Every summer when the college entrance exams are held, the Vietnamese media is filled with articles that lament the fact that students are not interested in history.
Then every time a book comes out that attempts to do something new to attract readers, it gets criticized.
Recently there was a book on famous military figures in the Vietnamese past (Những vị tướng lừng danh trong lịch sử dân tộc) that included pictures, but it was fiercely criticized as soon as it came out as some of its pictures were in the style of Japanese manga images.
This publisher was fined 21 million đồng for publishing this book without officially registering it first.
Now there is another book about Vietnamese history that has come out with pictures that is being criticized (Trưng nữ vương khởi nghĩa Mê Linh). This is a book about the Trưng sisters’ rebellion, and it claims that the reason why the Chinese were able to defeat the Trưng sisters was because Ma Yuan, the commanding Chinese general, ordered that his men take off their pants. The Trưng sisters and their followers were embarrassed to see the soldiers’ private parts, and this apparently gave the Chinese the upper hand.
As Professor Lê Mậu Hãn is quoted as saying in VNExpress, there is no ancient source that records anything about this.
Shortly after this information was revealed, publication of this book was stopped.
While people opposed the pictures in these two works, last year there was a book on early history that was criticized for its content (Nguồn gốc người Việt – người Mường). I can’t remember if the publication of that book was stopped or not, but I do recall that at least one event where the author was to introduce his book was cancelled.
So there is a problem here. People realize that the way history is presented in Vietnam does not interest young people, but when some people try to make changes, other people criticize it, and they do so to such an extent that these efforts to present history in a more interesting way are stopped.
I think the reason why this is happening is because history in Vietnam is treated like a science, but history is an art. Like art, it can be interpreted in different ways. At the same time, it is not entirely subjective, because any interpretation that an historian puts forth has to be supported by evidence for the interpretation to be believed by others.
When history is treated as a science, that is, as something that has been proven already and cannot change, then history becomes incredibly boring. Adding manga images cannot make it interesting.
What makes history fascinating is that it can be looked at from different perspectives. When someone offers a new, well-documented, interpretation of the past, then it is interesting to people. There’s no need to create stories (with accompanying pictures) about Chinese men without pants.