There is a 1969 North Vietnamese movie that I liked called The Highland Female Teacher (Cô giáo vùng cao). It’s about a 19 year-old Hmong woman who is sent up into the mountains to teach.
She doesn’t have any teaching experience, but she has spent the previous three years in the Youth Shock Brigade (Thanh Niên Xung Phong), and she is determined to succeed at her job. [For more on the Youth Shock Brigade, see François Guillemot, “Death and Suffering at First Hand: Youth Shock Brigades during the Vietnam War, 1950-1975,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies vol. 4, no. 3 (2009): 17-60.]
Upon arriving in the mountains, she finds that the school is in ruins and that all of the school-age children stay home and work in the fields with their parents. The movie then focuses on her efforts to build a new school and win the trust of the local people.
In the middle of the movie there is one scene that I really like. In this scene we see the teacher standing on a mountain top surrounded by students. She holds up pictures of members of different ethnic groups and indicates to the student what each ethnic group is called.
She then explains that high up in the mountains live people like the Hmong and the Dao, and that further down the mountains live people like the Thái and the Nùng.
She then points off into the distance and says that over there in the plains is where the Kinh, or ethnic Vietnamese, live.
And then she finally explains that although there are many different types of people and these peoples don’t live together, they are all nonetheless “like brothers and sisters living together in this beautiful and prosperous fatherland, closely united together around Uncle Hồ.”
What I love about this scene is that it is a great example of the fact that national consciousness is something that has to be taught. What I also like about this scene is that it is in a movie which I am assuming was mainly viewed by ethnic Vietnamese living in the plains far from the mountains depicted in the movie.
As such, this scene which shows a Hmong teacher teaching her students in the mountains about the nation was ultimately meant to teach people who lived in the plains that the peoples in the mountains were members of the nation too.
There was so much cultural material about the ethnic minorities in the mountains that was produced during this period. I wish someone would engage in a critical examination of those materials (films, novels, etc.). It’s a fascinating topic.