Festivals and the Dynamics of the Exceptional Dead in Northern Vietnam

By Malarney, Shaun Kingsley | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Festivals and the Dynamics of the Exceptional Dead in Northern Vietnam


Malarney, Shaun Kingsley, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


A brief review of the contemporary Vietnamese media presents the image of a nation in which 'festivals' (le hoi) are a popular and revered part of Vietnamese cultural life. Be it in newspapers, books, television shows, advertisements or calendars, festivals receive extensive coverage. Even the Communist Party's daily newspaper Nhan Dan provides detailed descriptions of various events, and its official website provides a long list of 'traditional' festivals for its readers. Among the people, festivals have also become a popular destination for pilgrimages, and some receive hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, such as the Hung Kings Death Anniversary (Gio To Hung Vuong) in Phu Tho province. Although this image accurately captures the contemporary status quo, it conceals the fact that from the early 1950s until the late 1980s, the Vietnamese socialist state prohibited many festivals and significantly restricted the organisation of others. The state did implement ambitious cultural reforms in other areas, yet festivals were not a major component in its cultural agenda. Far from celebrating and encouraging festivals, the Vietnamese state restricted or prevented their performance; thus, for decades festivals remained a remembered though minor part of social life.

This article's purpose is to examine the socio-political implications of the resurgence of festivals that has taken place in Vietnam since the early 1990s. Scholarly research has demonstrated how, over the past 15 years, citizens and communities across the country have been a driving force behind the return to the organisation of previously abandoned festivals or the expansion of those that had been previously conducted on only a modest scale. (1) While the results of this research are indisputable, in this article I seek to explore one specific dimension of this resurgence, the manner in which both state and non-state actors in contemporary Vietnam have been involved in ritual engagements with what I shall describe as the 'exceptional dead'. Building upon a detailed examination of the exceptional dead and the state's ritual appropriation of them in the period from the 1950s through the late 1980s, my goal is to show that while there are significant continuities in this ritual engagement in Vietnamese social life, the resurgence of festivals since the early 1990s in fact involves several profound changes, particularly with regard to such issues as the control over sacred space, political legitimation, the changing definitions of which exceptional dead to ritually engage, and their role in the participants' lives. As Le Hong Ly has noted, a common feature of most festivals is the ritual engagement with 'historic celebrities', but what I seek to demonstrate is that when looked at in the aggregate, engagements with the exceptional dead in festivals make significant statements about contemporary Vietnam's social world. (2)

Festivals and the exceptional dead in revolutionary Vietnam

Defining the exceptional dead

Every society and nation has certain individuals who, after their deaths, become the focus of a relatively greater level of social attention and awareness. While some dead fade into seeming obscurity, others are more deeply engaged by the living. These engagements can include, among other things, organised research into their lives, the transmission of information about their achievements, the performance of commemorative activities devoted to them, the construction of memorials for them, the designation of them as models of virtue or the engagement with them in ritual, be it to simply commemorate them or to mobilise the supernatural potency some dead are regarded as possessing. Compared to others, certain dead stand out in social life.

For the purposes of this article, I have defined these dead as the 'exceptional dead'. My definition is informed by Max Weber's conceptualisation of charisma. Weber's writings on the subject were built upon the recognition that in social life some individuals stand out from others, and one category of such people is made up of those who possess charisma.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Festivals and the Dynamics of the Exceptional Dead in Northern Vietnam
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.