Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

Strangeness and History in Vietnam

This is a meditation on the “Nam quốc sơn hà,” strangeness in history, Benedict Anderson, language learning, the “Bình Ngô đại cáo,” Soviet soldiers, Tạ Chí Đại Trường, and the questioning of the received/established knowledge of experts.


Art Deco Southeast Asia

I spent some time today looking at a magazine that was published in the US in the 1930s and 1940s under the name of Asia and Asia and the Americas. Continue reading “Art Deco Southeast Asia”

Colonial Vietnam from a Bovine Perspective

A few weeks ago I drove through a town in northern Vietnam that sold local milk products. As someone who grew up on a dairy farm but who is now lactose-intolerant, it felt somewhat surreal to watch my Vietnamese travel companions happily slurp down freshly made goats’ milk yogurt while I stood and watched. . . but ultimately this all made me wonder about the history of the dairy industry in that region.

Clearly dairy farms are not a “traditional Vietnamese” industry, and therefore, it must be the case that this is an industry that was introduced during the colonial period, but I was curious to know some of the details about the actual history of the introduction of the dairy industry into Vietnam.

a cow

Continue reading “Colonial Vietnam from a Bovine Perspective”

Seeing Like a State in Fifteenth Century Vietnam

There is a book that was compiled in fifteenth century Vietnam called the Treatise on the Territory (Dư địa chí 輿地誌). This work was supposedly initially compiled by the scholar-official Nguyễn Trãi, but the versions that exist today also contain information that later scholars added.

The way this text is usually talked about in Vietnam today is as an example of any early “geography” or as a work of “historical geography.” As one scholar put it, Nguyễn Trãi’s text planted the seed that would eventually lead to the development of the field of “the historical geography of the Vietnamese people.” (Lần đầu tiên, Nguyễn Trãi đã đặt nền mống xây dựng khoa địa lý lịch sử của dân tộc Việt. . .)

Continue reading “Seeing Like a State in Fifteenth Century Vietnam”

Microhistory in Phan Quang’s Re/Cover

There is an art exhibition being held at BLANC Art Space in Saigon at the moment which displays a series of photographs taken by artist Phan Quang, and which is called “Re/Cover.”

The curator of the exhibition, Nguyễn Như Huy, kindly sent me a copy of the catalog for the exhibition. In the catalog, Nguyễn Như Huy has an essay entitled “Re/Cover: A Microhistorical Approach by Phan Quang” in which he explains how Phan Quang’s art can be understood as a form of microhistory.

Continue reading “Microhistory in Phan Quang’s Re/Cover”

Công Binh as Microhistory

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of seeing the film Công Binh: La longue nuit Indochinoise. Created by French director Lam Lê (Lê Lâm), this is a documentary film about the 20,000 Vietnamese laborers who were sent to France to work in weapons factories during World War II.

The film is based on interviews with 20 of these former laborers; ten in France and 10 in Vietnam. Through their stories viewers are exposed to the complexities of a turbulent period of history.

Continue reading “Công Binh as Microhistory”

Taking a Break

Summer is here and it’s time again to take a break for a few weeks. Thank you for reading and viewing. Le Minh Khai’s SEAsian History Blog will be back in late July.

Continue reading “Taking a Break”

The Real (Lý) Ông Trọng

In making the video of Trần Trọng Dương’s discussion of Lý Ông Trọng, I was reminded of something I wrote about Lý Ông Trọng years ago and which I thought I had made public, but I now see that I never did.

The gist of the story is that there was an official in the Red River region at the end of the period of Han Dynasty rule whose name was Yao Jun and whose “courtesy name” (字) was “Wenzhong/Ông Trọng.” Yao Jun abandoned his post and went off into the mountains to become a Daoist.

Continue reading “The Real (Lý) Ông Trọng”

Trần Trọng Dương on De-Sinicization

In this video Trần Trọng Dương talks about the effort of some Vietnamese scholars to interpret the past in ways that they hope will distance Vietnamese culture from Chinese culture.

Continue reading “Trần Trọng Dương on De-Sinicization”

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Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

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