5. Winter Crop and Spring Festival: the Contestations of Local Government in a Red River delta commune

From: Beyond Hanoi

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110 Truong Huyen Chi© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore 5 Winter Crop and Spring Festival: the Contestations of Local Government in a Red River delta commune Truong Huyen Chi For nearly two decades, the Vietnamese countryside has experienced momentous socio-economic change. Decollectivization in agriculture has given rise to the household economy as well as the increasing participation of people in the political process at the local level. The countryside has witnessed not only improvements in material living conditions but also a revival of religious rituals and communal activities. These economic, social and cultural changes have attracted scholarly interest across a wide range of disciplines, from political science and economics to history and anthropology.1 There are additional scholarly works that focus on the relations between the government and its citizens at the national, regional and local levels. While some scholars look at the impact of renovation on socio-economic life,2 others search for ways in which the dynamics of life at the local level contribute to changing Reproduced from Beyond Hanoi: Local Government in Vietnam, edited by Benedict J Tria Kerkvliet and David G Marr (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2004). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at Winter Crop and Spring Festival 111© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore policy.3 Other scholars look at different arenas of contestation, such as land conflicts between villages or between households.4 Some ethnographers pay special attention to the ways in which local governments incorporate cultural norms and meanings into the political process whereby leaders are selected.5 In this chapter, I discuss the interaction between local government and authority and local people by providing an ethnographic case study of Dong Vang village (Hoang Long commune, Phu Xuyen district, Ha Tay province). The chapter focuses on two major Hoang Long projects that occurred during the past four decades: an attempt to boost agricultural production through the enforcement of winter crop yields; and the control of religious practice in villages. By showing that intracommune differentiations embed these two projects in history, I demonstrate how these policies fall into two arenas of contestation between local governments and their people. Based on extended research in the village in 1998–99, I argue that the relations between Dong Vang villagers and Hoang Long authorities have been contentious, at times even hostile, not only because authorities attempted to implement central policies that were not well received among villagers but also due to deeply rooted prejudice of commune authorities against Dong Vang.6 I suggest that an in-depth understanding of specific local history and culture is crucial for understanding the interaction between local governments and the people. Local Culture, Village Identity, and the Interactions between Local Authorities and People Since the 1990s, a large number of international scholarly works on Vietnam from different disciplines have shared several common themes: the interaction between government and people, socio-economic differentiation, and the increasing salience of “culture”. The notion of “culture” and the way scholars recast it in contemporary Vietnamese politics is closely linked to the discussion on state–society interaction. Some focus exclusively on rituals and explore the state’s strategies regarding “culture”.7 Others extend to thorough historical inquiries by situating the revival of rituals in the changing political and socio-economic context.8 In this chapter, I emphasize that it is not sufficient to identify symbolic contradictions in Vietnamese culture, which individuals express in daily life and in their interaction with the state. 112 Truong Huyen Chi© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore One also needs to visualize how these cultural contradictions are linked to other contradictory forms of livelihood, and how these in turn serve as sources of the dynamics which reproduce and transform society. It is insufficient to show how the increasing salience of “culture” — intensifying calls upon idioms of kinship, neighbourhood, community and nationality — results from economic reform; one must demonstrate as well how the increasing heterogeneity of a local culture gives specific forms and ways of reproducing in social relations in that locale. Yet, scholars need to demonstrate the prominence of culture while not losing sight of the fact that contemporary life is deeply rooted in the past. The task also includes uncovering how perpetually and inextricably history merges the past into the...



Subject Headings

  • Local government -- Vietnam.
  • Vietnam -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Decentralization in government -- Vietnam.
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