Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past



Minh Mạng and Nôm

Alexander Woodside’s Vietnam and the Chinese Model (1971) is a pioneering work of scholarship that remains today an important study of nineteenth-century Vietnam and the Nguyễn Dynasty. Woodside was the first scholar in the English-speaking world to make extensive use of Nguyễn Dynasty sources and no scholar since has produced a work of scholarship that ranges so broadly over the nineteenth-century Vietnamese historical record.

Like any pioneering study, however, Vietnam and the Chinese Model can still of course be improved upon, and we can see this with regards to one issue that Woodside discusses in this work, the role of Nôm, or the demotic script, in early nineteenth century Vietnam.

Continue reading “Minh Mạng and Nôm”

Engaging in Vietnam in An Giang

Engaging With Vietnam is going to An Giang!! Our original plan for the upcoming 9th Engaging With Vietnam conference was to have the conference in HCM City and Phú Yên. We are now dividing it between HCM City and An Giang.

For more information see the following video:

And for more information about the conference, please consult the conference website:

6. Going Backwards: An Addendum

In a conclusion that I wrote to a series of posts on Ben Kiernan’s new Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present I noted that the book begins with the sentence, “‘The mountains are like the bones of the earth. Water is its blood,’ wrote a Vietnamese geographer in 1820” (1), and I stated that this “sentence is the perfect sentence to open this book, as it perfectly symbolizes how flawed the scholarship in the pages that follow is.”

My argument was that Kiernan had produced an inaccurate translation of a bad French translation of a classical Chinese text, and that this example of the uncritical use of a flawed source was typical of Kiernan’s own flawed scholarship in this book.

Continue reading “6. Going Backwards: An Addendum”

The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War

There is a major new documentary about the Vietnam War that is about to be broadcast on TV in the US. It is called The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick.

Burns and Novick have made some very successful documentaries together, but they are not experts on Vietnamese history, and while experts were consulted during the making of this documentary, I think it will be safe to assume that this documentary will essentially be a documentary about “what the Vietnam War means to a certain segment of the American population.”

That is fine. As long as educated viewers understand what this documentary is, and what its perspective is, then they can appreciate it for what it is.

Continue reading “The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War”

Hoa, Annamite and Ta: Or Why People Can’t Understand Vietnamese History

I’ve said it a million times before, but I’ll say it here again: “It is impossible to understand pre-20th-century Vietnamese history if one does not read classical Chinese.”

I just came across an example of a single sentence that demonstrates this point perfectly (see the previous post for a detailed discussion of the passage where this sentence comes from).

Continue reading “Hoa, Annamite and Ta: Or Why People Can’t Understand Vietnamese History”

Engaging With Vietnam in HCM City, Bình Dương and Phú Yên

After an intensive summer of planning for the 9th Engaging With Vietnam conference, we are pleased to announce details about the conference and to encourage everyone interested in participating to please submit a proposal by August 31 (see for details).

This year’s conference theme is “TOURING VIETNAM: Exploring Development, Tourism and Sustainability in Vietnam from Multi-disciplinary and Multi-directional Perspectives.” We encourage submissions that address this theme, but as a multidisciplinary conference on Vietnam, we also consider submissions on topics not directly related to the theme, so please feel free to submit a proposal!

This year’s conference will engage the theme through the following formats:

Continue reading “Engaging With Vietnam in HCM City, Bình Dương and Phú Yên”

Sihanouk’s “Thank You, Hồ Chí Minh Trail” (1973)

In 1970, the head of state of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, was overthrown by one of his military officers, Lon Nol.

Sihanouk, who had declared Cambodia to be a neutral state, was in Moscow at the time. He then flew to Beijing. In Beijing, Premier Minister Zhou Enlai summoned Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng, and together they convinced Sihanouk to form a government-in-exile and resist Lon Nol.

Sihanouk proceeded to do so, and in the process, he decided to support a group that was also opposed to Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge.

Continue reading “Sihanouk’s “Thank You, Hồ Chí Minh Trail” (1973)”

Updating the Trưng Sisters

Here are updated versions of the final two videos that I made about the Trưng Sisters in 2014.

Part 3:

Part 4:

A World War II Annam Anthem (Đăng Đàn)

One period of Vietnamese history that I find fascinating is World War II. During the War, Vietnam was occupied by the Japanese, but for most of the war the Japanese left the French in power.

France, however, had been occupied by the Germans, so the French colonial officials in Indochina during the war were part of a collaborating government known as Vichy France.

Vichy France was led by Philippe Pétain, a military man and authoritarian. He sent Admiral Jean Decoux to Indochina to promote his authoritarian agenda and to try to keep the Japanese from gaining influence among the Vietnamese.

Continue reading “A World War II Annam Anthem (Đăng Đàn)”

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