Representing Minorities in North Vietnam

These are some images from the early 1960s from the North Vietnamese magazine Viet Nam.

The above pictures seem to represent the happy and idyllic traditional lifestyle of minority peoples. Or maybe they are happy because they are now living under Socialism?

The pictures below, meanwhile, demonstrate how the minorities are participating in the modern nation, while still maintaining their cultural distinctness.

And finally, here are some representations in art. The first is a painting called “The Teacher in a Mountain Village” by Le Huy Hoa.

A Việt View of Savages and Aborigines

I posted a while ago (here) about a geographical text which was produced in the late nineteenth or (more likely) the early twentieth century which was unique in that it talked about the various “races” (nhân chủng) in Vietnam.

The idea of “race” (chủng) is a concept which was unknown to Vietnamese prior to their contact with Western ideas. This text appears to me to be an early effort to employ this concept.

However, the way it is employed is very interesting. The text talks about the various “nhân chủng” in the country, but it is unclear what, if any, criteria it uses for categorizing people. What is more, the information provided about peoples is extremely derogatory.

The text divides the various savages and aborigines according to the three sections (kỳ) of the country, which is another sign that this text was written during the colonial period. I’m providing below a translation of some of the peoples in Bắc Kỳ. I’ll try to translate more later.

Races of Man [i.e., “savages”] and Thổ [i.e., “aborigines”] from the Three Regions [三畿人蠻土人種]

There are 12 tribes of Thổ people [土人] who live in the mountain forests: the Hoàng, Ma, Hà, Ấu (?), Triệu, Điêu/Đeo, Trùng, Mao, Xích, Mạn, Nảy and Điếu. It is traditionally told that they have an immortal dog as their founding ancestor and that they emerged during the time of the Hùng kings.

Among the Nùng people [儂人], those who live on the mountain tops are the Môi tribe. Those who live half on the mountains and half in the forests are the Nương tribe. Those who live deep in the mountains and always wear white robes and turbans are the Na tribe.

Man people [蠻人]

The men are treacherous and overbearing. The women use white [cloth] for their clothing.

Mạnh people [猛人]

Their temperaments are evil. They can curse people. The women completely use white for their clothing. They live in the mountain caves of Bảo Lạc

Dao people [猺人]

By nature they are very treacherous. They can harm people with poisonous plants and sheep ??? (?). They live in the mountain grottoes of Bắc Cạn.

Mường people [亻/芒人]

The men like to murder people and eat their livers and gall bladders. They can trick people and take their belongings. They live in the grottoes of Thủy Vĩ.

Mọi people [/每人]

For their clothing they entirely use black material with red on the edges. They live in the valleys and grottoes of Phân Mao Ridge in Lạng Sơn.

Bề people [佊人]

They use multi-colored cloth for their clothing. [Residing] deep in the mountains, they eat raw food, and are not afraid of evil things. They live on Thiên Môn Ridge and Mount Lão Quân.

Announcements in the Indigenous Language in Colonial Vietnam

I recently came across a journal that was published in colonial Vietnam called the Official Bulletin in the Indigenous Language. It was an official publication for Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ) which announced to the public laws and decisions which had been made by the colonial authority.

It is a very interesting journal, because while it contains announcements about laws and decisions which were made by the French, it also contains statements by Emperor Bảo Đại. So for anyone who wishes to examine the overlapping authority of the French and the Nguyễn Dynasty in its last days, this journal looks like it would be a great source.

Another point which caught my attention is that this journal contains announcements for journals and newspapers which the colonial authorities approved for publication. What is interesting is that one can find many publications mentioned here which I don’t think anyone has ever heard of before.

Are historians of colonial Vietnam familiar with the Saint Dominic Bimonthly? How about the Women’s Weekly? The Moscow Journal? Theater and Cinema?

I didn’t think so. That’s why this journal is fascinating, as it opens a window onto parts of a past world which historical writings to date have not revealed or examined.

Twentieth-Century Events From a Tai Perspective

In the late 1940s and early 1950s two of the most important events in the twentieth century took place on the Asian mainland. In 1949 there was a revolution in China which brought the Chinese Communist Party to power, and in 1954 the Việt Minh defeated the French and brought an end to decades of colonial rule.

How do we write about these events? Was the Communist Revolution a victory? Not to the KMT it wasn’t. So how should we write about it? From the victors’ standpoint, or from the perspective of those who lost? How about what transpired in Vietnam? Should we refer to it as a victory or a loss?

There is nothing in events themselves which can determine this. It all depends on the perspective that the historian takes.

With those thoughts in mind, yet another perspective about these events occurred to me recently as I was reading through the New Times of Burma for the early months of 1954.

On February 20, 1954 the New Times of Burma reported that KMT remnants were reported to be “terrorizing and endangering lives,” that elders were being held at ransom and that women were being kidnapped.

Some of the places that they were reported to be terrorizing were the villages of Mong Khak, Mong Lwe, Mong Yang and Mong Pawk.

On February 23, the same paper reported that the 18-day Việt Minh siege of Muong Sai had been lifted.

Finally, on March 9, 1954 the New Times of Burma carried a report of a campaign on the part of the Burmese army against the KMT remnants in Burma. It stated that the Burmese army was converging on a strategic site called Mong Ton.

What is significant about these articles? What struck me was the place names mentioned: Mong Khak, Mong Lwe, Mong Yang, Mong Pawk, Muong Sai and Mong Ton. These are all settlements of Tai peoples.

Remnants of the KMT army fled into Burma, and the Việt Minh fought the French in Laos. In both instances, Tai were caught in the crossfire.

Were we to write a history of that period from their perspective, what would it look like?