BOOK REVIEW Christopher Goscha’s Going Indochinese: Contesting Concepts of Space and Place in French Indochina


Goscha, Christopher E. Going Indochinese: Contesting Concepts of Space and Place in French Indochina. NIAS Classics Series,; No. 3. Copenhagen, Denmark,: NIAS Books, 2012.

Originally an essay (“Vietnam or Indochina”), Going Indochinese details the historical attempts to create ‘Indochina’ from the period of French conquest to Vietnamese Communist assertions regional socialist solidarity in the 1950s. Goscha makes two primary arguments: 1) at certain moments Vietnamese intellectuals and administrators thought of themselves in “Indochinese” terms; and 2) Cambodians and Laotians rejected the construct of Indochina due to the imbalanced “Franco-Vietnamese” hierarchy.

His first chapter closely examines how ‘Indochina’ was constructed based on the notion of Franco-Annamese collaboration, the labor of Vietnamese low level administrators and officiers, and the internal colonization/immigration of Laos and Cambodia in the first decades of the twentieth century. Goscha supports his claim that ‘Indochina’ was a functional concept and space with evidence from the colonial administration (and racial hierarchies of Vietnamese above Laos and Cambodia), maps, transportation networks, textbooks, and Vietnamese travel narratives. The second and third chapters consider how Vietnamese intellectuals and revolutionaries debated the identification of Annam with French Indochina. Goscha expands the category of colonial ‘nationalist’ to include (those who reflected on the political-cultural-spatial identity of ‘Annam’) such as pro-French intellectuals as Bui Quang Chieu (Constitutionalists), Pham Quynh, and Nguyen Van Vinh. Focusing on the 1930-1931 debate between Pham Quynh and Nguyen Van Vinh, Goscha illustrates the pervasiveness of the construct of ‘Indochina’ among Vietnamese, as well as the problematic exclusion of Laos and Cambodia within the discussion. Goscha argues that the functional identity of ‘Indochina’ also shaped Vietnamese revolutionary debates for an Indochinese communist revolution throughout the 1920s and 1930s. This manifested in heated debates by Ho Chi Minh, the VNQDD (regarding the usage of terms such as Vietnam or Indochina), as well as the organization of the Indochinese Communist Party and Indochinese Congress. The next chapter discusses Cambodian and Laotian perspectives on ‘Indochina’ and the inter-Asian (Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese) contacts facilitated by racist colonial administrative structures and commercial networks. Goscha explains how the French created a hierarchy of legal identities for ‘indigenous’ and Vietnamese immigration to Western Indochina exacerbated ethnic and nationalist tensions in the region. Through the example of the Vietnamese-Cambodian debate and local administrative authority in Laos of the 1930s, Goscha emphasizes the importance of the question of Indochinese colonial nationality, assimilation, and local authority for Vietnamese living in Laos and Cambodia.

Goscha’s last chapter on Vichy Indochina (1941-1945) demonstrates the last French attempts to reinstitute the construct of a three-monarch Indochina (Bao Dai of Annam, Sihanouk of Cambodia, and Sisavangvong of Laos) in patriotic cultural campaigns. During the same time, Communists also attempted to invoke the concept of Indochina as a unifying force against the French. On the eve of Indochina’s independence in August 1945, the communist-run nationalist front the Viet Minh advocated an independent ‘Vietnam’ while the Communist Party stuck to the concept of ‘Indochina’ even after the declaration of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This confusing, interchangeable use of ‘Vietnam’ and ‘Indochina’ into the 1940s and 1950s reinforces Goscha’s claim of the important regional thinking of “Indochina” and that “Indochina was not dead in Vietnamese communist thinking.” Goscha argues that Vietnamese communists simultaneously created nationalist fronts of the Pathet Lao, Khmer Issarak, and Cambodian and Lao resistance governments as socialist allies in the postcolonial 1950s. He concludes that the Vietnamese communists were the closest in ‘going Indochinese’.

Historiography: Going Indochinese: Contesting Concepts of Space and Place in French Indochina responds to Benedict Anderson’s question as to why Dutch East Indies transformed into the postcolonial political entity of Indonesia while Indochina fragmented into the three nation states of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Influenced by Anderson’s question and concepts of ‘imagined community,’ Goscha explores the ways in which the bureaucracy, the map, textbooks, and roads contributed to a building of Indochina as a spatial reality. Overall, this is an important work that analyzes the pervasiveness of the geo-political construct of ‘Indochina’ throughout Vietnamese debates on nationalism, communism, and regional cultural coherence.

BOOK REVIEW Shawn McHale’s Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam

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McHale, Shawn. Print and Power:  Confucianism, Communism and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

In the foundational study on print culture in Vietnam, Print and Power addresses two important arguments: (1) The historiography of 20th century Vietnam has overemphasized the significance of communism and anti-colonial nationalism and focused on the small group of urban, educated elite intellectuals. (2) Rather, Buddhism was more important to Vietnamese public life and was the cornerstone of Vietnamese national identity. Thus Mchale’s text contributes to a more complex understanding of the rise of the ‘public sphere’ (or rather the multiplicity of spheres such as clandestine, religious, traditional spheres) in Vietnam as well as a deeper understanding of the development of Buddhism during 1920to 1945.

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BOOK REVIEW Richard Wolin’s The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution and the Legacy of the 1960s


Generational Identities and Cultural Politics: A Historiography of Vietnamese 1920’s and 1930’s Student Movements

I led a discussion of Richard Wolin’s Wind from the East in Professor Alexander Cook’s history of Chinese Socialism class spring 2015. Below is my discussion plan for the class including an author biography, argument summary, discussion questions, and a list of the events and figures discussed in the book.


Richard Wolin is Professor of History, Comparative Literature, and Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center of European Intellectual history. His most famous books include Heidegger’s Children and The Seduction of Unreason. Wolin also writes about the Frankfurt school and Walter Benjamin and is also a public intellectual and contributes to the New Republic, Dissent, and the LA Times. From his interview, Wolin speaks about his intellectual lineage, influence by Frankfurt school, and  study under Habermas. Wolin experienced the 1960s as an adolescent and narrowly avoided service in the Vietnam War.


“French Maoism operated at a dangerous remove from the reality principle. Mao’s China became a projection—a Rohrschach test—for the students’ overheated revolutionary fantasies. With Soviet communism substantially discredited, revolutionary China, along with other third-world experiments in state socialism (North Vietnam, Cuba, and so on), seemed to embody the last best hope for a left-wing alternative to the dislocations of Western modernity: overcrowded cities, urban blight, ghetto uprisings (in the United States, at least), industrially scarred landscapes, and massive pollution.” (Rediscovering Marxism with Althusser)

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BOOK REVIEW Vu Trong Phung’s Luc Xi: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi, trans. Shaun Kingsley Malarney


Vũ Trọng Phụng, Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi, trans. Shaun Kingsley Malarney (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2011)

This book review was originally published by the International Institute of Asian Studies New Books Asia review here:

“How is it that while we are in this city of ‘a thousand-year civilization’ there is for every thirty-five upstanding people one person working as a prostitute?”[i] Vietnamese reporter Vũ Trọng Phụng poses this controversial question in the first installment of his 1937 study on prostitution and venereal disease in Hanoi titled Lục Xì. Shaun Kingsley Malarney brings this important work to an English language audience through this careful translation and extensively researched introduction. Not only does this work contribute to the growing understanding of Vũ Trọng Phụng and his literary works, but it also offers crucial insight into the limited history on the poor, women, prostitution, medicine, and disease during the colonial period.

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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.

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

John Whitmore’s “Cartography in Vietnam”

Below are the images from the important article on Vietnamese map-making by John Whitmore:

Whitmore, John K. “Cartography in Vietnam.” In The History of Cartography, Volume 2, Book 2: Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Socieites, 2:478–508. The History of Cartography Series. Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Q. When does the ‘modern’ begin in Vietnamese history? A Historiography Essay (Alexander Woodside, George Dutton, Benedict Anderson, David Marr, Charles Keith)

Below is a historiographical paper that I wrote for Professor Peter Zinoman’s seminar on Southeast Asian Historiography in Fall 2015.

Modernity and the Modern Era in Histories of Vietnam: A Historiography Essay



When does the ‘modern era’ begin in Vietnamese history? How does it compare to other eras in Vietnamese history? What are the characteristics of Vietnamese modernity? The question of ‘the modern’ consumes debates in colonial and post-colonial studies, and is often entrenched within debates regarding the nation state and Western imperialism. While the question of modernity and the modern era has been intensely debated in East Asia and South Asia, critical studies of modernity still remain limited in Southeast Asia and Vietnam.[1] In this essay, I will explore the question of the modern era in Vietnamese history and situate this within Dipesh Charkabarty’s post-colonial critiques of studies on modernity. I demonstrate that Vietnam scholars approach the topic of the modern era and modernity in three different ways: first, the modern era is characterized by political integration, centralization, and bureaucratic systems of rule; second, the modern era is characterized by ‘modern’ forms of bureaucratic governance, technologies, and consumerism often ushered in by Western colonial influences; or third, the modern era is tied to the modern nation-state. To frame this another way, Vietnam scholars have located the beginning of the modern era within institutions of centralization and bureaucracy from the fifteenth century to nineteenth century, in colonial capitalism and Western ideologies of the 1886 to 1945 French colonial period, or in the debates regarding the Vietnamese modern nation-state and nationalism in the twentieth century.

Continue reading “Q. When does the ‘modern’ begin in Vietnamese history? A Historiography Essay (Alexander Woodside, George Dutton, Benedict Anderson, David Marr, Charles Keith)”

BOOK REVIEW Peter Zinoman’s Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam 1862-1940

In the important study, Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam 1862-1940, Peter Zinoman examines the transformation of the colonial prison as a system to maintain law and order into a social and ideological nexus for the development of communism, nationalism and anti-colonial resistance. Zinoman effectively argues that the colonial prison operated as “universities of revolution” to foment social connections of Vietnamese anti-colonial revolutionaries through the shared experiences of hard labor, living conditions, and sense of emotional loss within prison life. Thus, Zinoman extends the work of David Marr and Benedict Anderson to argue that the colonial prison was an ‘imagined community’ that forged fraternal revolutionary bonds and collective identities.

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ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY & KEY QUESTIONS: Southeast Asia Colonialism & Modernity

Questions and Themes: A few notes and text-based responses to themes on the list Colonialism & Modernity in Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and Indonesia

Q. What is Colonialism? What are its instruments?
Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. “Studies of the Thai State: The State of Thai Studies.” In The Study of Thailand, edited by Eliezer B. Ayal. Southeast Asia Program. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1978.
Thongchai Winichakul. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
     The normative understanding of colonialism is the dominance of a territory and people by a foreign force. This could manifest in the direct or indirect control of the political administration, extraction of economic resources and use of an indigenous labor force, and hegemonic influence of culture through education, language, and ethnic stratification. The results of colonialism can be social (plural society, fragmentation or hierarchy of ethnic groups), economic (vulnerability to foreign markets, trade monopolies, and dependency on foreign capital, and political (creation of a new layer of intermediary administrators, displacement of indigenous forms of governance and local authority).