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HISTORY, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM

Vietnamese nationalist and communist history was forged and professionalized during the Indochina War. For the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), history was a powerful weapon to be used against French and Vietnamese opponents. It was needed to legitimate and justify the war among the leadership, in propaganda drives, and in resistance classrooms. In a meeting presided over by Truong Chinh in Hanoi in late 1945, the provisional general secretary of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) called upon the likes of Nguyen Dinh Thi, Xuan Dieu, and Luu Van Loi to prepare a “black book” (sach den) containing all the crimes committed by the colonialists over some 80 years. From the outset history served to discredit the colonial mission civilisatrice positing that the French had improved the well being of the colonized through schools and hospitals and thus deserved to remain in charge. History simultaneously served to promote the national idea the new nationalist leadership was set on creating and diffusing among those living within this new territory referred to as “Vietnam”.

Having taken over the colony’s printing presses, the DRV began publishing scores of papers and books promoting a new nationalist history. The cultural and educational services produced books, articles, reviews, and manuals condemning French colonial crimes and glorifying the Vietnamese of the past, present, and future. Ancient heroes – the Tay Son brothers and the Trung sisters – came back to life, re-armed, and were mobilized as part of the wider war effort. Resistance schools taught a national history that had never been permitted during the colonial period. Colonial heros of the 19th century became villains. Those Vietnamese who had resisted the French conquest now found a heroic place in nationalist textbooks.

However, much of what was produced during the Indochina War was not necessarily tightly controlled by the party, which did not exercise “total” control over farway zones. Things began to change in central and northern DRV areas in 1950 when the ICP rejoined the international communist movement and the party began to consolidate its control over the state, including educational and cultural services. In 1949, for example, Ho Chi Minh instructed cultural cadres in the party to begin preparing an official history of the nationalist resistance movement to be used for educational purposes. The party congress of early 1951 underscored the importance of preparing a history of the party (Quyen Dang Su). However, nothing materialized until September 1953, when the Vietnamese Worker’s Party issued a decree creating a Historical Research Center led by Tran Huy Lieu.

A number of famous intellectuals contributed directly to teaching and preparing national and party histories during the Indochina War, including Tran Huy Lieu, Tran Van Giau, Dao Duy Anh, Nguyen Khanh Toan, Ton Quang Phiet, Van Tan, Nguyen Luong Bich, Vu Ngoc Phan, Dang Thai Mai, Pham Thieu, Tran Duc Thao. The main organizations and institutions involved in historical production during the war ranged from the Marxist Research Association (Hoi Nghien Cuu Chu nghia Mac), the government’s Cultural Department (Vu Van Hoc), the Central Committee’s Commission for Indoctrination and Cadre Training, and the Historical Section of the Ministry of Education (Ban Su Cua Bo Quoc Gia Giao Duc), not to mention a plethora of cultural associations located at the Inter-Zones and local levels. Vietnam’s modern nationalist historio-graphy did not emerge ex nihilo in 1954 with the return of the DRV to Hanoi following the signing of the Geneva Accords. It had already begun during the war itself. Indeed, history was an essential part of the making of the DRV during the Indochina conflict. See also EMULATION CAMPAIGNS; NEW HEROS; RECTIFICATION.