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Catholic Vietnam

A Church from Empire to Nation

Charles Keith

Publication Year: 2012

In this important new study, Charles Keith explores the complex position of the Catholic Church in modern Vietnamese history. By demonstrating how French colonial rule allowed for the transformation of Catholic missions in Vietnam into broad and powerful economic and institutional structures, Keith discovers the ways race defined ecclesiastical and cultural prestige and control of resources and institutional authority. This, along with colonial rule itself, created a culture of religious life in which relationships between Vietnamese Catholics and European missionaries were less equal and more fractious than ever before. However, the colonial era also brought unprecedented ties between Vietnam and the transnational institutions and culture of global Catholicism, as Vatican reforms to create an independent national Church helped Vietnamese Catholics to reimagine and redefine their relationships to both missionary Catholicism and to colonial rule itself. Much like the myriad revolutionary ideologies and struggles in the name of the Vietnamese nation, this revolution in Vietnamese Catholic life was ultimately ambiguous, even contradictory: it established the foundations for an independent national Church, but it also polarized the place of the new Church in post-colonial Vietnamese politics and society and produced deep divisions between Vietnamese Catholics themselves.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: From Indochina to Vietnam: Revolution and War in a Global Perspective

Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ii-v


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p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This book has taken me a long time to write, and I owe many people and institutions a great deal of thanks for their help along the way. I began this project during my time at Yale University, where John Merriman and Ben Kiernan helped me learn how to think about the intersections between European history and Southeast Asian history that this book explores. I would not be where I am today without ...

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pp. xii-xiv

Scholarship on the history of Catholicism in Vietnam has experienced a renewal since the end of the Cold War and the social and economic transformations of the market reform era in Vietnam. Over the last two decades, a growing number of scholars have provided nuanced accounts of Catholicism from its arrival in Vietnam in the seventeenth century to the present day. Missing in this new historiography ...

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pp. 1-17

Hands bound, necks yoked, three Vietnamese Catholic priests stand surrounded by police, eyes averted, waiting to be photographed (fig. 1). They have just emerged from 33 rue Lagrandière, the central prison of Saigon. After the picture is taken, they embark with their minders onto a waiting steamship. Their destination is the notorious French prison on Poulo Condore, an island off the coast of ...

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1. A Church between the Nguyễn and the French

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pp. 18-54

At the end of the Sino-French War, the beginning of French control over all Vietnamese territories, about seven hundred thousand Catholics made up roughly 6 to 7 percent of Vietnam’s population. About three-quarters lived in the Red River Delta in Tonkin, modern-day northern Vietnam and the historical heartland of Vietnamese Catholicism. Most of these lived in a small area spanning the modern ...

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2. A Colonial Church Divided

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pp. 55-87

In December 1909, a petition from forty-five Catholics from Công Khế in Hà Đông province came to the attention of a local French official. “In the past, our hamlet was rich,” it read; “after becoming Catholic, we were forced to undertake heavy burdens. Pagodas and sacred objects belonging to individuals and to the village were taken away to benefit the Church. . . . During the harvest we were forced ...

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3. The Birth of a National Church

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pp. 88-117

In the tiny village of Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet in the Deux-Sèvres in France, there stands an unusual church honoring the village’s most celebrated son. Théophane Vénard left for Vietnam in 1852, and he died in Tonkin in 1861 during a wave of communitarian violence following the French invasion of Cochinchina. The church in Saint-Loup, built in his honor, was meant to be a glorious cathedral, ...

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4. Vietnamese Catholic Tradition on Trial

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pp. 118-146

Ngô Tử Hạ was born poor in Ninh Bình province, not far from the majestic cathedral at Phát Diệm, in 1882. Hạ was intelligent enough to obtain some schooling, and he eventually left his village for Hanoi, one hundred kilometers and a world away, where he found work as a low-level administrator in the growing French bureaucracy. He saved carefully until he had enough to purchase a small piece ...

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5. A National Church Experienced

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pp. 147-176

On July 22, 1939, three young Vietnamese Catholics boarded a ship in Hải Phòng for Rome. Along with Catholic youth from more than forty other countries, they were going to represent their nation at the first-ever worldwide gathering of Young Catholic Workers, a global association meant to mobilize young Catholics to meet the challenges of industrial work and economic depression.1 Young ...

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6. The Culture and Politics of Vietnamese Catholic Nationalism

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pp. 177-207

Ngô Đình Thục was ordained bishop on May 4, 1938. In his speech, his first thanks went to Rome, his “spiritual and intellectual homeland,” and especially to Pope Pius XI and the head of Propaganda Fide for acting as “guides of my first steps in the Episcopal path.” When Thục thanked the MEP, still a powerful presence in Vietnamese Catholic life, he described the society as a loyal servant of Rome ...

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7. A National Church in Revolution and War

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pp. 208-241

Father Hoàng Quỳnh of Phát Diệm was thirty-nine years old when France surrendered to the Axis powers in June 1940. Seven years earlier, the ordination of Nguyễn Bá Tòng inspired Quỳnh, himself recently ordained, to write a history of his Church that saw the first Vietnamese bishop as a realization of centuries of evolution toward religious independence.1 Like many of his fellow priests of this ...

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Epilogue. A National Church Divided

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pp. 242-248

In late 1954, a book titled A History of Persecutions in Vietnam appeared in stores in the chaos of post-Geneva Saigon. The author, a Catholic named Trần Minh Tiết, lost thirteen family members during the First Indochina War. He fled his home in central Vietnam as part of a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Catholics from north to south from mid-1954 until late 1955. For Tiết, as for many of his fellow ...


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pp. 249-288


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pp. 289-304


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pp. 305-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780520953826
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520272477

Page Count: 333
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: From Indochina to Vietnam: Revolution and War in a Global Perspective