Collection provides ‘objective’ insight into Vietnam's conflicts with US, China

By Hoang Phuong   August 19, 2017 | 08:40 pm PT
Collection provides ‘objective’ insight into Vietnam's conflicts with US, China
Vietnamese soldiers in their position during the border war with China in 1979. Photo by Tran Manh Thuong
Why the US-backed government is no longer a ‘puppet regime’ and details of the seldom-mentioned Chinese invasion in 1979.

A new series of history books released on Friday has sparked public interest in Vietnam by addressing the “gaps” left by previous publications.

"Lich Su Viet Nam” or Vietnam History Chronicle, compiled by Vietnam’s Institute of History, tells the story of the country since its establishment until the year 2000.

Tran Duc Cuong, a history professor and chief editor of the 15-book collection, said more than 30 historians spent nine years to chronicle nearly 10,000 pages of history.

“This is the biggest history collection ever published in Vietnam,” Cuong said.

“It approaches historical figures from multiple perspectives and includes new content, like the border war with China,” he said.

No ‘puppet’

Cuong said the new collection also takes a more “neutral” stand in refering to the U.S.-backed South Vietnam regime.

He said the entity which existed for nearly 21 years until the end of the Vietnam War had been referred to as a “puppet regime” for years.

His books refer to it as the “Saigon Government,” after the official name of the southern capital during the war.

“History needs to be objective and written in a way that can be accepted by everyone,” he said.

The “puppet” nickname is usually used by those with strong links to the North Vietnam Government during the war, and has somehow maintained a divide decades after the country was officially united in April 1975.

'Invasive war'

One book in the collection devotes nine pages to explaining Vietnam’s relationship with China after 1975, including the tensions that caused the border war to break out in February 1979. It refers to the conflict as an “invasive war.”

“What else could it be?” he said.

He said the book goes into the details of the war and the scale of the troops and arms China deployed in Vietnam.

The one-month war claimed thousands of lives on both sides and left nearly two million Vietnamese  people homeless. The situation remained tense over the next decade, particularly at the Vi Xuyen Front in Ha Giang Province. Between April 1984 and May 1989, China sent more than 500,000 soldiers to the Vietnamese border district, killing thousands of Vietnamese soldiers.

The battle only began receiving renewed media attention following the escalation of tensions in the East Sea, known internationally as the South China Sea, in recent years.

It is barely mentioned in Vietnamese textbooks.

The 12th-grade history book mentions the tensions briefly in 11 lines, which its authors said is due to “sensitive relations” with China.

Cuong said the collection also “honestly” credits the contributions of feudal rulers who have been widely perceived as villains in Vietnamese history, only because they ousted heroic reigns.

Vietnam was invaded by China multiple times during feudal times, and those who overthrew the Chinese have always been hailed as heroes, while those who took over from these rulers have been painted in a bad light.

Cuong said it’s just a part of history that dynasties come and go. He said even the "villains", like the pro-France Nguyen family, the last feudal rulers in the country, had made big contributions to culture, education and sovereignty.

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