Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

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)”

59 Years of English-Language Scholarship on Vietnamese History

While reading Christopher Goscha’s new survey of Vietnamese history, Vietnam: A New History, I decided to go back and read the first survey of Vietnamese history in English, Joseph Buttinger’s 1958 work The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam.

Buttinger was an interesting person. Born in Austria, he quit school at age 13 and got involved in underground politics. During World War II he started to work for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization that at that time was helping war refugees.

In 1954, Buttinger worked for the IRC where hundreds of thousands of refugees were arriving from the North. He became interested in Vietnam at that time and start reading about.

Four year later he published The Smaller Dragon.

Continue reading “59 Years of English-Language Scholarship on Vietnamese History”

Colonial Republicanism and the Revolutionary Narrative of Modern Vietnamese History

I used to teach a course on modern Vietnamese history (19th and 20th centuries), but I stopped teaching it a few years ago because I got really bored with it.

I got bored of the general narrative of Vietnamese history that I was presenting to students. The way I was teaching Vietnamese history is the way that I suspect a lot of people in North America teach it (or have taught it), and that is to see a pretty sudden decline of “traditional” Vietnam and the gradual emergence of a modern Vietnam.

Topics covered in the first half of the course included ones such as the following:

Continue reading “Colonial Republicanism and the Revolutionary Narrative of Modern Vietnamese History”

The Red River Delta’s Limited Rice Supply in the First Century AD

As far as I know, no one has ever written a history of rice cultivation in the Red River Delta. Instead, I think most people simply assume that people have been employing sophisticated irrigation techniques in order to cultivate wet rice there since the earliest of times.

As I’ve started to look at this issue, however, I’ve come to realize that there isn’t evidence to support such a view. Instead, I see evidence that would indicate that people relied mainly on broadcasting seeds in floodplains until the end of the first millennium AD, when efforts started to be made to dike the Red River and when Vietnamese came into contact with Southwestern Tai-speaking peoples, peoples who possessed sophisticated knowledge about irrigation techniques.

Some readers have been providing information from historical sources (thank you!!) that can help us determine the history of rice cultivation in the Red River Delta, and in looking at this information, it is interesting to see how it has been interpreted.

Continue reading “The Red River Delta’s Limited Rice Supply in the First Century AD”

Rama VII Discovers Hawaiian History at the Coconut Hut

King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambhai Barni of Siam visited Honolulu in 1931 for only about 24 hours. That is not enough time to really gain an understanding of a new place, and we don’t know what the king and queen really learned during the course of their short visit.

However, in reading the newspaper accounts about their visit today, it is amazing to see how directly the king and queen were exposed to the realities of Hawaii under American rule. In fact, the first instance of this exposure occurred not long after they arrived.

Continue reading “Rama VII Discovers Hawaiian History at the Coconut Hut”

Huge Aloha for Rama VII in 1931

Recently a colleague pointed out to me that King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and Queen Rambhai Barni of Siam visited Honolulu in 1931. I did not know anything about that, so I decided to try to find information about it.

On Thursday, September 17, 1931, the morning edition of The Honolulu Advertiser stated that “huge aloha” was planned for the king and queen of Siam who were scheduled to stop in Honolulu later that same morning on their voyage back to Siam, after having spent a period of time in America and Canada.

When the royal couple arrived at 11 a.m., they were indeed greeted with “huge aloha.” Thousands of people had come to the pier to greet them on the land while planes welcomed them from the sky.

Continue reading “Huge Aloha for Rama VII in 1931”

Lạc Fields and Tidal Irrigation in Early Vietnam

The earliest record that tells us something about life in the Red River Delta in ancient times is Li Daoyuan’s sixty-century Shuijing zhu 水經注 (Annotated Classic of Waterways). That book cites an earlier work, the late-third or early-fourth-century Jiaozhou waiyu ji 交州外域記 (Annotated Classic of Waterways), to say the following about agricultural practices:

“In the past, before Jiaozhi had commanderies and districts, the land had lạc fields. These fields followed the rising and falling of the. . [KEY WORD]”

交趾昔未有郡縣之時,土地有雒田,其田從潮水上下. . .

Continue reading “Lạc Fields and Tidal Irrigation in Early Vietnam”

5. Going Backwards: Conclusion

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”

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