AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 447

[ Southeast Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 447: Histories of Vietnamese Anticommunism

Organizer: Nu-Anh Tran, University of Connecticut, USA

Discussant: Neil L. Jamieson, Independent Scholar, USA

Widely cited but rarely studied, Vietnamese anticommunist thought has a rich and complex history that stretches back almost one hundred years. In addition to surveying the evolving contexts and diverse intellectual strains that have shaped this tradition, this panel traces continuities and changes in the character of anticommunist discourse over time. To do so, it presents three papers that offer studies of Vietnamese anticommunism promoted in different geographical sites during three discrete historical periods: the late colonial era, the first southern Republic of Vietnam, and the post-Vietnam War era. To provoke a broad exchange of views on the topic, the panel will include formal comments on the papers from two leading experts in the field.

Varieties of Late Colonial Vietnamese Anticommunism
Peter Zinoman, University of California, Berkeley, USA

This paper will briefly survey the diversity of interwar Vietnamese anticommunism - including strains advanced by the colonial state, the Catholic church, the conservative colon community, traditionalists, neo-traditionalists, Fascists, and anti-Stalinist Trotskyists - before focusing on a single strain (neglected in the historiography) promoted by a small but significant group of northern intellectuals such as Ngo Tat To, Vu Trong Phung, Lu Trong Luu, Le Trang Kieu and Hoai Thanh during the late 1930s. Influenced by republicanism, nationalism and the liberal individualist critiques of communism associated with André Gide, this group was preoccupied by notions of "political sincerity," "Machiavellianism," and "external manipulation" that it came to associate with communist politics.

The Petty Bourgeoisie as the Vanguard of Nationalism: Anticommunist Thought in the Republic of Vietnam
Nu-Anh Tran, University of Connecticut, USA

Scholars have primarily depicted anticommunism in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam) as a state ideology narrowly focused on opposing communism. But anticommunist thought was far more diverse and sophisticated than official propaganda. Many intellectuals, artists, and writers developed independent anticommunist ideals which they expressed in novels, popular music, historical monographs, and political and philosophical treatises. Focusing on the First Republic (1954-1963), when the Saigon government was under the rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, this paper examines two anticommunist thinkers: the novelist and military journalist Nguyen Manh Con and the scholar-journalist Nghiem Xuan Hong. Both men promoted a form of non-communist nationalism that had been suppressed by the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War. Although they chose to live under the southern government after 1954, the writing of these two men went beyond the regime’s crude polemics to offer a philosophical engagement w/ Marxist thought. Challenging communist characterizations of the middle class, they sought to valorize the petty bourgeoisie as the most nationalist and revolutionary class.

Vietnamese American Anticommunist Discourse and the Parameters of Community
Thuy V. Dang, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

This paper examines "Vietnamese American anticommunism" as a set of cultural discourses and practices (praxis) that shape the past, present, and future of Vietnamese American communities by analyzing when, where, and for what purposes South Vietnam emerges in refugee memories. That anticommunism continues to be an important paradigm for Vietnamese diasporic identity and community formations more than thirty-five years after the official end to the war and despite increased transnational relations between Vietnam and its diaspora suggest the need to theorize the multiplicity of meanings that it has amassed for diasporic Vietnamese identity and community building. Through ethnographic interviews, participation in and observation of Vietnamese American community events in San Diego, California, and analysis of its cultural productions, the study examines how the refugee generation apprehend and deploy anticommunism in community spaces and in their private lives in order to engage with conversations about how memory, history and silence intersect and reveal strategies of meaning-making for refugee communities. This paper examines the ways in which anticommunist cultural praxis functions in public commemoration spaces. The study argues that the parameters of community and identity are negotiated within the space created by the commemoration of “Black April” in San Diego, allowing for collective “acts of memory” that resurrect South Vietnam.