I was reading an article in Nhân dân that prime minister Phạm Văn Đồng wrote in 1969 on the occasion of the death anniversary of the Hùng kings, the supposed earliest known rulers in the Red River Delta.


This is how the article began:

“Among many beautiful traditions, our Vietnamese nationality (dân tộc Việt Nam ta) always upholds a tradition that is great and infinitely beautiful: remembering the ancestors, remembering the people who have great accomplishments in the task of establishing and maintaining the country/nation.

“Within the small collective of a village that encompasses many lineages and families, just as within the entire country, our Vietnamese nationality in our spiritual life, intellectual life and emotions always connect the present with the past, our little native village with the Fatherland and the nationality; from this we preserve and manifest beautiful traditional sentiments: love of country, the spirit of unity, a steadfast and indomitable will, and a deep and powerful belief in one’s ability.”


What I find interesting here is that the beautiful traditional sentiments that Phạm Văn Đồng mentions here are all expressed in terms that would have been unrecognizable to Vietnamese prior to the twentieth century.

1. Vietnamese texts prior to the twentieth century do not mention “love of country” (yêu nước).

2. “Unity” (đoàn kết) is also a twentieth century concept.


3. And “ability” (tài năng) is also a twentieth century concept.


In other words, all of the “beautiful traditions” that Phạm Văn Đồng mentions here are expressed in modern terms, and these are terms that were introduced into Asian languages to translate concepts in Western writings.

So if the “beautiful traditions” of “our Vietnamese nationality” can only be expressed in Western terms, then how can we believe that such traditions actually existed prior to contact with the West?