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The Vietnamese government has devoted a significant portion of its annual budget to the construction of vast administrative complexes in district and provincial capitals throughout the country since the mid-1990s. Officials need and certainly deserve improved working conditions. Many of the buildings used prior to this point were old, some dating back to the late colonial era, and very dilapidated. The new buildings, by contrast, are massive, multistoried “modern” structures made of concrete, steel, polished stone, and tinted glass. Most of the new buildings are pink in color. The choice struck me as an odd one. So, I asked Hương, an NGO worker with whom I was traveling in Phú Thọ Province as part of a study tour, about the choice of color. “Pink symbolizes optimism,” she explained, pointing to a cluster of new buildings outside the car window. “Red,” she added as an afterthought, “was no longer appropriate. That color is associated with the Revolution, and those days are over.” This introduction provides an overview of the “transition” out of state socialism, a process that decollectivization accelerated. The next section explains why defining this period (ca. mid-1970s to the mid-1990s) as one with a distinct beginning and a clear end is harder than one might expect. I follow it with a case study; it documents in statistical terms why peasantbureaucrats were so well positioned to take advantage of the “problems”/ “opportunities” decollectivization posed for rural populations in the greater Red River Delta. I close the introduction with three brief examples. All of them feature peasant-bureaucrats and the roles they played in perpetuating the politics of mistrust at the commune level and below. The details clarify 161 Introduction Mistaking Fact as Fiction and Fiction as Fact: The Transition out of State Socialism why it was easy to mistake fact as fiction and fiction as fact during these tumultuous years. The Uncertain Endpoint of State Socialism State socialism in Vietnam had no clear endpoint, at least in the memories of those who actually lived through it. Unlike most of socialist states elsewhere , no official announcement heralded its termination; no sudden collapse marked its demise. Instead, different parts of the centrally planned economy were abandoned, others reformed, and still others retained. Since the nature, pace, and extent of these changes varied tremendously across sectors, as well as the country as a whole, personal recollections frequently diverge from official ones—a point I develop over the course of this introduction . Nonetheless, most of my informants chronicled their experience of the transition out of state socialism and into something else by organizing their experiences into retrospectively coherent narratives. In recent years, however, it has finally become possible to discuss some of these differences publicly, due in large part to a special exhibit the Museum of Ethnology organized in 2006 on everyday life in Hanoi during the “subsidy period” (thời bao cấp). The exhibit was important on several levels. Perhaps most obviously, it helped define this period (ca. 1975–86), which had no widely agreed upon name or clear connection to events, either before or after it, as a historical “period” in its own right. The representational strategies the curators used also drew public attention to previously unrecognized continuities that linked what had heretofore been kept apart, namely, the historiography on the Second Indochina War (1959–75) and the emergence of the socialist-oriented market economy (1986-present), both of which are organized around profoundly different tropes (the selfless heroism of those who participated in the struggle to unite a divided Vietnam, in the case of the former, and the selfinterested individuals whose entrepreneurial pursuits have contributed to the country’s economic development since the reforms began, in the latter). This strategy left the assumptions that underlie both narratives largely unquestioned ; nonetheless, it initiated a national conversation about the broader significance of everyday life, making their private experiences more legible to others in the process. Everyday life, in short, became a social fact that state historians needed to recognize and henceforth study. Vietnamese who remember these difficult years have, as a result, found it easier to frame their own experiences in historical terms as a consequence of 162 The Para-centralization of Documentation the exhibit. Indeed, several proudly referred to themselves as “historical eyewitnesses ” during interviews I conducted at the museum. A range of events previously thought to be uneventful, such as standing in line for hours or crafting clothes out of recycled industrial-grade sacks, were now...


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