In 1831 the Nguyễn Dynasty official, Lý Văn Phức, escorted some stranded Chinese sailors back to Fujian province.

When he arrived there, the guesthouse where he was supposed to stay had a sign over it which indicated that it was for “Barbarians.”

In the nineteenth century, Chinese viewed the world as divided between Hua and Yi. I translate “Hua” as “Efflorescents” and Yi as “Barbarians.”

Being an “Efflorescent” had nothing to do with the blood in your veins or what you looked like. This category was culturally defined. It referred to people who followed the ideals that were elaborated in the (Confucian) classics.

In these divided world, educated Chinese saw themselves as Efflorescents and everyone else as Barbarians.

However, Lý Văn Phức also saw himself as an Efflorescent (“Hoa” in Vietnamese). In fact, he may have seen himself as even more of an Efflorescent than his contemporaries in China because they had corrupted the ideals of antiquity when they followed the hybrid cultural practices of the invading Manchus who established the Qing Dynasty in the seventeenth century.

In any case, after seeing the sign over the guesthouse, Lý Văn Phức wrote an essay in which he defended his “Efflorescent-ness” (or “Hoa-ness”).

I made the above video about this event.

The section of his essay that the video is based on is as follows:

“As for the laws for governing the kingdom, they are based on those of the Two Emperors and the Three Monarchs [of antiquity]. With regard to the transmission of the way, it takes as its root the Six Classics and the Four Books, the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and those of Zhu Xi and Cheng Yi. As for learning, it springs forth from the Zuo Commentary and the “Odes of the States,” and can be traced back to Ban Zhao and Sima Qian. As for writing, poetry and rhapsodies, there is the Collected Writings of the Zhaoming [Reign], and reliance on Li Bo and Du Fu. For calligraphy, it is the six scripts in the Rites of Zhou, with Zhong You and Wang Xizhi taken as models. In employing worthies and selecting scholars, the Han-Tang exam system is employed, while sashes and caps follow the garments of the Song-Ming. How numerous are the examples. If all of this is called Barbaric, then I know not what it is that we call Efflorescent!”