Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past



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A Day in Đường Lâm (Một Ngày ở Đường Lâm)

I spent an enjoyable day last summer (2016) in Đường Lâm village with some friends. These videos were made at that time. They cover many topics – tourism, heritage, memory, etc. – and I will create English subtitles for them soon, but for readers of this blog who know Vietnamese, here are the Vietnamese versions.

Engaging With Vietnam 2017

Digital Humanities, Bronze Drums and Buffaloes

Dông Sơn bronze drums are today a symbol of Vietnam. The images of bronze drums and the details on them (birds, etc.) can be found everywhere in Vietnam. But why do people think that they are so representative?

And if they don’t really represent Vietnam, then what does?

This is a question that Digital Humanities can help answer.

Continue reading “Digital Humanities, Bronze Drums and Buffaloes”

Updating the Trưng Sisters

In 2014, as I saw how fast YouTube was transforming the way that so many people access information, I decided to learn how to make videos. The first video I made was a 4-part video series on the Trưng Sisters, the two sisters who led a rebellion against the Han Dynasty in the first century AD.

It’s now 2017 and my video-making skills are much better than they were in 2014, so I’ve decided to “update” that first video series, as I still like it.

Here are the first two parts (I’ll upload the final two soon):

Part 1:

Part 2:

How Did Vietnam Transform from a Lateral-Aristocratic Ethnie into a Modern Nation?

In 1980 a conference was held in Hanoi to mark the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Institute of History (Viện Sử Học). The topic of the conference was the question of when the Vietnamese nation formed (vấn đề hình thành dân tộc Việt Nam).

The opening address of this conference noted that this was an issue that had been discussed since 1955, and had been viewed in two main ways over that period of time.

Continue reading “How Did Vietnam Transform from a Lateral-Aristocratic Ethnie into a Modern Nation?”

Mothers, Wombs and Serpents: Huỳnh Sanh Thông’s Female-Centric Theory of the Origins of Language

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the South Vietnamese philosopher Lương Kim Định. One thing I like about Kim Định is that he was aware of cutting-edge scholarship in the West in fields like structural anthropology. What is problematic about Kim Định is that he did not actually follow the ideas or purpose of structural anthropology in his writings.

Structural anthropology, as developed by French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, was supposed to be a way to examine all of the societies of the world together. Lévi-Strauss believed that each society had an underlying structure that was largely similar to the underlying structures of other societies, and that we could identify these structures and then examine them together so that we could gain a better understanding of human societies in general.

Continue reading “Mothers, Wombs and Serpents: Huỳnh Sanh Thông’s Female-Centric Theory of the Origins of Language”

Tạ Đức, Cao Sơn, Bronze Drums, Nationalism and History

A friend recently scanned and sent me some pages from a new book by Vietnamese author Tạ Đức on bronze drums in Vietnam called The Origin and Development of the Đông Sơn Bronze Drums (Nguồn gốc và sự phát triển của trống đồng Đông Sơn).

This friend sent those pages to me because some of the ideas that I have posted about bronze drums on this blog are criticized in this book. In particular, I have argued that the cultural world of the people who used bronze drums for rituals and as symbols of power in the Red River delta in the first millennium BC is different from the cultural world of the people whom we today refer to as the Vietnamese (see, for instance, here, here and here).

Continue reading “Tạ Đức, Cao Sơn, Bronze Drums, Nationalism and History”

The Ming-Occupation-Period Origins of the Lĩnh Nam Chích Quái?

One of the earliest texts that contains information about Vietnamese history is a fifteenth-century work known as the Arrayed Tales of Selected Oddities from South of the Passes (Lĩnh Nam chích quái liệt truyện 嶺南摭怪列傳) [“Arrayed Tales” for short]. This text contains stories about various famous people from Vietnamese history.

However, there is something strange about its preface. The preface is written from what we could call a “Chinese perspective.” Here is how it begins:

“Although the Cassia Sea is in [the area of] South of the Passes, marvelous mountains and streams, potent land, outstanding people, and miraculous affairs perhaps can all be found there.”

Continue reading “The Ming-Occupation-Period Origins of the Lĩnh Nam Chích Quái?”

The Problem of “Textual Drift” in Studies on Premodern Vietnamese History

There is a new survey of Vietnamese history that has just been published. It is a book by Yale professor Ben Kiernan called Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present (Oxford, 2017). Kiernan does not know Vietnamese [Correction: I’ve been informed that Kiernan does know some Vietnamese. However, this book does not cite Vietnamese sources, only Vietnamese sources that have been translated into English or French.] or classical Chinese, but he has read a lot of what has been written about Vietnamese history in English, and he has taught about Vietnamese history for many years.

His book therefore can be seen as an effort by an educated person to try to make sense of the extant English-language scholarship on Vietnamese history. His conclusions, I would argue, can in turn enable people who specialize on Vietnamese history to gain a sense of how well they have been able to educate readers about the Vietnamese past.

Continue reading “The Problem of “Textual Drift” in Studies on Premodern Vietnamese History”

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Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

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Ideas for employing digital humanities approaches to the study of Southeast Asian history