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Truong Vinh Ky and Phan Thanh Gian: The Problem of a Nationalist Interpretation of 19th Century Vietnamese History

Milton E. Osborne
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Nov., 1970), pp. 81-93
DOI: 10.2307/2942724
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2942724
Page Count: 13
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Truong Vinh Ky and Phan Thanh Gian: The Problem of a Nationalist Interpretation of 19th Century Vietnamese History
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Abstract

Vietnamese historians in North and South Vietnam have, in writings since 1954, given considerable attention to the problem of reassessing and interpreting developments during the nineteenth century. For historians in Hanoi the test of Vietnamese nationalism has been whether or not an individual resisted the French. Saigon historians have not applied such a restrictive standard of judgement. The approach of the two schools of history is exemplified in their respective treatment of two notable nineteenth century figures; the linguist and journalist Truong Vinh Ky, and the mandarin Phan Thanh Gian. Both these men are condemned by Hanoi historians for their failure to work against the French. Saigon historians are more ready to consider sympathetically the factors which led to these men acting as they did. Resistance-oriented scholarship along the Hanoi model presents a grave risk of distortion. In the case of Truong Vinh Ky it tends to disguise the extent to which his views on Vietnam's future development were echoed in the twentieth century. For Phan Thanh Gian condemnation of his failure to fight to the death against the French diverts attention from the extent to which his decision represented an important reflection of a widespread attitude among many members of the mandarinate.

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