Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Doi Moi in the Classroom? the Portrayal of National and World History in Vietnamese Textbooks

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Doi Moi in the Classroom? the Portrayal of National and World History in Vietnamese Textbooks

Article excerpt

In this article, I examine history textbooks produced mainly by the Ministry of Education and Training for students at the secondary and university levels in Vietnam. I am interested specifically in the textbooks' depiction of Vietnamese national history and of world history, against the backdrop of the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and in Soviet Bloc countries. The authors of these textbooks, I argue, fear that what happened in the Soviet Union could also happen in Vietnam. To allay these fears, they depict the past in peculiar ways.

The first part of the article analyses the treatment in textbooks of the collapse of socialism and the construction in them of recent Vietnamese history, in particular the beginnings of Doi moi policy, within the context of that collapse. (1) The second addresses the ways in which history textbooks reflect Vietnam's turn back towards China after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of socialism in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991. Finally, the chapter argues that for the leadership in Hanoi, emphasis on fraternal ties with China has recently lost its allure because of Beijing's actions in the South China Sea. These actions have prompted many Vietnamese to demand more comprehensive coverage of Sino--Vietnamese relations in history textbooks.

Historical Narratives of the Collapse of Socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

World History

The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, starting with the creation of a non-communist government in Poland in September 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of the same year and culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, forced the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) into a precarious position. The authors of textbooks whose content was under the strict control of Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training had to find a way to present the collapse of socialism as a process that stemmed from anti-communist plots and a campaign of "peaceful evolution" orchestrated by "foreign powers and reactionary domestic elements". (2) They also had to assure student-readers that, in the end, socialism would prevail despite temporary crises. At the same time, they had to insist that--especially in contrast to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985-91)--only the Vietnamese leadership and their comrades in Beijing had implemented reforms correctly; they had, that is, prevented the rise of a multiparty system.

The most recent Vietnamese twelfth-grade history textbook provides a short account of the collapse of socialism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Despite its brevity, the message is clear: the Soviet Union was plunged into a crisis because the new Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) leader, Gorbachev, made many serious mistakes while carrying out his reform agenda. First, he tried to effect the transition from a planned to a market economy too hastily, with a chaotic economic situation as the result. Secondly, the introduction of a multiparty system weakened the leading role of the party and led to demonstrations and strikes (Phan Ngoc Lien 2014c, pp. 14-15).

The following section of the textbook analyses the crisis of socialism in Eastern Europe. It treats the erroneous reform policy initiated by Gorbachev and the destructive activities of "hostile forces" that made the crisis in the socialist countries in Eastern Europe more and more serious. When communist parties accepted a multiparty system and held national elections, communism soon collapsed across Eastern Europe, too. As for the German Democratic Republic (GDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik), or East Germany, the textbook only mentions that there was a crisis in 1989, that many people fled the country, that the Berlin Wall came down in November of that same year, and that Germany was reunified a year later.

After this short factual account, the textbook analyses the reasons for the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe. …

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