ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Pre/Early Modern Vietnam (Keith Taylor, Liam Kelley, Alexander Woodside, Li Tana, Choi Byung Wook, George Dutton)

Vietnamese Maps from Whitmore's "Cartography in Vietnam"

Below are my summary notes of part 1 of my qualifying exams list with Professor Peter Zinoman on Pre/Early Modern Vietnamese history.

  1. Pre/Early Modern
  2. Colonial
  3. Indochina Wars



Historiographical chronology/ topical order


  1. Taylor, Keith Weller “Surface Orientations in Vietnam: Beyond Histories of Nation and Region.” The Journal of Asian Studies 57, no. 4 (November 1, 1998): 949–78. + (shelf)
    1. Taylor challenges histories of oriented around nation and “Vietnameseness.” Taylor argues that histories are episodic rather than evolutionary, and function as surfaces upon material and cultural exchanges of which they are formed. He notes how South Vietnam, Nam Bộ has been seen as “less Vietnamese” due to contemporary definitions of Vietnameseness based on the North as the beacon of national origin and authenticity. Using the examples of six episodes of military conflict: the conquest of Lê Lợi (early 15th), Lê-Mạc ứa (16th), Trịnh-Nguyễn ứa (17th), Tây Sơn wars (18th), conquests of Nguyễn Ánh Gia Long (turn of 19th), Frenqu conquest (late 19th). Taylor calls scholars to orient histories towards a time and terrain and to be wary of connecting history with a linear assumption of change over time. In other words, Taylor encourages regional, temporally situated (of Trần Northern Coast, of Hội An and Quảng Nam as a fusion zone, of Nam Bo) studies rather than attempts to trace the entirety of the modern construct of the Vietnamese nation throughout history.

  1. Kelley, Liam. “‘Confucianism’ in Vietnam: A State of the Field Essay.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1, no. 1–2 (August 2006): 314–70. + (shelf)
    1. Kelley pushes back against the study of Confucianism in Vietnam as a selection from the ‘Confucian repertoire’ of common tactics and techniques. Confucianism has been defined in Western terms rather than directly engaging with the literature, poetry, and governmental bodies of which it produces. Confucianism cannot be thought of as simply Sinification/Sinicization or as a measure of Vietnam as “little China” or autonomously Vietnamese/SEA. Rather, we need to understand philosophy and moral-cultural perspectives of Confucianism as a worldview with categories of people: Efflorescents” (Hoa, cultural more so than ethnic label) and “barbarians” (di) with amorphous borders.
  2. Woodside, Alexander. Lost Modernities China, Vietnam, Korea, and the Hazards of World History. The Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. + (shelf/e)
    1. Alexander Woodside examines the development of the mandarinate political system in Vietnam, China, and Korea. Woodside argues that the political and administrative theory and practices of these three mandarinates demonstrate an alternative political rationality to the “Western modernity” shaped by the industrial revolution and capitalism. Woodside thus grounds his understanding of modernity in the mandarinate political system—a nonhereditary merit-based power system that produced a structure of bureaucratic accountability, a culture of responsibility to the larger political system, and the communication of standards for officials. Woodside defines mandarinates as political systems administered by Confucian scholar-officials who hold limited terms of office and are evaluated by a complex set of civil service examinations, personnel evaluations, moral code, and hierarchy of rewards and responsibilities.
    2. Like other scholars from Harvard and trained by John Fairbanks, Woodside pushes against the area studies division of East Asia and Southeast Asia and situates the three mandarinates within a shared political and religious world of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, the experience of Chinese Han-Tang empire (Korea and northern Vietnam) and Chinese influence upon writing systems, law codes, veritable records of history, and specialized ministries. However, rather than attaching the system of mandarinates entirely to China and Confucianism, he emphasizes the plural definitions and localized experimentations of the much smaller mandarinates in both Vietnam and Korea.
    3. His second argument concerns how Asian mandarinates and modernities ‘lost’ to Western scientific management theory of Taylorism.The influence of Western scientific management theory in the 19th and 20th centuries thus overtook the mandarinate political system and bureaucratic theory. Woodside adds that the histories of these modernities were ‘lost’ within colonial and post-colonial histories. French colonizers of Vietnam (1880s to 1945) preserved the character of the Vietnamese mandarinate in Tonkin and Annam, but stripped the institution of its moral values and political influence as a “symbol of Vietnamese inferiority to their European rulers.”[1] Additionally, the Communist revolutions in China and Vietnam further encouraged a view of the mandarinates as an archaic, despotic, and static while privileging processes of scientific governance and efficiency.



  1. Kelley, Liam. “Vietnam as a ‘Domain of Manifest Civility’.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 34, no. 01 (2003): 63–76. + (shelf)
    1. Liam Kelley’s article “Vietnam as a ‘Domain of Manifest Civility’ and monograph Beyond the Bronze Pillars: Envoy Poetry and the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship pushes against the nation-state narrative and argues that the East Asian sphere participated in the pursuit and cultivation of ‘manifest civility’—patterns of proper human behavior and civilization. Kelley demonstrates through Vietnamese envoy poetry a deep history of Vietnamese connection with the Sinic world and that the acceptance of the Vietnamese kingdom’s vassal status. The envoy poetry of a few Vietnamese literati en route to the middle kingdom emphasized themes of Vietnamese vassal subservience, civilizational inadequacy, aspirations towards civilization, and the bronze pillar division of South and Middle/North kingdoms. Kelley emphasizes the ways in which Vietnamese writing and literature sought accordance with the larger structures of the ‘domain of manifest civility.’


  1. Woodside, Alexander. Vietnam and the Chinese Model: A Comparative Study of Vietnamese and Chinese Government in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971. + (shelf)
    1. Alexander Woodside analyzes how Confucian institutions were adopted and adapted by the nineteenth century Vietnamese Nguyen dynasty. The five chapters examine themes of acculturation, civil administration, court bureaucrats and provincial administration, and education and exams. Among the tremendous details of bureaucratic, administrative, and educational comparisons between Vietnam and China, Woodside elaborates on the local variants of Confucian systems in Vietnam. He concludes that these differences were due to the overabundance of administrative units for the relatively smaller Vietnam, the cultural diversity and distance between bureaucrats and peasants, and the simplification and translation of Confucian bureaucracy as a coherent system.
    2. Woodside also mentions that the Tay Son Rebellion marked the beginning of modern Vietnamese history. Woodside lists five important factors of the Tây Sơn Rebellion that led to more centralized, ‘modern’ forms of political and nationalistic thinking: the extensive involvement of Westerners in Vietnamese politics, the role of the Vietnamese peasantry as a socio-political battleground, the political unification of Vietnam, the struggle against China and Chinese merchant class in Vietnam, and the participation of other mainland Southeast Asian actors such as Cambodia, Siam, and Burma. These elements and consequences of the Tây Sơn Rebellion relate to the carving of the geographic and political boundaries of the modern nation space.[2]
  2. Cooke, Nola. “Nineteenth-Century Vietnamese Confucianization in Historical Perspective: Evidence from the Palace Examinations (1463-1883).” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 25, no. 2 (1994): 270–312. + (shelf)
    1. Nola Cooke argues against the claims 19th Vietnam century was either a zenith of Nguyen sponsored Neo-Confucianism or a discontinuity of the Le 15th century past (Le Than Ton era 1460-1497). (Woodside advocates this second approach of the continuation and political dominance of Neo-Confucian Le-model of political governance and bureaucracy. Cooke critiques Woodside’s approach of comparing Nguyen Vietnam and Qing China rather than to Vietnam’s past.) Cooke uses the evidence of 15th to 19th century palace examinations to show the changing regionalism of examinees, the lack of similarities between Le period and 19th c, and the complex relationship between 19th c ‘Confucianization’ attempts and regional realities. For example, Cooke draws attention to the institutional quota that favored lower standard southerners than higher standard northerners during Ming Mang that inevitably boosted the graduate numbers from the capital and dang trong provinces. Cooke argues that the Nguyen 19th century was not an era of Neo-Confucian resurgence, and instead Nguyen emperors were a product of Dang Trong— a decentralized, spiritually eclectic space more similar to Buddhist Ly/Tran than Sinicized Le state.



  1. Li, Tana, Nguyen Cochinchina: Southern Vietnam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Ithaca, N.Y.: Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1998. + (shelf)
    1. Li Tana argues that throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, two Vietnamese states existed with distinct economic, politics, demographics, and cultural characteristics. Li challenges the continuity thesis of the Vietnamese nation defined by two phases: Bắc cự (survival and resistance against china) and Nam Tiến (conquest southward). Li examines Nguyen Cochinchina (Đàng Trong/Đồng Nai) as a ‘realm of possibilities’ in contrast to Đàng Ngoài Confucian North. Some of the key characteristics of Cochinchina include relative localization (integration with Cham, polyethnic with foreign immigrant community, new social space and fluid space rather than village structure), Mahayana Buddhism, free international trade (Hoi An), and militaristic. Li concludes her argument by situating the Tay Son rebellion as part of the Dang Trong narrative rather than an exceptional case of peasant rebellion. Li argues that the roots of discontent lie in tax burden (disorganized head tax), administration over-extension and disorganization, and decline in overseas trade. Furthermore, the Tay Son rebellion was a local attempt to displace Nguyen rule through localized integration with uplanders and other ethnic groups.
  2. Li, Tana, “A View from the Sea: Perspectives on the Northern and Central Vietnamese Coast.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 37, no. 1 (February 1, 2006): 83–102. + (e)
    1. Counter to the land-based Sinic-agrarian gaze from north Vietnam, Li examines the early history (11th-19th c) of the polity Vietnam from the sea and trading zone in the Gulf of Tonkin area ”Jiaozhi ocean zone” (that reaches to Hainan Island, northern Champa, overland to Yunan and Laos). Li argues that commerce and interactions in this area were crucial part of state formation for Vietnam and connects Vietnamese political economy and ethnicity closer to the rest of Southeast Asia. Li highlights the important historical role of the central Nghe-Tinh sub-region in local and long distance maritime travel, as Cambodia’s primary point of access to the South China Sea,
  3. Dutton, George Edson. The Tây Son Uprising: Society and Rebellion in Eighteenth-Century Vietnam. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006. + (shelf)
    1. Dutton provides a close analysis of Vietnamese concepts and strategies of kingship and how political-military leaders like the Tây Sơn brothers struggled in an economically and politically divided regime. Focused on the Tây Sơn brothers Nguyễn Nhạc, Nguyễn Huệ, and Nguyễn Lữ, Dutton examines the different ways in which the brothers claimed political legitimacy. While the Nguyen claimed authority through non-Confucian, military, and Buddhism and the Trinh claimed Confucian political authority and lineage, the Tây Sơn also relied upon popular beliefs concerning the supernatural, sanction of heaven, and claimed to assuage popular economic grievances.[3] Furthermore, Dutton resists from the simplistic conclusion that a unified Vietnam implied a modern Vietnamese nation-state. While Dutton concedes that the Tây Sơn uprising and Nguyen triumph under Nguyễn Ánh (Emperor Gia Long) in 1802 resulted in the unification of the country under a single leadership, he argues that the wars also exacerbated peasant grievances and political unrest.
    2. This book examines the uprising and Tây Sơn period from the point of view of the different social groups involved. The chapters are divided into the historical, political, and geographic landscape and factors leading to the uprising, the leadership of the movement and claims to power, the experience of Vietnamese peasants under Tây Sơn rule, and the fate of the Chams, ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese Christians, and pirates or those living on the ‘social margins’ under Tây Sơn rule. Based on extensive historical sources of administrative records, the Nguyen Dynasty court histories, the Quốc sử quán (Historical academy), the Archives des Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP), Dutton showcases the regional politics and diversity of Đàng Trong society during the Tây Sơn period.
    3. Dutton challenges the two main historiographic interpretations of the Tây Sơn uprising: the nineteenth century Nguyen Dynasty court histories present the Tây Sơn as an uprising of bandits with no political legitimacy or popular support; in comparison, the mid twentieth century Vietnamese Communist historians framed the Tây Sơn uprising as a glorified collective peasant movement.[4] Dutton debunks the myth of Tây Sơn heroic political leadership and demonstrates how peasants continued to struggle under military service, heavy taxation, conflict, and forced labor under the thirty years of Tây Sơn administration.


  1. Choi, Byung Wook. Southern Vietnam under the Reign of Ming Mang (1820-1841): Central Policies and Local Responses. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2004. + (zotero notes)
    1. Choi examines southern regionalism of Gia Dinh and Nam Ky in the years after the Tay Son unification of Vietnam. Choi analyzes how the central government and Ming Mang attempted to break down regional identity of Gia Dinh and create loyalty towards the dynasty by integration into the Nguyen kingdom. Choi elaborates on the “Geia Dinh Regime” power base, of which Nguyen Anh rlied upon to develop a political and military stronghold to push back the Tay Son. Choi argues that the “relatively egalitarian” aspect of southern Vietnam Gia Dinh continued to informa later autonomous military governments such as that of Lê Văn  Duyệt (1763-1832). Duye was the popular regional leader of Gia Dinh whose policies of ethnic inclusion, relationship towards Christians and Chinese, and regional power base Minh Mang’s central Hue government perceived as a threat. Choi illustrates Minh Mang’s policies of integration including the abolishment of semi-autonomous military administration in the south, ‘cultivation’ of the south, the Vietnamization of Khmer, Chinese, and other ethnic groups through language and religion, land policies, centralized education and court policies.
    2. This work is part of the historiography of the South and frontier regions by Li Tana and Nola Cooke, that tend to paint the frontier region as positive, diverse, egalitarian and antithetical to structures of Confucian doctrine and centralization. (Liam Kelley’s critique)


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