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Heroes and Revolution in Vietnam, 1948-1964

Benoît de Tréglodé

Publication Year: 2012

On the eve of the war against the South Vietnamese regime in 1964, the communist party strove to carve out a new productivist and political elite from the towns and villages of the country. According to a categorization of patriotic exemplarity devised by Ho Chi Minh, "avant-garde workers", "exemplary soldiers" and "new heroes" would fill the ranks of a "new model society", one in which political virtue would serve as the principle to mobilize the masses. This study present and analyzes the process by which "new heroes" were invented. It first develops a picture of what constituted heroes in Vietnamese tradition and history, and then shows how the new model, effectively a Sino-Soviet import, was imposed, only to be slowly distorted by its own cultural rationale and by specific objectives. Far from being a transitory phenomenon, this model has contributed for more than half a century to the reconstruction of the national imagination and the development of a new collective, patriotic and communist memory in Vietnam.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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p. vii-vii

List of Maps and Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

The study of the history of Vietnamese communism has declined markedly since the Cold War ended in 1991 and the battles for Vietnam fade ever further into the past. Setting aside the neverending biographies of Ho Chi Minh,1 one would be hard pressed to find in 2011 a new history of Vietnamese communism. Scholarly interest has...

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pp. xv-12

I would like to pay tribute to the memory of Professor Denys Lombard (1938–1998), without whom this work could never have been done. I remember his invaluable help during my fieldwork in North Vietnam, his unique and fascinating character, his scholarly work, and his passion for Asia. I thank all those who accompanied me during my years on the...

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pp. 1-10

On 2 May 1952, as La Văn Cầu prepared to mount the podium in front of him, he thought about the words Võ Nguyên Giáp had just used to introduce him: “La Văn Cầu is a symbol of the Emulation Movement, an emulation to defeat the enemy and accomplish great deeds.”1 He knew that in a matter of seconds the President would name him the...

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Chapter 1. Heroism in Vietnam

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pp. 11-38

Communist historiography in Vietnam made Hồ Chí Minh the natural successor of the nation’s heroic ancestors.2 The hero in Vietnamese tradition helped define his era and was integrated into a social order that ensured the harmony of the community, guaranteeing the time-honoured relationship between the citizen and the land of his...

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Chapter 2. Patriotic Emulation (1948-1952)

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pp. 39-69

With the outbreak of war with France in 1946, the Việt Minh resistance was isolated on the international scene. At the close of World War II, the Soviet Union had openly ignored the Indochinese question to avoid jeopardising their policies in Europe.2 In addition, the traditional disinterest of Soviet leaders for this Asian peninsula...

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Chapter 3. The Emulation Fighter (1950-1964)

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pp. 70-94

The emulation fighter in Vietnam never represented a sociologically distinct group but was consubstantial with the group. To Vietnamese leaders, he offered an idealised image of the community. He was a kind of Trojan horse in the village square, bearing with him an image of the new national virtues. The emulation fighter was disciplined and helped reaffirm the cohesion of the social...

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Chapter 4. The New Hero (1952-1964)

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pp. 95-128

The world of the new hero is steeped in both myth and reality. The heroes at Tuyên Quang were real people, endowed with omnipotence by an authoritarian and internationalist political rhetoric. In the Vietnam of the 1950s, the new hero represents the slow and progressive disappearance of individual memory in the face of the propaganda apparatus of the State. The new Vietnamese hero differed from...

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Chapter 5. The Life of the Dead

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pp. 129-155

The living spirit of the dead tells of a continuity through time. The Sinologist Simon Leys writes that: “Permanence does not deny transformation, but informs it … continuity is not guaranteed by the immutability of inanimate objects, but is achieved in the fl ow of successive generations.”3 In the sinicised world, the deceased or the ancestor becomes the object of a cult that creates a link to the living....

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Chapter 6. The Cult of the New Hero

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pp. 156-190

In August 1956, South Vietnam made it a crime to be a communist. In the North, DRV leaders were carefully re-opening the debate on how to reappropriate their historical patrimony. While Western historians often point to the 1956 Hundred Flowers Movement in China2 as a great infl uence in the DRV’s identitary construction, these historiographical debates were an even more radical shift...

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Chapter 7. Mass Culture and the Patriotic Pantheon

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pp. 191-212

The new hero had indeed become a reality, but his true nature lay in his political role. The new man in a Marxist-Leninist society was primarily an object of political propaganda. He was more appearance than essence. He gained infl uence within society only as an object of representation, and as a link between the government and the people, he had to accept a certain immateriality...

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pp. 213-217

A history of the new man in Vietnam requires an examination of the ruptures, inconsistencies, and misunderstandings contained within the source materials and words of those involved, both past and present. This brings us back to the premise of this study. Nothing a priori is more familiar to the new Vietnamese hero than his


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pp. 218-223


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pp. 224-237


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pp. 238-244

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696238
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695545

Page Count: 300
Illustrations: 4 images
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: New