The bad Vietnamese: Culture minister schools the public on morals, blames market economy

By Vo Hai   June 12, 2017 | 08:01 pm PT
The bad Vietnamese: Culture minister schools the public on morals, blames market economy
A man walks past a Prada shop in Hanoi. Photo by Tomas Slavicek
‘Selfishness, materialism and heartlessness are spreading.’ 

The Vietnamese culture minister, Nguyen Ngoc Thien, did not mince his words about what he called an "ethical downfall" in the country.

In a parliamentary session on Monday, he lamented the disappearing "traditional values" and blamed the market economy, educators and even law enforcement for failing to give the public a new moral compass.

“Selfishness, materialism and heartlessness are spreading,” he said.

Thien said even professions traditionally known for strong ethical standards have failed to uphold their values. People are now bribing teachers and doctors, the minister said.

Thien did not forget to mention the public sector: He said a number of government officials are abusing their power for personal benefits, "to take care of their families rather than serving the public."

The culture minister said the market economy is encouraging materialism and destroying humanity values, such as loving your neighbors or helping each other in difficulties.


Two men use a pushcart to help a motorbike driver cross a flooded street in Hanoi, an act of community help that Vietnam's culture minister said has become rare. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Thien then urged the country to adopt a modern set of ethical values, if the traditional values are no longer considered fit for the modern age.

Like in many Asian countries, it's not rare for public officials in Vietnam to discuss moral issues and try to mold the public behavior. In the case of Vietnam, economic achievements have often been hailed as both a curse and a blessing.

Acts that are deemed "unethical" are often tied to the corruption effects of money, sometimes in oversimplistic ways. Sex work, gambling and drug use are still widely referred to as "social evils."

Vietnam's economy has been one of the fastest growing in Asia in recent years, with GDP expanding more than 6.2 percent a year. As average income climbed steadily to $2,200 last year, the country is coming closer to a middle-income one.

Social surveys have painted a bleak picture of the rich and poor gap, with over one million people living in daily hunger.

Vietnam's Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong at a meeting last October also addressed immorality at high-level officials, which he said has chipped away at public trust and threatened the political system.

Trong said that falling morality and degrading lifestyles among Party members are evident in corruption, cronyism, bureaucracy, opportunism and individualism that have set them miles away from the public and their grievances.

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