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Lục Xì

Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi

Vũ Trọng Phụng, translated, with an introduction, by Shaun Kingsley Malarney

Publication Year: 2011

What does it mean when a city of 180,000 people has more than 5,000 women working as prostitutes? This question frames Vu Trong Phung’s 1937 classic reportage Luc Xi. In the late 1930s, Hanoi had a burgeoning commercial sex industry that involved thousands of people and hundreds of businesses. It was the center of the city’s nightlife and the source of suffering, violence, exploitation, and a venereal disease epidemic. For Phung, a popular writer and intellectual, it also raised disturbing questions about the state of Vietnamese society and culture and whether his country really was "progressing" under French colonial rule. Translator Shaun Kingsley Malarney’s thoughtful and multifaceted introduction provides historical background on colonialism, prostitution, and venereal disease in Vietnam and discusses reportage as a literary genre, political tool, and historical source. A fully annotated translation of Luc Xi follows, in which Phung takes readers into the heart of colonial Hanoi’s sex industry, portraying its female workers, the officials who attempted to regulate it, the doctors who treated its victims, and the secretive medical facility known as the Nha Luc Xi ("The Dispensary"), which examined prostitutes for venereal diseases and held them for treatment. Drawing from his interviews with doctors, officials, and prostitutes and the writings of French doctors on prostitution and venereal disease, Phung provides a rare, firsthand look at the damage caused by the commercial sex industry. His sympathetic portrayal of the Vietnamese underclass is considered one of the most accurate, but he also provides one of the most acerbic, humorous, and critical views of the changes wrought by colonialism in Southeast Asia.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory

Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. v

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Acknowledgments

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p. vii

I have been fortunate in the course of completing this translation to have been the beneficiary of a great deal of support and assistance. My university, International Christian University, granted me sabbatical leaves in 2001–2002 and 2009–2010 that allowed me to conduct the primary research...

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Translator's Note

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pp. ix-x

Lục Xì was originally published in eleven installments in the Hanoi news-paper Tương Lai (Future) from January to April 1937. Soon after publication, Vũ Trọng Phụng prepared the text for publication as a book but only after significant revisions that involved the addition, deletion...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-41

“If we are genuinely concerned about our society and our race, then we must honestly understand the causes of our fears and anxieties.” It was with these words that Vũ Trọng Phụng challenged his more timid readers at the end of the introductory chapter to his classic 1937 reportage on prostitution and venereal disease in colonial Hanoi...

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1 A Blemish on the City

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pp. 45-47

One day, during an interview about venereal disease, Mayor H. Virgitti commented to a correspondent from the newspaper La Pa trie Annamite, “In the city of Hanoi, there are at a minimum five thousand women supporting themselves through prostitution. Five thousand! Yet how can we know everything about them...

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2 The Muse of the Dispensary Girls

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pp. 48-54

Dr. Joyeux still holds the position of director of the Municipal Hygiene Service.1 His office is located upstairs in a large building belonging to the mayor’s office, the place where all Hanoi residents must go at least once a year when it comes time to pay their head tax. To get up there, you must go past the tax office and the business license office and the...

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3 A Few Statistics and a Little History

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pp. 55-60

We need to consult the elderly in order to be clear about where the Dispensary was in the past. Before 1900, it appears that the government had placed it on Hàng Cân Street. A decision of Governor General Paul Bert stated that “Prostitutes who are shown to have a disease must be arrested and held in the Dispensary until they have recovered...

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4 There Must Be Harm

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pp. 61-64

From the time that humans have lived together as a society, perhaps since antiquity, humanity has been tortured by the scourge of prostitution, like the pain of an infected boil or a cancer. Despite the numerous methods used to eliminate it, it still insistently trails behind in all the history...

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5 Strolling Inside the Dispensary

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pp. 65-74

The Dispensary door had truly opened. The door opened easily and created a space wide enough for a good number of people to slip in. Was it due to the magic words from the tale of Ali Baba? No. It was due to a visit to the Dispensary by the labor ambassador Godart of the Popular Front...

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6 The Girls' Squad

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pp. 75-80

The guard at the Dispensary door, after looking suspiciously through a small round porthole, opened one side of the large doors for me. . . . It was 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. It was not a morning for medical inspections, but in the office I saw Mr. Mas, the inspector of the Girls’ Squad, and a crowd of ten...

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7 Women of the Book of Sorrows

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pp. 81-87

Victor Hugo said, “In humanity, there is no one who is so pure that they have never been punished.” Anatole France wrote, “Naiveté is usually only more luck than righteousness.” The philosopher Esquirol took that sentence even further: “People who are even in a small measure rich in...

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8 Medical Examination Day

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pp. 88-94

Throughout the morning on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Dispensary guards do not bolt the door shut but merely close it.1 These are the “scheduled” days. From 7:00 a.m. until 8:30 a.m., about fifty rickshaws stop in front of the gray door of a building that holds within an untold number of secrets...

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9 Student and Teacher

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pp. 95-105

On December 2, 1933, the governor general signed a decision establishing for Indochina a Committee for the Elimination of Venereal Diseases. On May 2, 1934, at the request of Mayor Virgitti, the government set up an organization called the Prophylactic League (Ligue Prophylactique), whose goal...

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10 The Authorities' Perspective

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pp. 106-123

Can we describe the Dispensary as a charitable facility for courtesans and absolutely never touch upon the prostitution problem? People have already written a great deal about this problem. Thus, just as with the contemporary venereal disease situation, no matter how much is written...

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11 Holding Papers

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pp. 124-133

The women of the Dispensary live the lives of the “closed gates and high-walled women’s apartments,” like the secluded young women of high-born nobility. . . . They had asked the administration to prevent me from entering the Dispensary! I can no longer go where they are! Luckily...

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12 Tearing Up Papers

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pp. 134-150

On that day more than ten men and women, whose tattered and untidy clothing showed that they belonged to Hanoi’s poor (streetside water sellers, the unemployed, unsuccessful beggars, etc.), had come to seek the aid of the municipal physician, Dr. Nguyễn Huy Qùynh, an assistant to...

Appendix 1

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p. 151

Appendix 2

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pp. 153-154

Notes

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pp. 155-166

References

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pp. 167-171

Index

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pp. 173-176


E-ISBN-13: 9780824860615
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834678

Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794925349
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lục Xì