"Colonial" and "Postcolonial" Views of Vietnam's Pre-History

By Le, Long S. | SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, April 2011 | Go to article overview

"Colonial" and "Postcolonial" Views of Vietnam's Pre-History


Le, Long S., SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia


In surveying its pre-history, Vietnamese ancestries--in terms of culture, language, and genotype--is firmly grounded in the Southeast Asian region (Glover and Bellwood 2004). Yet having such ancestries has not always been positive, at least before the mid-1960s. That is, scholars writing before the mid-1960s had regarded Southeast Asian civilization as having no roots--a prehistoric backwater stuck fast in the Stone Age (Heine-Geldren 1937; Karlgren 1942; Janse 1958; Chang 1964; Graham Clark 1961; Fisher 1964). These scholars, on the one hand, believe each civilization possessed its own genius. On the other hand, they believe the importance of studying Southeast Asian history is its "classical" period in which the region's transition to statehood was owed to Indian cultural and Chinese economic and political influences (Coedes 1968, pp. 252-53). In this view, Vietnam was fortunate. That because it was a meeting ground of both interior riverine and maritime trade links, Vietnam became a receiver or a loan culture of a unidirectional diffusion and migration from advanced civilizations. From such contact, state formations in what is now Vietnam were thought to have been established and flourished in the early Christian era, whereas the tribes in Southeast Asian prehistory did not know how to rule (Coedes 1966, p. 268; Coedes 1968, p. 403). So that areas of northern Vietnam were considered "Sinicized", "little China", or "the smaller dragon". Meanwhile, the early states in southern Vietnam, such as Champa and Funan, were depicted as Indianized states or colonies.

At best, historians writing before the mid-1960s like John Cady and Joseph Buttinger held that Southeast Asian civilizations were imported but evolved as individual adaptations. In some cases the modifications illustrate local genius of the more advanced culture of China or India and of which is precisely what makes them Indochinese and why the territory may properly be called Indochina (Cady 1964, p. 4; Buttinger 1958, p. 19). However, such a prevailing view essentially kept at bay postulations that civilizations in Vietnam could have been a makers of history able to emplace or replace foreign influences that would be considered integral to their cultural core across time and space. By implication, colonialist study on prehistory or colonialist archaeology wherever practiced serves "to denigrate native societies and peoples by trying to demonstrate that they had been static in prehistoric times and lacked the initiative to develop on their own", as argued by historian archaeologist Bruce Trigger (1984, p. 363). To what degree is this true of colonialist studies on Vietnam's prehistory by the Chinese, French, and the Americans?

To be sure, by the early 1980s, a new prehistory of northern Vietnam was becoming increasingly apparent. Northern Vietnam was shown to have cultivated rice by the late third or early second millennium BC, and its culture and identity began to converge into Vietnam's first prehistoric civilization (Bellwood, 1979, p. 96). The so-called Dong Son Culture starting about 800 BC represents a major technological achievement in which the proto-Viet race created more than 200 bronze kettledrums of Heger I type. Such a finding not only solidifies Vietnam's Bronze-Iron Age traditions but also suggests that the roots of the Dong Son Culture antedate any significant Chinese influence (Nguyen Khac Suet al., pp. 188 and 200). Meanwhile, Vietnam's pre-Dong Son cultures support internal evolution rather than a replacement of one culture by a new cultural group.

Yet it is also undeniable that new discoveries in Vietnam conducted by state-run research institutions have existing biases. For example, after 1954 a new independent but resource-poor North Vietnam put forward a nationalist archaeological campaign to counter a colonial view of Vietnam history. In fact, North Vietnam surveyed, recorded, excavated, and published more than all the other newly independent countries of the region put together (Clover and Bellwood 2004, p.

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

"Colonial" and "Postcolonial" Views of Vietnam's Pre-History
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.