Yesterday I came across a journal which I had never looked at before, Vietnam Social Sciences. By chance, the first issue I looked at was this one right here from January 2011.

The entire issue is devoted to the topic of the Hùng kings. I was surprised to see this, as I thought that everything that could be said about the Hùng kings in Vietnam had already been said by now.

In looking at the articles, I found that to be true. There is nothing new here. The fact that the first piece in the journal is by Trần Huy Liệu, a man who died in 1969, is a clear sign of that.

It was nonetheless interesting to see Tạ Chí Đại Trường among the contributors. Whereas Trần Huy Liệu characterized the Hùng king’s death anniversary as a central element in Vietnam’s national culture, Tạ Chí Đại Trường just wrote in the most recent issue of the Journal of Vietnamese Studies that the establishment of the death anniversary of the Hùng kings was something that the French helped create in the early 20th century.

Tạ Chí Đại Trường’s “article” in this issue of Vietnam Social Sciences actually consists of part of a chapter from his book. My guess would be that the people at the journal simply included that information without consulting the author.

What makes me think this way is the fact that I found (somewhat to my surprise) something that I had written in an earlier issue of this journal. I never submitted it, and no one ever sought my permission to publish it. So from this I can get a sense of the “professional standards” of Vietnam Social Sciences (which is why I wasn’t very surprised to find that someone had published something of mine without asking).

So if this is not a professional academic journal, then what is it? And why publish an issue on the Hùng kings which contains material from roughly a half century ago?

In his piece in the Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Tạ Chí Đại Trường states that “The notions of Hùng kings and National Ancestry have been and are being used to serve the present.”

He concludes his article with the following:

“In 1985 Mr. Phạm Huy Thông, then director of the Archaeological Institute, warned that their historical theory on the Hùng kings era had ‘become a sacred heritage of the nation thanks to scientific research. . . (therefore) no one [would be] allowed to make arbitrary comments in the name of science.’”

If Mr. Phạm Huy Thông were still with us today, he would undoubtedly be pleased to see that no such “arbitrary comments” have been made. The Hùng kings have been allowed to remain “sacred.” But at what cost?

In 2011, after decades of interaction with the international community, and after thousands of Vietnamese have gone overseas to study, the journal, Vietnam Social Sciences, publishes material that could have been (and in some cases was) published decades ago. . .