Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam

Article excerpt

The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam CHRISTOPHER GOSCHA London: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2016.

The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam by Christopher Goscha traces the story of modern Vietnamese nationbuilding back thousands of years. The titles of its 14 chapters cover in chronological order events that are commonly seen as milestones in the forming of modern Vietnam: Chinese invasion (Chapter 1, "Northern Configurations"), French colonization (Chapter 2, "A Divided House and a French Imperial Meridian Line?"; Chapter 3, "Altered States"; Chapter 4, "Rethinking Vietnam"; Chapter 5, "The Failure of Colonial Republicanism"; and Chapter 6, "Colonial Society and Economy"), the First Indochina War (Chapter 7, "Contesting Empires and Nation-states"; Chapter 8, "States of War"; and Chapter 9, "Internationalized States of War"), the Vietnam War (Chapter 10, "A Tale of Two Republics"; and Chapter 11, "Towards One Vietnam"), and stories of a unified Vietnam (Chapter 12, "Cultural Change in the Long Twentieth Century"; Chapter 13, "The Tragedy and the Rise of Modern Vietnam"; and Chapter 14, "Vietnam from Beyond the Red River"). Nevertheless, amidst a wide range of scholarship about the history of modern Vietnam, Goscha's The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam is unique in constantly stressing on the multiplicity of modern Vietnam's past. Thus, it implicitly criticizes contemporary scholarship on Vietnamese history that has been produced under postcolonial theory and criticism by foreign scholars and under nationalist historiography by Communist Vietnamese historians.

Throughout the book Goscha uses synonyms for the word "multiplicity," such as "plurality," "diversity," and "heterogeneity," typical terms of postmodern literature, to highlight his vision of "multiple Vietnams." Moreover, the author explicitly states in "Introduction: The Many Different Vietnams" that "rather than positing one Vietnam, one homogenous people, one history, one modernity, or even one colonialism, this book investigates modern Vietnam's past through its multiple forms and impressive diversity" (p. xxx). Accordingly, as presented in the book, the history of Vietnam includes a series of interlocking forces and people; they occurred and acted at specific points in time and space, each generating its own range of possibilities and eliminating others at the same time. As evidence, the author begins his story of Vietnam's past with "a mosaic of a hundred Vietnams" in the open zone running between present-day central Vietnam and South- ern China, where diverse people, routes, and ideas intersected. For thousands of years, as Goscha describes, people arrived in the low-lying Red River basin via the eastern coast and overland; Austroasiatic peoples also arrived in this area by way of Southern China; and the Dong Son civilization, home to vibrantand diverse peoples and cultures, was constantly in rivalry and fragmentation.

Emphasizing pluralism in writing Vietnamese history, the book differentiates itself from existing scholarship about modern Vietnam, which exclusively celebrates the Vietnam of Ho Chi Minh- Vietnam as winner, as Ho Chi Minh, or in general as a Communist nation-state-and Vietnam of Western colonialism-modern Vietnam as the product of only Western colonialism. Instead, the history of Vietnam written by Goscha is derived from the perspectives of the "others" that are largely silenced in official Vietnamese historiography. Goscha calls these perspectives "thoughts of alternatives," which are the perspectives of competitor states and their leaders, with whom Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam had to engage and won over. These others, as shown in the first three pre1858 chapters, include non-Viet peoples; and, as shown in the following five post-1858 chapters, include French Vietnam administered by different French colonialists, the Associated State of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem, the Republic of Vietnam forged by different presidents, and highland Vietnams managed by different men. …

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