The Chinese as “Fighting Friends” of the Vietnamese

Is Vietnamese history all about “resistance to Chinese aggression”? No, said DRV scholar Minh Tranh in 1954. Instead, he argued the Vietnamese and Chinese have always been “fighting friends” (bạn chiến đấu). He made this point in an article entitled “The Chinese People have been Fighting Friends of the Vietnamese People Throughout History (“Nhân dân Trung Quốc bạn chiến đấu của nhân dân Việt Nam trong lịch sử”).

Referring to Ngô Đình Diệm’s government in the South, Minh Tranh says at the beginning of this essay that “Recently, on orders from the French and American bandits the gang of traitors (bọn bán nước, literally, “the gang selling the country”) are exerting the utmost effort to distort history in an attempt to lead our compatriots who are in areas which are temporarily under occupation to not understand that the greatest friends of the Vietnamese resistance war are the people of China.”

Minh Tranh goes on to say that the gang of traitors hold commemorative events in which Vietnamese resistance to Chinese invasions is pointed out. The purpose of these events, according to Minh Tranh, is to create divisions between the Vietnamese and Chinese peoples.

According to Minh Tranh, however, the truth of history proves the gang of traitors wrong. For throughout history the Vietnamese and Chinese peoples have fought common enemies. When the Trưng sisters led their uprising, for instance, Chinese peasants were also rising up in rebellion against the feudal ruling class. What is more, these uprisings “helped the [participants in the Trưng sisters’ rebellion] achieve victory over the invading enemy troops.” (oh really? I never realized that Ma Yuan was defeated. . .)

The “righteous uprisings” (khởi nghĩa) of Lý Bôn and Triệu Quang Phục were also aided by the fact that Chinese peasant rebellions occurred during this period. For instance, Triệu Quang Phục was able to capture Lông Biên because the Chinese commander there was recalled to deal with a peasant uprising to the north.

Then in the case of the Mongols, these people were a common enemy of the Chinese and Vietnam, and both peoples fought them.

As for Lê Lợi’s defeat of the Ming. . . that’s right, it was also made easier because the Chinese were distracted putting down peasant uprisings in other parts of the empire.

Finally, as for Nguyễn Huệ’s defeat of the 20,000 troop Qing army at Đống Đa, like the Mongols, the Qing were a foreign people (Manchus) whom Chinese fought as well.

Minh Tranh obviously made these remarks because the DRV was allied with the PRC at the time and had just received a lot of assistance from the PRC in the final years of the First Indochina War. That said, there is some truth to some of the points he makes here. In some ways what he says here is historically more accurate than the idea that “the” Vietnamese always united together to resist “the” Chinese. Minh Tranh overstates his argument, but there is more historical complexity to his argument than the “resistance against foreign aggression” argument.

In any case, what I find interesting about this article is that it helps historicize the “resistance to foreign aggression” claim. The idea that Vietnamese have always been “resisting foreign aggression” is an invented tradition, and it is a very recently invented tradition. What this article shows is that in 1954, it hadn’t been invented yet. Yes, people were already talking about the “fighting spirit” of the Vietnamese, but the “resistance to foreign aggression” paradigm had yet to completely take shape.

What this article shows is that this paradigm couldn’t take shape as long as the DRV and PRC were on good terms. What changed everything, I think, was the Cultural Revolution. The DRV government started to encourage people in the North to become anti-Chinese during the Cultural Revolution so that the craziness of that movement would not take hold in the DRV.

This is not my own idea. There is some scholarship by a political scientist that I read which will come out soon, and he makes this point based on archival research in Vietnam.

Another point which I find interesting about this article is that it indicates that the government in the South was apparently promoting the idea of historical Vietnamese resistance to Chinese aggression in the mid-1950s, whereas the DRV government was not.

What all of this shows is that the world of ideas in the 1950s and 1960s was quite fluid. People in the North and South were responding to each other and to people and events outside of Vietnam at the same time. It’s a fascinating period.

6 thoughts on “The Chinese as “Fighting Friends” of the Vietnamese

  1. And what’ s now ?
    Vietnam now is a copy of China . They are both Communist Parties to run the whole 2 countries . Same flag , same patry, same a lot of models 模 型 [móxíng]: politics, economy, military , even language and culture red red stuffs. Somebody said that Vietnam in the otherwise is a “back yard of China” . Well, in that case, the Vietnamese people may have some benefits from Sino ( of course for a good servant) , but the prizes they should pay back are huge . How many more years will Vietnam become a true district of China ? Or, actually it already was !

    By the way, the logic trying prove that poeple of two countries were always “fighting friends” is totally a bad idea . Not because your people were rebeling and then it made a good chance for we had the same path . Your business is your business , men ! Or , Sino depress their people , then Vietnam does the same way, cause “we” are always the “fighting friends” ! So funny and so suck !

    Lot of Vietnamese words now are copying directly from Sino language . Maybe 60% of Han – Viet like that in Vietnam language . Well, the point is : if you say “Chủ tịch huyện” , you copy Sino . If you say “”Ông quận trưởng” you have created words for your own , haven’t you ?

    Main = 主 要 [zhŭyào] Chủ yếu
    Foresee = 预 见 [yùjiàn] Dự kiến
    Forecast = 预 报 [yùbào Dự báo
    Trade = 贸 易 [màoyì] Mậu dịch
    Improve = 改 善 Cải thiện
    Look after = 照 顾 [zhàogù] Chiếu cố
    Export = 出 口 [chūkŏu] Xuất khẩu
    Social services = 社 会 福 利 [shèhuì fúlì ] Xã hội phúc lợi
    Process = 过 程 [guòchéng] Quá trình
    Stable = 稳 定 的 [wĕndìng de] Ổn định

    The big problem of Vietnam people now is not only in “history” area any more !

    1. Actually, most of the words which you have here are the same in Vietnamese and Chinese because they all come from Japanese (and ultimately, they all come from Western languages). Many of these words here were created by the Japanese in the late nineteenth century in order to translate Western terms which did not exist in Japanese (or Chinese or Vietnamese or Korean, etc.). They then enterred Chinese when Chinese reformers read the writings of Japanese intellectuals, and then they enterred Vietnamse when Vietnamese reformers read the works of Chinese reformers. Basically, most “modern” concepts, like “society,” “trade,” “export,” and “improve” all enterred Chinese and Vietnamese in this manner.

  2. But you know what , we the ROV or South Vietnam before 1975 , we never said those words among people communication or in media . Instead of “Chủ yếu” –> we had ” Chính yếu” ; Dự báo –> Tiên đoán ; Mậu dịch –> Thương mại ; Xuất khẩu –> Xuất cảng ; Ổn định –> Yên ổn … And so on …

    You may say that those changing words are still in Han -Viet also . Yup ! They are , but they were not used in Sino language at all, Chinese didn’t say those .
    We ROV ( Republic Of Vietnam) have created them for ourself . And you know , we still use them . Those people who don’t accept Sinos in their tongue .

    And I don’t think the Sino are looking at the Viet Cong as a ” good fighting friends ” . Sino look at them as servants ( who ever batrayed them), no more than no more less !

    Who finds a good frientd like a copy cat ? Uh oh !

    1. Interesting point. Don’t forget however that the Chinese used in the Republic of China was changed a lot by the PRC. So while some of the expressions in the RVN were Vietnamese creations, others were terms which were used in the ROC, and which continued to be used on Taiwan and in Hong Kong after 1949.

      Then at the same time that the DRV employed Chinese terms that were popular in the PRC, they also tried to “indigenize” words by using Vietnamese terms instead of Chinese ones. So “phi co” became “may bay,” whereas this did not happen in the RVN and it remained “phi co.”

      So it is a lot more complex than someone “copying” someone else. It’s a very interesting topic.

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