AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 402

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Session 402: Networks Wide and Narrow: Early Modern Vietnam in the Larger World, 1700-1885

Organizer: Bradley C. Davis, Eastern Connecticut State University, USA

Chair: Charles J. Wheeler, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Discussant: Alexander Woodside, University of British Columbia, Canada

The country referred to as ‘Vietnam’ has a history that has been circumscribed by conventions of time and considerations of place. Historians have narrated chronologies of Vietnamese history that depend on certain bedrock notions, including the cycle of dynastic rise and decline, the inexorable march of History, and the advancement of a venal people through a civilizing mission. This panel offers a different perspective on Vietnamese history, one that calls into question the usefulness of spatio-temporal conventions for understanding the past and suggests an emphasis on networks. Movements of people, commercial connections, and the flows of power, as historical subjects, all provide a wider view of early modern Vietnam as well as its relationships to the larger early modern world. Participants on this panel present cases of migrants on the move, merchants in action, and negotiations of State authority. Rather than interpreting these events as episodes in the pre-French Colonial history of Vietnam, this panel argues that, through an appreciation of these early modern networks, historians of Vietnam can circumvent the binds of chronological, and national, convention.

Philiphe Binh and Vietnamese Catholics in the Early Modern Global Christian Community
George Dutton, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

This paper will explore the case of the Vietnamese Jesuit priest Philiphe Binh (1759-1833), whose career problematizes a geographically bounded Vietnam as on object of historical inquiry and suggests the degree to which Vietnamese asserted themselves as active subjects within larger transnational worldviews. Even as Vietnamese converted to Roman Catholicism in the 17th and 18th centuries, particular collectivities of Christians formed specific alliances and peculiar understandings of their faith. They did so in response to the complex struggles they witnessed between various European religious orders over the particularities of practicing Catholicism. In their response, Vietnamese adopted these particularities, often developing strong attachments to seemingly innocuous subtleties that distinguished them both locally and within the transoceanic Catholic network into which they integrated. A major test of these impacts came with the Papal abolition of the Jesuit Order 1773, to which Vietnamese Jesuit loyalists responded by rejecting Papal demands and asserting themselves as a distinct community of Catholic practitioners. Risking excommunication, they orchestrated a campaign to cast themselves not merely as loyal Jesuits of a Portuguese lineage and sending envoys to Portugal to solicit a new bishop to head their community. This effort culminated in the high-profile mission of the priest Philiphe Binh, who traveled to Lisbon in 1796 and spent the next four decades of his life in a failed effort to persuade the Portuguese court to delegate a new bishop. Binh’s mission testifies to the degree of geographic range, autonomy, and subjectivity that these young Christian communities had developed.

Early Modern Globalization and the Vietnamese Integration during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Tuan Hoang, Vietnam National University, Viet Nam

According to the twentieth-century Vietnamese conventional history, the ‘spectacular development’ of the commodity economy of the Vietnamese kingdom of Dai Viet (including both Tonkin and Cochinchina) from the latter half of the sixteenth century onward attracted different foreign merchants groups coming to reside in and trade at various inland trading places such as Pho Hien, Hanoi, Hoi An etc. This way of narrating the national history has been so predominant throughout the second half of the twentieth century under the so-called ‘new Vietnamese historiography’ that it does not seem to change even today. This paper tries to internationalize the early modern Vietnamese history by placing it in the regional and international context. Instead of using the traditional ‘inward’ point of view which often regarded the expansion of such key handicrafts as silk and ceramics as the central gravity, this paper applies an ‘outward’ perspective which emphasizes the role of the early modern globalization in the development of Dai Viet’s commodity economy as well as its integration, though somehow halfhearted, into this global process during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Interests, Institutions, and Identity: the Evolution of Minh Huong (ca. 17th-20th Centuries)
Charles J. Wheeler, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

In 1679, or 1682, a fleet commanded by Chinese loyalists to the long-dead Ming Dynasty landed on the shores of the Vietnamese domain of Dang Trong. Their resistance destroyed, they sought refuge from the country’s overlord; granting it, he settled them in the “southern frontier” lands of the Mekong Delta. Quickly, the “Ming Refugees”—or Minh Huong—became a powerful established interest within Vietnamese commerce, colonization and politics. Curiously, they remain understudied and misunderstood by both Vietnamese and Overseas Chinese specialists. This results from confusion about Ming Huong identity and origins, which this paper addresses by offering an alternative theory that focuses on the evolution of group identity and the interests and institutions that shaped it. Far from static, Minh Huong identity formed, metamorphosed, and all but disappeared through a series of adaptive responses that continually reshaped the content of Minh Huong interests, institutions and identity whenever “outside” circumstances challenged them. In this way, the Minh Huong evolved from the the merchant-driven Tang Chinese diaspora that developed in the chaos of 16th century maritime Asia, into a powerful merchant-bureaucratic class that exploited the institutions that Vietnamese matrilineage and Chinese patrilineage afforded them in order to advance its commercial and political interests. When their status eroded in the 19th century, the Minh Huong increasingly redefined their group as a minority ethnicity in defense of diminishing rights. Thus, the Minh Huong demonstrate the power of strategic representation in early modern Vietnam.

Consular Optics: France and Counter-Insurgency in the China-Vietnam Borderlands, 1874-1882
Bradley C. Davis, Eastern Connecticut State University, USA

Following the 1874 Treaty between the Third Republic and the Nguyen State of Dai Nam, the Vietnamese authorities allowed for the establishment of two French consulates in northern Vietnam in Hanoi and Haiphong. The inaugural head of the Hanoi Consulate, Comte de Kergaradec, began furtively gathering information about a series of counter-insurgency campaigns. These campaigns, which involved the cooperation of Vietnamese and Chinese military with the Black Flag Army, a semi-independent group granted official recognition in Vietnam, became the focus of de Kergaradec’s work in the Hanoi Consulate. By the late 1870s, de Kergaradec sought to broker a deal between the Black Flags and the Consulate in an attempt to turn the networks coursing through the China-Vietnam borderlands to his advantage. His failure resulted in a particular consular optics, a way of seeing the China-Vietnam borderlands that emphasized the failure of the Nguyen State. This paper examines the emergence of this consular optics through the work of de Kergaradec and calls into question the role that such diplomatic work has had over the history of early modern Vietnam.