I’ve noticed something.

Whenever Vietnamese scholars are confronted with ideas that contradict what has been said in Vietnam, they say about that scholarship “Không có gì mới” (“there is nothing new [about this]”).

Most recently I think I wrote about this somewhere on this blog in talking about Dương Trung Quốc’s comments about Huy Đức’s Bên Thắng Cuộc. But I hear the same comment about anything I say, or anything anyone else says that contradicts the official discourse in Vietnam.

Ok, so if “Không có gì mới” is a way to critique scholarship, then it must mean that there is scholarship in Vietnam that is truly “mới” (new). So where is that scholarship? Who are the Vietnamese scholars who are producing scholarship that is considered “mới”? What are the titles of these works? I honestly have no idea what is being produced that is considered “mới.”

And what is it that makes this scholarship “mới”? Is it cutting-edge scholarship that is creating a new way of viewing the past, like Indian scholars did with the field of subaltern studies? If so, what are the arguments of this cutting-edge “mới” scholarship that Vietnamese scholars are producing?

In saying “Không có gì mới,” do Vietnamese scholars think that they are equal participants in the world of global scholarship (and therefore can evaluate scholarship in that context)? If so, what works have they produced that stand side-by-side with the works that have been produced in other countries in the past several decades? What gives a Vietnamese scholar the right to criticize another work by saying “Không có gì mới”?

Is there a valid scholarly reason why I keep hearing this critique? Or is this just an emotional response that is uttered out of a sense of inferiority? If it is the former, then demonstrate the scholarship that defends such a comment (who has produced scholarship that rivals what Huy Đức has done, for instance?). If it is the latter, then people should stop criticizing the work of others and get to work to produce scholarship that is truly “mới.” That is something that everyone will benefit from.

As far as I can tell, saying “Không có gì mới” is just a way to justify to oneself the mediocrity of the present. But there is no justification for mediocrity, because excellence is always attainable.