So I read an unbelievable opinion piece in Vietnamese on the BBC website. It was “unbelievable” in both the sense that it contained information that an educated reader would find difficult to believe, but it was also unbelievable to me that the BBC Vietnamese service actually posted such a piece of writing, even as an opinion piece. I can’t imagine anything comparable ever appearing on the English-languages pages of the BBC’s website.

The author was a Vietnamese writer by the name of Hà Văn Thùy, and his argument in a nutshell was that virtually everyone and everything in Asia originated in Vietnam with the Vietnamese.

According to Hà Văn Thùy it all can be traced back to 70,000 years ago when the two “great races” (đại chủng) of Homo Sapien – the Europids and Mongoloids – reached the area of what is today central and northern Vietnam where they “mixed their blood” [?] (hòa huyết) and gave birth to the following four “ancient Việt” (Việt cổ) races: the Indonesians, Melanesians, Veddoids and Negritoids.

Then from Vietnam, these “Việt people” (người Việt) spread across Southeast Asia to Australia, and 40,000 years ago they moved northward into the area of what is today China, where by 4,000 BC they established a flourishing agricultural culture.

Then around 2,600 BC the Han (Chinese) emerged as the mixed-blood offspring of the Bách Việt [a.k.a. the Hundred Yue/Việt – the name which the Chinese traditionally gave the various ethnic groups who in the BC period lived to the south of the Yangzi River] and the Mongols.

Hà Văn Thùy then goes on to say that the Chinese language came from Vietnamese, and that the Chinese written language developed from Nôm, a system based on Chinese characters which the Vietnamese developed to write their spoken language.

Finally, Hà Văn Thùy disagrees with the idea that in the past the Vietnamese conquered a separate kingdom in the area of what is today central Vietnam – Champa – by stating that in the book, Nhìn lại sử Việt [Another look at Viet history], published in America, Dr. Lê Mạnh Hùng proves (chứng minh) that from the earliest times that area had been what we could call Vietnamese territory.

I had never heard of Dr. Lê Mạnh Hùng before. I Googled his name and found a short article in Vietnamese about him and his book, and I also found the following biographical sketch about him on Amazon:

Le Manh Hung received his BS and MS in Ocean Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. After returning to Vietnam in 1965, he taught at the Phu Tho National Institute of Technology in Saigon, before becoming head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. After 2000, Dr Le migrated to Australia and started a new life in journalism. He worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1992, and later joined Radio Free Asia as a research analyst. While at the BBC, he read history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and got a PhD in History in 2000. Dr. Le is now retired but continues to work freelance in both radio and in print.

This biographical sketch came from the page for Dr. Lê Mạnh Hùng’s book, The Impact of World War II on the Economy of Vietnam, 1939-45, which he completed as a doctoral dissertation in London. This book was published by Marshall Cavendish Academic.

Dr. Lê Mạnh Hùng’s book, Nhìn lại sử Việt, on the other hand, does not appear on Amazon. It was published in Arlington, VA by the Tổ Hợp Xuất Bản Miền Đông Hoa Kỳ, an organization which I had never heard of. According to Worldcat, this book can be found in 24 libraries, only one of which is an academic library, the Harvard Yenching Library.

While Dr. Lê Mạnh Hùng’s biography is impressive, and clearly demonstrates that he is an intelligent individual, there is little about his background or the publication of this book to indicate to me that he is in any way an authority on ancient history, or has any of the linguistic and professional skills necessary for studying that period. Hence, I find it difficult to imagine that his book “proves” anything, but I will wait until I read the book before making a final judgment.

The reason why I am focusing on this issue here is because while the content of Hà Văn Thùy’s opinion piece is very problematic (races are a social construct not a biological fact, etc.), I find that this technique of quoting sources from outside Vietnam to lend credibility to one’s argument is extremely common. People like Hà Văn Thùy do this to lend credibility to their arguments, but they have no idea what constitutes a credible book outside of Vietnam. Just because a book is “published” in America does not mean that it is believable. Instead, there is a clear distinction between legitimate academic works, and everything else.

This is a distinction which I thought the BBC made as well. I can’t picture an opinion piece like this ever appearing on the English-language pages of the BBC.

The opinion piece I am referring to here is the following:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/vietnamese/forum/2010/04/100420_havanthuy_dongocbich.shtml