Post-Mandarin: Masculinity and Aesthetic Modernity in Colonial Vietnam

Post-Mandarin: Masculinity and Aesthetic Modernity in Colonial Vietnam

Post-Mandarin: Masculinity and Aesthetic Modernity in Colonial Vietnam

Post-Mandarin: Masculinity and Aesthetic Modernity in Colonial Vietnam


Post-Mandarin offers an engaging look at a cohort of Vietnamese intellectuals who adopted European fields of knowledge, a new Romanized alphabet, and print media--all of which were foreign and illegible to their fathers. This new generation of intellectuals established Vietnam's modern anticolonial literature

The term "post-mandarin" illuminates how Vietnam's deracinated figures of intellectual authority adapted to a literary field moving away from a male-to-male literary address toward print culture. With this shift, post-mandarin intellectuals increasingly wrote for and about women

Post-Mandarin illustrates the significance of the inclusion of modern women in the world of letters: a more democratic system of aesthetic and political representation that gave rise to anticolonial nationalism. This conceptualization of the "post-mandarin" promises to have a significant impact on the fields of literary theory, postcolonial studies, East Asian and Southeast Asian studies, and modernist studies.


Established in 1070, Hanoi’s Temple of Literature, or Văn Miếu, a complex of sacred courtyards and pavilions, stands as a monument to Confucian intellectual history in northern Vietnam. The Temple of Literature was the setting where scholar-officials administered civil service examinations that identified mandarins who would constitute an “education-based government of talents.” Derived from the Chinese model, the Vietnamese mandarinate was an all-male political system premised on meritocracy. The examination system aimed to appoint men of letters who had mastered a curriculum formed around the Five Books and Four Classics of the neoConfucian tradition to government service. The mandarinal exam system conferred the title “superior men” (quân tử) on those who succeeded, authorizing them to apply their learning through governance. These mandarins were expected to exercise an “ethical power” informed both by their knowledge and morals.

Stelae of etched stone memorialize the names of successful examination candidates, and each stela stands erect upon the back of a tortoise, a prominent symbol of memory and longevity. An exterior wall isolates the complex from today’s bustling urban streets, overcrowded with cars and motorbikes relentlessly honking their horns. Now a tourist attraction, the remnants of the temple’s intellectual tradition starkly contrast with contemporary Hanoi’s brightly colorful signs and ads printed in the sans serif fonts of Vietnam’s romanized alphabet, quốc ngữ.

At a transitional moment between the mandarinal culture, with its classical Chinese language, and the print culture of quốc ngữ, Albert Sarraut, Indochina’s governor-general at the time, stood at the Temple of Literature and delivered . . .

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