I was trying to figure out when the idea of the “folk” (dân gian) started to be used by scholars in Vietnam. In looking at a book called Folk Literature (Văn học dân gian) that was published in 1972, I found that the authors noted that the term “folk” started to be used in the 1950s, and they cited an article by Vũ Ngọc Phan as an example.


I looked up that article. It was called “Vietnamese Farmers in Old Stories” (Người nông dân Việt Nam trong truyện cổ tích) and it was published in 1955 in the journal Văn Sử Địa, an academic journal in North Vietnam.


In the same issue was an article by Minh-Tranh called “Offering an Opinion on the Matter of Understanding the Literature of Our People” (Góp ‎ý kiến vào việc tìm hiểu văn học nhân dân của ta).


I was surprised to find that both of these authors argued that when we read literature we need to look for signs of class contradictions (mâu thuẫn giai cấp) and class struggle (đấu tranh giai cấp).

I was surprised to see this because the 1972 volume did not talk about such matters.


I then found that in between the time of these two publications a conference was held in Hanoi in 1966 on the literature and arts of the folk of Vietnam. It is clear from the presentations from that conference that were published in a volume three years later in 1969 that scholars were being asked to put their scholarship in the service of the war effort.


Understandably, scholars stopped talking about class contradictions and class struggle.


And when the war ended, unity was declared, and as far as I can tell, scholars have never returned to the topic of class contradictions and class struggles in folk literature.

So I wonder what the silence on this topic means. Does it mean that Minh-Tranh and Vũ Ngọc Phan were right or that they were wrong? And how do we know?