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Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter

V3, N3 (November 1991)

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Topics for Vietnamese-U.S. Research Cooperation: A Vietnamese Perspective

Tran Quoc Vuong, Chair, Department of Archaeology, National University of Hanoi

The Center for Intercultural Studies affiliated with the National University of Hanoi is at present undertaking a number of research projects on Vietnamese history, folklore, and archaeology and is interested in cooperating with American scholars conducting research in these areas.

A Study of East-West Cultural Interaction

The Center is undertaking a research project entitled "Vietnam: 100 Years of East-West Cultural Interaction," dealing with a period beginning at the end of the 19th century. The research examines the transformation and development of literature, music, the arts, theater, architecture, and the press in Vietnam from the colonial period to the present.

Vietnam's Archaeology

Vietnamese archaeologists are researching the three following ancient civilizations of present-day Vietnamese territory: 1) The Dai Viet civilization, which originated in the Red River Delta and expanded southward between the 10th and 19th centuries. Related research topics include the production and trading of ceramics, and maritime archeology (including the port visits of Chinese junks); 2) The Cham civilization, which flourished between the second and seventeenth centuries. A related topic of interest is the relationship between Champa and other southeast Asian polities; 3) The Mekong Delta civilization (also known as the Oc Eo or the Phu Nam civilization) and the Khmer civilization, which flourished between the second and third century and the seventh and eighth century. In this area, Vietnamese scholars have worked closely with Indian, Australian, Polish and Japanese scholars.

Related to these three civilizations are the excavations of the three major sites at Dong Son in northern Vietnam, Sa Huynh in central Vietnam, and Dong Nai in the south. Japanese scholars plan to cooperate with Vietnam in these three excavations.

Human Ecology

During the past ten years, the issues of human ecology and cultural values of Vietnam and Southeast Asia have caught the attention of Vietnamese scholars. However, Vietnamese research in these areas is still underdeveloped. The Center of Intercultural Studies and the Institute of Agricultural Sciences (chaired by Prof. Dao The Tuan) have jointly carried out a research project to examine the ecosystems of Vietnam and the agricultural systems of different regions in Vietnam, and to set up a non-state agency for rural development (FANO).

In addition to these ongoing projects, the Center and other Vietnamese research institutes encourage research in the following areas:

Study of Ho Chi Minh

After the commemoration of Ho's 100th birthday in 1990, the leading research institutes and the leadership of Vietnam have called for vigorous research on Ho Chi Minh's life and thought. While in the U.S., I discussed this issue with Archimede Patti, who was completing his book on Ho. Since works on Ho Chi Minh written by Vietnamese scholars abroad reflect, to some extent, the writers' political bias against communism, I believe that the translation of Patti's study on Ho Chi Minh into Vietnamese can significantly contribute to research on Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

Study of the Vietnamese War

Although the Vietnam War has been extensively documented in both American and Vietnamese history, American scholars have written more about the Vietnam war than Vietnamese scholars. It will be useful if both American and Vietnamese war participants and scholars could meet and cooperate on Vietnam war projects.

Study of Modern Vietnam

Ancient Vietnamese history is still a subject of interest in Vietnam. A number of American scholars have been working enthusiastically in this area. Among them are are Keith Taylor at Cornell (conducting research on the Ly dynasty11th to 13th century), Prof. Oliver Wolters at Cornell University (Tran dynasty (13th to 15th century), John Whitmore at Michigan (Le-Mac period), and Alexander Woodside at British Columbia (Nguyen dynasty).

Study of Vietnamese Language

Despite impressive developments in the study of Vietnamese, some areas worthy of exploration remain: the origins of the Vietnamese language, the influence of Southeast Asian and East Asian languages on Vietnamese (Mon-Khmer, Thai Malaysian or Indonesian or Malayo-Polynesian, Tibeto-Burmese, Chinese, etc.), and Vietnamese dialects. Professor Gerard Diffloth at Cornell University has been undertaking research on the origin of the Vietnamese language.


The Vietnamese consist of 54 ethnic groups with several linguistic families: Mon-Khmer, Thai, Malay, Tibeto -Burmese, Mao-Yao, Chinese, and Viet-Muong. Prof. Tu Chi, a prominent anthropologist, lamented in 1990 that not even one monograph had been written for each ethnic group. Ethnological research thus is a vast potential research area for both Vietnamese and American scholars.


Vietnamese folklorists have overemphasized the collection of folk poems and literature. They should begin to pay more attention to the analysis of folk sayings, and should emphasize both traditional and modern folklore.


Vietnamese literature should be studied in conjunction with Vietnamese history. In this respect and American scholar, Neil L. Jamieson at George Mason University, is seemingly ahead of Vietnamese scholars, who have just begun to pay attention to the linkage between history and poetry. Jamieson's research on poetry and history in Vietnam will undoubtedly foster a better understanding on both Vietnamese history and Vietnamese poetry.


Many historical sites of Vietnam have been left dilapidated. Recently, UNESCO has launched intermittent campaigns to restore the citadel and the imperial tombs of the Nguyen kings in Hue. Other sites still left unrestored include Cham towers and scattered traditional communal halls in Vietnamese villages.


Vietnam is a country where many religions have co-existed. However, the study of religions, both in the U.S. and Vietnam, has been sparse. In the U.S., Jayne Werner's book on Cao Dai and Hue Tam Ho Tai's work on Hoa Hao merely marked the beginning of research in this area. Recently, a publication house in California published God-Man and the Viet Land (Than nguoi va dat Viet ). However, the author, Ta Chi Dai Truong, wrote in Vietnam and sent the manuscript out of the country. A few books and a thesis by a Vietnamese scholar in France on the history of Catholicism in Vietnam have been circulated for quite some time. In Vietnam, the Institute of Buddhist Studies under Thich Minh Chau is researching the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. The study of the history of Confucianism in Vietnam is now in progress. The histories of Hinduism, Islam, and primitive religions in Vietnam have yet to be written.

Sino-Vietnamese Studies

Vietnam possesses plentiful Sino-Vietnamese materials of various forms. The Sino Vietnamese Institute associated with the Institute of Social Sciences has established contacts with the Ecole Française d'Extreme Orient in order to preserve these materials. In the U.S., Prof. Nguyen Dinh Hoa at San Jose State University has conducted research on the works of Sino-Vietnamese studies written by Vietnamese both in Vietnam and abroad and has attempted to create a computer database for Sino-Vietnamese materials. American scholars who are interested in East Asian studies or the relationship between Vietnam and East Asia can cooperate with Vietnam in this area.

This list is by no means comprehensive. Other possible areas of research cooperation include economics, legal studies, and education. Research cooperation on Vietnamese studies has just begun.

On International Studies

International studies in Vietnam have been woefully underemphasized. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, animosity, war, and political conflict barred the study of French and English and discouraged any research on France and the United States instead of encouraging it. Despite diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, Vietnamese scholars have rarely studied these countries in vigorous manner. Regarding China, during the first three decades of independence, no research Institute was responsible for research on China; research was carried out in different Institutes, such as the classics section of the Sino-Nom Institute, the classics section of the Literature Institute, and the History Institute. It was only in the late 1970s, after the Sino-Vietnamese border clashes, that the Commission for Social Sciences established the Institute of Asia-Pacific for research on China. The institute later extended its research activities to cover the entire Asia-pacific region.

Regarding Southeast Asia, it was not until 1973 that a committee to study Southeast Asia was set up. Later, this committee was promoted to the status of Institute and became responsible for research and translation projects on Indochina and ASEAN countries. Its major foci include the comparative study of cultures, linguistics, and economics of the countries in the region. Vietnamese social scientists have initiated preliminary academic contacts with ASEAN countries. These contacts have developed into trilateral academic relationships between Vietnam and ASEAN and Australia, with special concerns with the historical production of ceramics and its trade routes, agricultural science, environment, maritime archaeology, and Cham studies.

International studies is undoubtedly an area in which Vietnamese scholars and both American and non-American scholars can productively and beneficially cooperate in order to achieve greater understanding of Southeast Asia.

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