Rambling thoughts on history.

In the spring of 2011, I was talking to my friend Karl about why I wanted to go home. Societal norms had been shaken to the core: premarital sex, LGBT community… issues once hushed up were now proudly coming to the fore. The changes in our private life highly correlates to the shift in ideology of the country we live in. I predicted that we would see more fractures in politics, and I wanted to be home for it. Change always excites me, especially when things are going downhill.

One year later, while doing research on the urban development history of Vietnam, I first saw the uncanny parallel between the Vietnam under French rule and the Vietnam today. It is the same pattern of land expropriation, proletarianization of landless farmers, construction of grandiose structures catering to the fancy of the top few, and an aspiration to Western aesthetics and modernity.

The similarities widened the more I reflected on it. Corruption, censorship, the use of state-backed force against farmers and factory workers, the rise of a new capital wealthy class, the critique of Westernization, the fear over the loss of cultural roots and family values, the malaise among the general public, but especially the youth that looks outward and frantically searches inward. Politically, we’re at that point when the “masters” are long gone, but the dining and wining in the lit-up house goes on like before. The pigs on the outside look through the window at the pigs living inside and are quite certain that they are not looking at one of their own.

My conviction on this cycle of history is further supported by the recent case of Doan Van Vuon affair (here, here, and here for more on the case). The blogosphere was quick to point out how it resembled the Nọc Nạn affair in Bac Lieu province in 1928. In both cases, these farmers overcame tremendous loss to reclaim land to earn a living and feed their families. Corrupted officials tried to swindle the property out of these proud owners. They resisted, injured the foot soldiers used against them, and were tried for protecting the land that meant meant blood, toil, tears, and sweat to them. Unfortunately, the trial results were not the same. In 1928, the defendants, amidst wide support from the public and the media, were acquitted. In 2013, Mr. Vuon and his family were sent to jail.

Only time can tell if we’ll see upheavals in the next 20 years. Of course history is fluid and unpredictable, only known after the fact. We’re the propellers, without knowing where it is headed. If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading about the past, it is that I’d never support a regime that throttles the arts and tramples artists into the mud, whatever the excuse may be. All of my favorite Vietnamese writers, poets, composers, were from the renaissance of the 1930s and 1940s. They were all slandered, twisted, cast out, terrorized in the brutal 50s and 60s. When we don’t know how to appreciate the nurturers of our soul, we’re also snipping away the humanity in us.

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