Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

Hồ Chí Minh and China’s Destiny

I was reading a newspaper from Republican China today called the Central Daily (Zhongyang ribao 中央日報). On 19 May 1946 it published a brief article entitled “Việt Chairman Hồ Chí Minh Translates China’s Destiny; Since Publication it has been Selling Extremely Well.”


Continue reading “Hồ Chí Minh and China’s Destiny”

A Review of “The People between the Rivers” (plus a 30% discount)

In 1976, Edward Schafer published a book about “the South” in the medieval Chinese imagination called The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. Filled with fascinating details about everything from plants to people, Schafer’s book demonstrated how vast and rich the information in Chinese sources is for the region of what is now Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, as well as northern and parts of central Vietnam, in the first millennium CE.

At the same time, however, in focusing on how Chinese “thought” about the south, The Vermilion Bird is not an ideal work to read in order to gain a sense of “what actually happened” in that region during that time period. This is a gap that Keith Taylor’s 1983 work, The Birth of Vietnam, partially filled as it provided a very detailed narrative of the history of the Red River Plain, part of the larger region that is examined in The Vermilion Bird, from the earliest times up through the period of Tang Dynasty rule.

Continue reading “A Review of “The People between the Rivers” (plus a 30% discount)”

A Review of “The People between the Rivers”

There is a wonderful book by Catherine Churchman coming out in a couple of weeks called The People between the Rivers: The Rise and Fall of a Bronze Drum Culture, 200-750 CE.

I will post a detailed review of this important work when it is actually published, but in anticipation of that, here is a review of the book.

Continue reading “A Review of “The People between the Rivers””

The Premodern Past that Haunts Modern Vietnamese

There at it again. For the past few days Vietnamese cyberspace has been filled with articles and discussions about whether Chinese characters (chữ Hán) should be taught in schools in Vietnam.

I think the article that got the current debate started was one that called for teaching Chinese characters in order to “preserve the clarity of Vietnamese” (Cần dạy chữ Hán để giữ sự trong sáng của tiếng Việt), and this provoked somewhat of a backlash from some people who see this idea as some kind of effort to make Vietnam more “Chinese.”

Continue reading “The Premodern Past that Haunts Modern Vietnamese”

Knowledge Production, Globalization and Vietnamese Studies

The video below aired on ThinkTech Hawaii and covers a range of topics that the Engaging With Vietnam conference series deals with, from knowledge production to globalization.

A big mahalo to Dr. Grace Cheng of Hawaii Pacific University for inviting us and facilitating a great conversation!!

Continue reading “Knowledge Production, Globalization and Vietnamese Studies”

Phan Bội Châu, the Later Trần and the Ngô

I love the early twentieth century, as that is when the Vietnamese worldview started to change dramatically, and the documents from that period make that perfectly clear.

I’ve been writing about a fifteenth-century document known as the “Great Pronouncement on Pacifying the Ngô” (Bình Ngô đại cáo), and of course the question of what the term “Ngô” refers to has come up.

The limited evidence from the fifteenth-century makes it difficult to determine what exactly that term meant at that time, but early twentieth century writings make it very clear what the term meant at that time.

A case in point is an historical novel that Vietnamese revolutionary Phan Bội Châu wrote in classical Chinese in the early twentieth century called The Lost History of the Later Trần (後陳逸史 Hậu Trần dật sử).

Continue reading “Phan Bội Châu, the Later Trần and the Ngô”

Streaming From Saigon: Hoàng Vân Nội’s Migration Theory

This is a video about a book that was published in South Vietnam in 1974 about the origins of the Vietnamese people.

12. The BNĐC Series: A Conclusion of Sorts

In the 1950s, students in America were taught that Thomas Jefferson was a great man because he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”

Then in the 1960s, African-Americans fought for equal rights, there was a feminist movement, and an intellectual/academic movement known as post-modernism emerged.

Historians responded by looking for African-Americans and women in the American past, and by questioning written sources, rather than simply accepting as “truth” what was written in the past.

Today students in America are taught that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” but they are also taught that Jefferson owned slaves from Africa, and that women were not allowed to vote in America at that time. In other words, students are now taught to not accept what was written in the past as “the truth,” but instead are encouraged to understand the past in all of its complexity.

Continue reading “12. The BNĐC Series: A Conclusion of Sorts”

11. The BNĐC Series: Wang Tong, Ngô and Levels of Politeness

The term “Ngô” is one which scholars have long debated about. As we saw earlier, Ưng Quả explained the term “Ngô” as a general name for the Chinese, and said that in the context of the “Bình Ngô đại cáo” that it referred to the Ming.
This is what most people today think, but this is difficult to justify as the term appears extremely rarely in Vietnamese sources, and most of the times that it does it is in the writings of Nguyễn Trãi.

Continue reading “11. The BNĐC Series: Wang Tong, Ngô and Levels of Politeness”

Blog at

Up ↑

Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

Fifty Viss

a collection of thoughts and writings on Burma

Colonizing Animals

A blog about beasts, Burma and British imperialism

mini myna

on knowing the past in Singapore


Albert Einstein — 'What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.'


About Vietnamese Cultural History and Scholarship

Digital Southeast Asia

Ideas for employing digital humanities approaches to the study of Southeast Asian history