Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past


Vietnam and China

5. Going Backwards: Conclusion

[For an addendum to these opening comments, see this post.]

Ben Kiernan begins his new Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present with the following sentence: “The mountains are like the bones of the earth. Water is its blood,” wrote a Vietnamese geographer in 1820.” (1)

That sentence is the perfect sentence to open this book, as it perfectly symbolizes how flawed the scholarship in the pages that follow is.

Continue reading “5. Going Backwards: Conclusion”

4. Going Backwards: Cherry Picking Outdated Information

In his Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present, Ben Kiernan argues that in the early history of Vietnam there were two important migrations of peoples into the Red River Delta.

To quote,

“By the time of the classical Chinese contact with northern Việt Nam, the early ethnolinguistic pattern there had been transformed by two external influences from the south and north, from mainland Southeast Asia and southeast China.

Continue reading “4. Going Backwards: Cherry Picking Outdated Information”

Revisiting Norman and Mei’s Austroasiatic-Speakers in Ancient South China

In 1976, linguists Jerry Norman and Tsu-Lin Mei published an influential article entitled “The Austroasiatics in Ancient South China: Some Lexical Evidence.” In this article, Norman and Mei offered linguistic evidence that they said could “show that the Austroasiatics inhabited the shores of the Middle Yangtze and parts of the southeast coast during the first millennium B.C.”

Continue reading “Revisiting Norman and Mei’s Austroasiatic-Speakers in Ancient South China”

3. Going Backwards: The Yue Migration Theory

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, French missionaries, military officials and scholars all asked questions about the Vietnamese that the Vietnamese had never asked themselves: Who are these people? Where do they come from? What race do they belong to? What language family does their language belong to? etc.

By that time Vietnamese had of course already compiled texts about the history of their land, but those texts did not directly answer these questions. Instead, they were concerned with tracing a political genealogy that linked various rulers and dynasties together.

Continue reading “3. Going Backwards: The Yue Migration Theory”

Đào Duy Anh and ROC Intellectual Influence in Colonial Vietnam

One of the (many) problems with the way that modern Vietnamese history has been written about (both by historians inside and outside of Vietnam) is that there is virtually no recognition of any Chinese intellectual influence on Vietnam in the 1920s and 1930s when in fact there was significant influence.

Everyone recognizes that the traditional Vietnamese elite were deeply influenced by the ideas of their counterparts in imperial China. Everyone also recognizes that early-twentieth-century reformers like Phan Bội Châu were influenced by the ideas of late-Qing reformers like Liang Qichao.

But then after that. . . there is virtually no mention of any kind of intellectual connection between members of the Vietnamese elite and their counterparts in the Republic of China (ROC).

Continue reading “Đào Duy Anh and ROC Intellectual Influence in Colonial Vietnam”

Hồ Chí Minh and China’s Destiny

I was reading a newspaper from Republican China today called the Central Daily (Zhongyang ribao 中央日報). On 19 May 1946 it published a brief article entitled “Việt Chairman Hồ Chí Minh Translates China’s Destiny; Since Publication it has been Selling Extremely Well.”


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A Review of “The People between the Rivers”

In 1976, Edward Schafer published a book about “the South” in the medieval Chinese imagination called The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. Filled with fascinating details about everything from plants to people, Schafer’s book demonstrated how vast and rich the information in Chinese sources is for the region of what is now Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, as well as northern and parts of central Vietnam, in the first millennium CE.

At the same time, however, in focusing on how Chinese “thought” about the south, The Vermilion Bird is not an ideal work to read in order to gain a sense of “what actually happened” in that region during that time period. This is a gap that Keith Taylor’s 1983 work, The Birth of Vietnam, partially filled as it provided a very detailed narrative of the history of the Red River Plain, part of the larger region that is examined in The Vermilion Bird, from the earliest times up through the period of Tang Dynasty rule.

Continue reading “A Review of “The People between the Rivers””

A Review of “The People between the Rivers”

There is a wonderful book by Catherine Churchman coming out in a couple of weeks called The People between the Rivers: The Rise and Fall of a Bronze Drum Culture, 200-750 CE.

I will post a detailed review of this important work when it is actually published, but in anticipation of that, here is a review of the book.

Continue reading “A Review of “The People between the Rivers””

The Premodern Past that Haunts Modern Vietnamese

There at it again. For the past few days Vietnamese cyberspace has been filled with articles and discussions about whether Chinese characters (chữ Hán) should be taught in schools in Vietnam.

I think the article that got the current debate started was one that called for teaching Chinese characters in order to “preserve the clarity of Vietnamese” (Cần dạy chữ Hán để giữ sự trong sáng của tiếng Việt), and this provoked somewhat of a backlash from some people who see this idea as some kind of effort to make Vietnam more “Chinese.”

Continue reading “The Premodern Past that Haunts Modern Vietnamese”

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