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

The procession and student rally around the funeral of Phan Chu Trinh in 1926
The procession and student rally around the funeral of Phan Chu Trinh in 1926

Below is a paper I wrote for Professor Alexander Cook’s Chinese Socialism in Global Perspective class Spring 2014. I discuss the historiography of Vietnamese youth and student movements and generational politics in the early twentieth century.

This paper examines the historiography of Vietnamese youth and student movements in the first half of the twentieth century. Given that the literature on Vietnamese student movements is relatively limited, I examine how student­­­s and youth movements are discussed in larger studies on the political atmosphere of 1920-1945 Vietnam. From these studies, I highlight how research on modern Vietnam has often been framed through the lens of generational politics—where political actors respond to the inadequacies of previous generations and intellectual shifts moves historical time forward. The first half of this paper examines the work of foundational scholars in modern Vietnamese history, Hue-Tam Ho Tai, David Marr, Pierre Brocheux, and Daniel Hémery, and explores their use of periodization and generations to discuss students and political radicalization. The second half explores the categorization of students in the work of Scott McConnell and historian of China Fabian Lanza. Drawing briefly from two monographs by Richard Wolin and Arif Dirlik, I conclude with some reflections on student movements and cultural politics of Vietnam on a comparative and thematic level.[1]

In the following examination of texts, I also ask the following methodological questions regarding writing histories of movements and ideology. How do scholars understand historical origins and legacies of ideology and movements without falling into teleology and simplistic causation? For example, how do scholars write the political history of early twentieth century Vietnam without framing a Marxist-Leninist style revolution as historically inevitable? How have scholars positioned debates in culture in the understanding of revolution? Does the historical categorization of ‘student’ and generational politics reveal or obscure our understanding of the Vietnamese revolution?

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Expressions of Borders and Place through the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship

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Below is a old paper I found when I was writing through ideas of place, nation, and pre/early modern Vietnamese history. From the work of Liam Kelley’s Beyond the Bronze Pillars, I question how understandings of place shape concepts of nation and boundary. I wrote this paper in a class with Professors John Whitmore and Victor Lieberman at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

For more on Vietnamese geography, and map-making, see

Expressions of Borders and Place through the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship

Throughout the late colonial period and increasingly afterwards, questions of the modern sovereign nation have permeated political debates and academic studies on Southeast Asia. More recent scholars such as Benedict Anderson and Victor Lieberman examine even further the global nuances and multifaceted processes that encompass the development of a theoretical political identity, characterized as an “imagined community” or “political ethnicity.”[1] In particular, Lieberman’s forthcoming book challenges the problematic circumscription of the relatively modern European concepts of ‘nation’ and instead considers early modern understandings of ‘political ethnicity’ in a study of synchronous political development in Eurasia.

While incredibly important, the debate on the foundational meanings of political communities is beyond the scope of this paper. Rather, this paper attempts to contribute a facet of political identity through a study on the sense of belonging to and perception of ‘place.’ Here I use a theoretical understanding of place as an intimate relationship between individual and geographical space: “For humans, both the effects of space on our behavior and our use of space are mediated by place.” [2] I highlight the experience and construct of place mediated through the movement away from one’s place of familiarity. Specifically this paper explores the travels of Vietnamese envoys to China in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries and the poetry they composed along their journeys. The sources examined in this paper are based primarily on Liam Kelley’s book, Beyond the Bronze Pillars: Envoy Poetry and the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship, where Kelley provides a historical framework and extensive translations of sixteenth to nineteenth century Vietnamese envoy poetry.[3]

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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.

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Poster at Berkeley DH Faire 2015 on Henri Oger

This past spring our team of awesome dh-ers at Berkeley put together the 2015 Berkeley DH Faire. Here is the quick poster my collaborator Amy Zou (Cognitive Science & Linguistics) put together.


My Berkeley Digital Humanities Working Group (BDHWG) Co-convener and friend, Camille Villa, wrote this great recap of the event by  on the DH@Berkeley blog:

DH Community Gathers for 3rd Berkeley Digital Humanities Faire

Intro to the Henri Oger Project: ‘On Reading a Peripheral Text’

Photo May 14, 11 11 10 AM

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve stumbled upon the fascinating text Technique du Peuple Annamite (Mechanics and Crafts of the Vietnamese People) (Published 1908-1910).  I had hoped to come to more of a conclusive analysis of this text before posting about this project. However like most intellectual projects, more questions and directions for analyses have opened up rather than converged into a neat finality.

Thus, I wanted to at least share my initial observations and inquiry into the text. Below is a brief introduction to the text itself and excerpts (Methods & History of the Book) from my essay “On Examining a Peripheral Text: Technique du Peuple Annamite”, which I hope to finish editing and publish here. Additionally, I created a timeline of the life of the text and author  below:

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