … Continue reading Ooi Keat Gin, An Historical Encyclopedia of Southeast Asia, & the State of Southeast Asian Studies