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Reviewed by:
  • Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society
  • Jill Keesbury, Ph.D.
Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society Edited by: Hy V. Luong Publisher: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, Singapore, in association with Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Incorporated, USA (2003) ISBN: 0-8476-9865-3 (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., USA) ISBN: 981-230-207-7 (ISEAS, Singapore)

As the subtitle of this edited volume suggests, editor Hy V. Luong and his contributors contend that contemporary Vietnam is undergoing a major period of economic, social, and cultural transformation. Over the past decade, the country's socialist government has loosened longstanding social and economic controls, spurring the period of change and adaptation examined in this book. The extent of these new developments, as identified by the authors, is striking. Since the late 1980s, a market-based economy has emerged in Vietnam, women's earning power has increased substantially, and state controls over cultural and intellectual life have begun to diminish. However, at the same time, rural-urban inequality has grown, women's bodies have become increasingly commodified, and environmental pollution is emerging as a serious concern. This wide-ranging book details a variety of the interconnected dimensions driving, and resulting from, these transformations. While this volume does not focus primarily on demographic events, it does identify increasing influxes of rural-to-urban migration as an important factor shaping the country's postwar development. Andrew Hardy's overview of internal migration (chapter 4) addresses this issue most specifically, and other contributors examine population-related concerns secondarily, making this book of interest to many readers of this journal.

In his introduction, Luong argues that recent transformations in Vietnam are the result of an ongoing "dialogue" between the state and society. While this dialogical relationship is not new to modern Vietnam, he contends that the economic and political forces of globalization have increased pressures on the state to liberalize. The result has been a series of continuing and self-perpetuating reforms, the most notable of which was the 1986 Doi Moi (economic renovation) which ushered in the country's transformation from a controlled socialist economy to a market-based system. While this is the central thesis of the volume according to Luong's introduction, this theme is present, but not as clearly articulated, in the following largely descriptive chapters. The most notable exception to this is the first chapter by Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet, which more fully develops the dialogical model of change in Vietnam by exploring a number of competing interpretations of state-society interaction.

The book's strength lies in its ability to construct an image of Vietnam as a dynamic, multifaceted society in the throes of political and economic transformation. Each of the nine chapters [End Page 122] details some aspect of these recent changes. Chapter one, as noted above, explains evolving state policy as a function of a somewhat imperfect dialogue between ideas and institutions. The next three chapters address the changing relationships between urban and rural areas. In chapter two, Melanie Beresford discusses the sharp rise in urban-rural inequality associated with the country's transition to a market economy, and warns of emerging tensions in a society ingrained with socialist notions of fairness. Editor Hy V. Luong contributes a chapter on the socioeconomic and sociocultural aspects of this regional inequality, arguing that the often-contradictory interplay between local-level factors, global market forces, and the government have exerted influence on the emerging processes of differentiation. Andrew Hardy provides insight into the demographic aspects of the urban-rural divide, tracing the history of migration from the 1950s to the present. He argues that a lack of faith in the socialist project created a wave foreign-bound boat people in the 1980s, while the Doi Moi land reforms facilitated a new phase of legal internal migration in the 1990s. Even though many of these new migrants head to urban centers, Hardy contends this movement remains comparatively low for Southeast Asia, a condition that he attributes to the government's lack of vision in dismantling socialist administrative structures designed to limit mobility.

Chapters five, six, and seven review a series of problems associated with the country's recent rapid changes...


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pp. 122-124
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