History books to shed light on Vietnam's border dispute with China

February 24, 2016 | 02:52 am PT
Vietnam’s history courses will contain more detailed accounts of the country’s military disputes with China over land borders and maritime rights, said a government education official.

History education in Vietnam has to date contained very little information on China's twenty-nine-day incursion into Vietnam in February 1979. As a result, younger generations know little about the episode unless they seek out more information themselves.

In the current version of the twelfth-grade high school history textbook published by the Vietnamese Education and Training Ministry, there is only a brief mention of the intense fighting between China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Vietnamese forces along the northern border of Vietnam.

In fact, there are only 11 lines of text that discuss the event including the following sentence: “On the morning of 17 February 1979, 32 infantry divisions launched the offensive along our country’s northern border from Mong Cai (Quang Ninh) to Phong Tho (Lai Chau) stretching more than one thousand kilometers”.

Professor Vu Duong Ninh, who was one of the key compilers of the textbook, said the historical incident has not been genuinely or properly recounted in the volume, however, due to “some restrictions at the time of [compiling the textbook], we could only try to put in that much information”.

History education plays an important role in constructing the nation’s identity in the minds of its people, and Professor Ninh believes that textbooks and other narratives of history must objectively reflect historical events.

“The Ministry of Education and Training will gather the opinions of historians, including content referring to such wars in [new] textbooks with the appropriate amount of information,” said Deputy Minister of Education Nguyen Vinh Hien, urging history teachers for the meantime to include more lessons on Vietnam’s armed resistance against Chinese forces in the defense of its territory.

On February 17, 1979, Chinese troops poured over the border into Vietnam, suddenly attacking six northern border provinces along the 1,200 kilometer frontier. China deployed as many as 600,000 troop in addition to military vehicles and artillery. On March 5, the Chinese declared that it “had accomplished the war's aim” and announced a military withdrawal. However the withdrawal was not formally completed until the end of 1988, forcing Vietnam to maintain a certain number of troops along its northern border.

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