vietnamese history

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The Burning Monk

On June 11th, 1963 a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc entered a busy square in Saigon accompanied 350 of his fellow monks and nuns. The monks and nuns formed a circle around Duc as he was saturated with gasoline, and to the shock of foreign corresponds and journalists, was lit on fire.  As the flames consumed Duc, he sat serenely in lotus position, completely oblivious to pain as he was consumed by fire.  When the flames died down, what remained was a blackened, charred corpse.

The self immolation of Thich Quang Duc resulted in one of the most iconic photographs of Vietnam in the 1960′s. As news of the self immolation traveled around the world, the question arose, why did he do it?

At the time South Vietnam was primarily governed by a Vietnamese politician named Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem had been made President of South Vietnam in 1955 after winning a heavily rigged election.  Although he was officially the president of a representative government, in reality he had the powers of a dictator. Diem was a Catholic, and throughout his rule he enacted pro Catholic policies that heavily discriminated against non-Catholics. Around 70-90% of South Vietnamese citizens were Buddhist, but despite being the overwhelming majority Buddhists found themselves second class citizens in their own country. Catholics were favored for high ranking military and civil positions, while Buddhists were likewise barred from such positions while Buddhists serving in the military were turned down for promotions. Catholics also were granted several privileges such as special tax breaks and exemption from corvee labor (labor performed in lieu of taxes).  The government distributed firearms to local defense militias, but only to those in Catholic villages. The Catholic Church was the largest land owner in the country, and was granted special exemptions in land acquisitions. Catholic priests and bishops often had private armies, which would loot or demolish Buddhist temples, or conduct forced conversion of villages. The Vatican Flag was flown at official government and public events, yet the Buddhist flag was often banned during Buddhist holidays. In order to publicly celebrate Buddhists holidays, special government permission was needed.  In 1959, Diem officially dedicated South Vietnam to the Virgin Mary. Yeah Diem was a man of incredible chutzpah as well as excessive stupidity. 

 Diem’s Pro-Catholic policies led to severe distrust between the South Vietnamese people and the Diem regime. In May, the Diem government decreed that the Buddhist flag could not be flown in Hue during the Buddhist holiday called Vesak, which celebrates the Buddha’s birthday. In response, people protested by taking to the streets and marching with Buddhist flags. Government forces responded by firing on the crowd, killing nine. Protests erupted across the country.  In one incident, when monks occupied a square in protest, soldiers and police poured liquid tear gas chemicals on the monk’s heads, severely wounding 69.  Martial law was also declared, and the military undertook a campaign or raiding Buddhist temples, shrines, and pagodas. As the protests grew, the Diem regime responded with increasingly heavy handed tactics. When students in Saigon protested, Diem order 1,000 of them arrested and sent to re-education camps, some of them being as young as 5.

After Duc’s self immolation many other monks would repeat the act in protest. It is often erroneously stated that Duc burned himself to protest the Vietnam War, however this is not true.  It should be noted though that throughout the Vietnam War, 5 American anti-war protesters repeated the act between 1965 and 1970. Many people in Eastern Europe would do the same in the late 1960′s and 1970′s in protest against Communism and the Soviet Union. 

Under pressure from the American Government, South Vietnam’s prime backer, Diem agreed to a list of demands by the Buddhists.  However, Diem never followed through with the agreement. In October of 1963, a US backed coup erupted and toppled Diem’s regime.  Diem was captured while trying to escape on November 1st, and was executed by bayonet.

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A walk through the Museum of Vietnamese History.

Female Vietnamese-Chinese-Australian

My dad is Vietnamese, but his parents come from China. My mum is from China, but she moved with her family to Hong Kong from an early age. They speak Cantonese (or as you otherwise might know it, traditional Chinese) as a main language, although they can speak (simplified) Chinese too. I was born and raised in Australia so I identify as Australian as well as Chinese and Vietnamese.

My area has some Asians, but you can get other PoC showing up too and as a writer, I like to embrace that (that’s why this profile exists). However, most people here are non-PoC, Australia being a former British colony and whatnot.

  • Clothing

Hand me downs. When your dad has 10 sibings and 2 of them are about an hour’s drive from your house, you can’t deny that’ll happen. However, I do get new clothes every now and again.

  • Food

My family does have a habit of eating rice and/or different Chinese styles of noodles a lot for dinner, but we eat pasta and other cultural foods every now and then. A typical lunch is normally a sandwich or fast food, while breakfast can be anything from dim sims to toast to apple pie (I think the apple pie is just a scrounge-for-money excuse on my mum’s part though).

We do eat Vietnamese food for dinner (a cold vermicelli dish with mint/lettuce, fish sauce and soft shell crab/spring rolls/cha lua/surimi scallops - or a combo of those - known verbally as something along the lines of “moong” to me, although I don’t know its proper name or spelling) or lunch (banh mi or pho), although the likelihood of having Vietnamese food for any given meal is significantly rarer than Western-style food/rice and normally it’s my dad who’ll eat pho.

We used to go out for yum cha for lunch (despite it being breakfast in most cases in Hong Kong) every now and again. When we’re in Hong Kong though, my maternal grandma makes us go to yum cha for breakfast and then to the same restaurant for dinner. There’s one dish I love from yum cha specifically (prawns in cheong fun with soya sauce) which is often on the menu and why I don’t mind yum cha in most cases.

My mum loves Japanese food, but my dad doesn’t like most raw things (I had a childhood friend whose mother used to work at a sushi shop, so we got lots of discounted food - it didn’t help my dad one bit) so me and my sisters have grown up eating sushi/okonomiyaki/sashimi and we’ll eat this stuff on birthdays or special occasions. That’s how we get into anime and learning Japanese at school. 

  • Holidays

My family is atheist, with a mild exception on my smallest sister’s part (she believed in the optional religious education classes a little too much, and so is a bit more insistent on Christianity). We normally go out to Chinese New Year celebrations in our vicinity (we normally buy the spiral potatoes on skewers and/or batter-coated octopus tentacles and eat them if not collecting freebies). We’ll eat mooncake, tang yuan or the like as a celebratory food around the relevant holidays, although we do sometimes eat them out of season if the food is around and cheap. We don’t take days off around Chinese New Year like Chinese are supposed to, but we do take breaks around Easter, Christmas etc. because schools, supermarkets etc. close on those days.

Red pockets (actually red envelopes, they have money in them) are a custom for birthdays, Christmas, New Year, weddings and Chinese New Year. If your birthday is close to one of the other listed holidays, you get one instead of two (see this profile for explanation). There is no set amount for the others, but normally for a 20-something-year old the cap is about AU $50 (we send the equivalent in American money to American relatives, but that’s less often than the ones we see in person and remember the birthdays for), and for weddings you should give more than that. 

We take basically any excuse to get together with extended family and Asian family parties are never dull. The adults, especially, gossip long into the night and if they bust out the alcohol, they go home at midnight or 2 am because…obvious reasons.

  • Identity issues

I thought, when I was younger, my surname was Chinese, but it turned out to be Vietnamese put through American pronunciation. I told my friends…and they didn’t give any reaction. Either they took it in their stride or just continued to think I was Chinese/Chinese-Australian like them.

I’ve been to Vietnam and Hong Kong on family trips before and for some reason, even though Australia is “home” to me, when all the people look closer to what you do and experience life similar to what you do, you feel like you’re “at home” in a weird sense. Can’t speak a speck of Vietnamese and my Cantonese and Chinese have fallen out of good use though, so I’m just berated by older relatives (in Cantonese and most times to my parents’ faces) when I visit them and speak in English.

I’m a bit more tan than my sisters due to neglecting sunscreen on sunny days, but my dad used to joke to me and my sisters that I was Filipino/Indian and looking back on it, that was pretty toxic. (It was also kinda hypocritical because he’s tanner than me, but he never pointed that out.) Some other people may get offended at being called “banana” or “ABC” (Australian-born Chinese), but me and my sisters can take it as a joke.

Talking about the Vietnam War is kinda awkward for me, as my dad escaped from it in his youth. I learnt about the war while doing an international studies course and being to Vietnam - there was this aura of coldness around it all the while and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it.

  • Language

I was taught Cantonese from birth, but Australia being as it is means English is my default. I had to learn Chinese and Japanese from language schools and school courses.

Hong Kong was British up until 1997, so there’s lots of English (the language, the people aren’t that common there) around and it’s easier to get by there (for me) than Vietnam. Vietnam was French in the 1800s so my dad knows limited French, but I’ve never learnt French. 

  • Study

I used to try and keep up with my parents’ standards of “play piano!”, “get good grades!” etc. etc. but as time wore on, I found I didn’t want to. In the end, I found they’re not too worried, so long as I do well in what I want to do and pass in what I need to do. 

…I’m also a proud procrastinator, as bad as that is.

  • Micro-aggressions

Notice how I’ve used “Cantonese” as a term for traditional Chinese, and “Chinese” for simplified? Cantonese and Chinese are completely different beasts. (I can get kinda picky about it, even though “Canton” is a somewhat whitewashed term and doesn’t refer to Hong Kong per se…I use the terms because I have no better way of distinguishing between the two.)

  • Tropes I’m tired of seeing

Kung fu Asians. Not all Asians are willing to whip your butt into shape with martial arts - most Asians wouldn’t know martial arts. For that matter, tai chi/taekwondo/karate/gong fu do not equal each other (yeah, Karate Kid with Jaden Smith is a misnomer).

  • Things I’d like to see more of

There’s one show I thought was fairly accurate in depicting a life like mine, and that’s The Family Law. Showing more family dynamics like that would be great.

I’d also like to see close siblings, regardless of genre, gender or race. (Not twins or OreImo, either - that’s a little too close.) I’m very close to my older sister, to the point where if we weren’t blood related, we’d be best friends.

It’s a weird demand, but regardless of where your story’s set or who it’s aimed at, I get kinda disappointed when people have an eating scene and they could check up some weird and wonderful food for it - for a workplace or school scene, a sandwich can make sense and it’s fine, but for one example, in fantasy feasts people eat “boar meat” and sometimes I wish they’d eat char siu instead of being so generic. Just do your research properly, spell the words properly and it’ll fit right in if it’s appropriate and/or relevant.

Read more POC Profiles here or submit your own.

2

May 7th 1954: Battle of Dien Bien Phu ends

On this day in 1954, the decisive battle of the First Indochina War at Dien Bien Phu ended with a resounding victory for the Viet Minh. The war was fought between the colonial French powers and a group of Vietnamese soldiers led by communist Ho Chi Minh. The Vietnamese forces had been battling the colonial French since the aftermath of World War Two, with each side being funded by the opposing camps of the Cold War - the Vietnamese from China, and France from the United States. In the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the communists were led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, who encircled the French stronghold with 40,000 men and heavy artillery. After a fifty-seven day siege, the French defense crumbled and the Viet Minh were victorious. The decisive battle essentially ended the war, which led to the Geneva Conference to negotiate peace. The conference, which was attended by most of the major world powers, resulted in the division of Vietnam along the 17th Parallel. It was this division which kept tensions alive between the communist North and US-backed South, which ended in war between the two and heavy US involvement to support the South. In 1975, after the US had mostly retreated, the Southern capital of Saigon fell to the communists and the nation was once again united.

“The Viets are everywhere. The situation is very grave. The combat is confused and goes on all about. I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish”
- Christian de Castries, French commander at Dien Bien Phu, in the last hours of the siege

A Cambodian soldier carries a machine gun alongside her comrades during the Vietnam War. This photo was taken on 26th August 1970 in the Prek Tamak region of Cambodia, where heavy fighting took place between Cambodian forces and the Viet Cong. Many young women served as soldiers and medics in the rapidly expanded Cambodian army during this time.

French education policies in Algeria and Vietnam present two illustrative examples. Both histories demonstrate a direct French administration reducing relatively well educated societies to illiteracy. John Ruedy proposes that the strong emphasis on scriptural reading and the high attendance rates at Koran schools probably developed a literacy rate among Algerians that even surpassed French levels at the time of the colonial power’s arrival. The French government replaced this traditional school system with Christian-parochial and public education schools for French expatriates, European settlers, and a few sons of Algerian notables. Alexis de Tocqueville lamented: “Around us the [Algerian] lights are going out… We have made Muslim society much poorer, more disorganized, more ignorant, and barbarous than it was before it knew us.
A similar sequence of events is seen in Vietnam. Precolonial Vietnam housed at least two schools in each district. Ngô Viñh Long estimates that pre-French-era rural literacy rates may have even surpassed urban literacy. David G. Marr estimates that up to 25 percent of Vietnamese could read enough characters to decipher basic contracts and other records. Yet by the mid-1920s, he bemoaned, it "seems unlikely… [that] more than five percent… could read a newspaper, proclamation, or letter in any language.”
— 

Mark Caprio, Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea 1910-1945, pg 35-6

He then goes on to explain that the current Vietnamese alphabet, quoc ngo, was meant to function as a transition alphabet, to shift the Vietnamese population from their native language to full French. and look how that worked out!

4

March 16th 1968: My Lai Massacre

On this day in 1968, during the Vietnam War, between 350 and 500 Vietnamese villagers were massacred by American troops. The soldiers of the ‘Charlie’ Company killed and mutilated hundreds of unarmed civilians, many of whom were women and children. The massacre took place in the hamlets of My Lai and My Khe of Son My village, and was supposedly due to the belief that enemy soldiers were hiding in the area. The incident was initially downplayed by the army, with General Westmoreland congratulating the unit on their “outstanding job”. However, once the true nature of the horrific masacre was revealed, it sparked outrage both in the United States and around the world. The brutality of My Lai was a major factor in increasing domestic opposition to the Vietnam War, with mounting protests putting pressure on the government to end what many saw as a futile war. 26 US soldiers were charged for their involvement in the incident, but only one - William Calley - was convicted and found guilty. Calley was given a life sentence for killing 22 villagers, but only served 3 and a half years under house arrest; he made his first public apology in August 2009.

Lam Thi Dep was a Viet Cong soldier who fought in the Vietnam War. The above photo of her was taken in 1972 in Soc Trang Province when she was 18 years old. Large numbers of North Vietnamese women like Lam Thi Dep fought for the Viet Cong and photos like this were often taken for propaganda purposes.

She is seen carrying an American M16 rifle. US-supplied South Vietnamese garrisons often gave these weapons to the Viet Cong as a gift, in exchange for being spared from their attacks.

A Vietnamese member of the French army. c1917.

Nearly 100,000 Vietnamese men were conscripted to serve in the French forces during the War in both Europe and the Middle East. Only a small portion of these, roughly 5000, were combat troops, the rest served i either transport, medical or labour services for the French. Like all other colonial troops they were heavily discriminated against by Europeans and segregated into camps away from their colonial masters.

7

Hi all! It’s been a very long time since I last posted anything on this blog. This is not a dead blog and I appreciate all of your support when I was away. Also, I am happy to see more new followers joining this blog, I hope you enjoy my posts.

This post is dedicated to the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam. I believe they are colorized in recent years which help of technological advancement. I found these photos on the internet, so again, I don’t possess any rights over these images. If anyone requests me to take them down due to copyright reasons, I will do it immediately.

Another album will be uploaded soon! Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted!

Some interesting historical stuff

The Mongol Empire was one of the largest and most powerful empires in history. Their empire stretched across Asia, the Middle East, and as far as Europe.

No one was tougher, more ruthless, and more feared than the Mongol warrior.

Yet twice they attempted to invade the tiny little kingdom of Vietnam,

and each time they were thoroughly ASS WHOOPED by a bunch of peasants armed with bamboo spears.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_invasions_of_Vietnam

regent queens:  trưng trắc and trưng nhị of vietnam (c. 12-43)

The Trưng sisters were born in a rural Vietnamese village, into a military family. Their father was a prefect of Mê Linh (麊泠), therefore the sisters grew up in a house well-versed in the martial arts. They also witnessed the cruel treatment of the Viets by their Chinese overlords. The Trưng sisters spent much time studying the art of warfare, as well as learning fighting skills. When a neighbouring prefect came to visit Mê Linh, he brought with him his son, Thi Sách. Thi Sách met and fell in love with Trưng Trắc during the visit, and they were soon married.

With Chinese rule growing extremely exacting, and the policy of forcible assimilation into the Chinese mold during their expansion southward, Thi Sách made a stand against the Chinese. The Chinese responded by executing Thi Sách as a warning to all those who contemplated rebellion. His death spurred his wife to take up his cause and the flames of insurrection spread.

In AD 39, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, after successfully repelling a small Chinese unit from their village, assembled a large army consisting mostly of women.Within months, they had taken many (about 65) citadels from the Chinese, and had liberated Nam Việt. They became queens of the country, and managed to resist subsequent Chinese attacks on Việt Nam for over two years. (read more)

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New Canadian Heritage Minute was released today on World Refugee Day about Canada’s settlement of 100,000 Vietnamese Refugees following the Vietnam War.