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The year 2006 marked the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Đổi mới reforms. To commemorate the anniversary, the National Academy of Social Sciences coordinated four high-level roundtable meetings that year. The meetings featured presentations by prominent government officials, leading academics, and development experts who assessed different aspects of the reforms. Decollectivization was among them. Despite the passage of time, most of their accounts continued to privilege either “reform from above” or “reform from below” as the primary cause of the processes that gradually unmade collective forms of production and property in the countryside. The former emphasizes the leading role the party/state played in “guiding” this process; the latter, by contrast, stresses the cumulative impact of individual actions, which limited the ability of high-level officials to exert centralized administrative control over local affairs in the countryside. But when both explanations are placed in the same analytical frame, as is done here, a far more “dialogic” history emerges. Mikhail Bakhtin, a literary theorist, developed the concept to describe how everything we say exists not only in response to things that have been said before but in anticipation of things that will be said in response.1 The concept is useful here. It helps convey how knowledge of past experiments with labor contracts, both licit and illicit, informed those used at the time, which in turn affected the possibilities for further experiments in the future. Indeed, a careful reading of the governing documents issued prior to Instruction No. 100 (1981), the date most commonly used to mark the beginning of decollectivization, shows that the 135 5 Performance Audits Identifying Known Unknowns process started as much by accident—in administrative offices and peasants’ fields alike—as it did by design. I begin where the previous chapter ended, the early 1970s, when centrallevel officials, most notably Lê Duẩn, now the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, decided to combine several smaller cooperatives into a single larger one with the goal of increasing productivity. The first half of the chapter, organized around two “exemplary” cooperatives, examinestheroleemulationcampaignsplayedinmodelingthisprocess.Efforts to create and “scientifically” manage large-scale cooperatives from districtlevel offices in the greater Red River Delta failed, however. Nonetheless, agricultural policies remained largely unchanged, despite widespread hunger, until the late 1970s when the third generation of “sneaky” contracts (i.e., illicit labor agreements) emerged. The second half of the chapter puts once secret archival documents, recently published provincial histories, and academic studies carried out at the time regarding these unauthorized experiments in dialogue with one another. The materials reveal that performance audits, the legibility device examined in this chapter, had a substantial impact on highlevel debates over illicit labor practices and what policy makers differently believed should be done to bring them into conformity with licit ones. Performance audits assess whether an entity—in this case, an agricultural cooperative—is functioning in an efficient and effective manner in light of the management methods used and the material resources available to it. They are evidence-based and, by definition, premised on the distrust between the principal (the auditor) and the agent (the entity being audited), as well as inequality since the former can penalize the latter if found to be in violation of existing policies and procedures.2 Previous audits, while they considered these issues, tended to be ideological in orientation, especially when high-level officials commissioned them in the hope that the cooperative in question would be named an “exemplary” one. By contrast the audits submitted to high-level officials during the late 1970s and early 1980s were more objective in tone and pragmatic in nature than earlier ones, in large part because technical experts designed them, carried them out, and had no personal stake in the outcome. Moreover, the goal of these performance audits was also quite different: to evaluate what low- and, on occasion, district- and provincial-level officials had chosen not to disclose to their superiors, especially , their involvement in creating and/or supporting the use of sneaky contracts on cooperatives, which the “vague” content of their reports further obscured. 136 The Centralization of Documentation Audit table of food produced and work points awarded on an agricultural cooperative (adapted from Bùi Thế Vĩnh and Nguyễn Ngọc Phách 1990, 41) The debates and performance audits, when examined together, demonstrate why “reform from above” and “reform from below” are best seen as conflicting yet complementary interpretations of the same process. I...


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