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Charles Keith: Catholic Vietnam – A Church from Empire to Nation

In this important new study, Charles Keith explores the complex position of the Catholic Church in modern Vietnamese history.

By demonstrating how French colonial rule allowed for the transformation of Catholic missions in Vietnam into broad and powerful economic and institutional structures, Keith discovers the ways race defined ecclesiastical and cultural prestige and control of resources and institutional authority. This, along with colonial rule itself, created a culture of religious life in which relationships between Vietnamese Catholics and European missionaries were less equal and more fractious than ever before. However, the colonial era also brought unprecedented ties between Vietnam and the transnational institutions and culture of global Catholicism, as Vatican reforms to create an independent national Church helped Vietnamese Catholics to reimagine and redefine their relationships to both missionary Catholicism and to colonial rule itself. Much like the myriad revolutionary ideologies and struggles in the name of the Vietnamese nation, this revolution in Vietnamese Catholic life was ultimately ambiguous, even contradictory: it established the foundations for an independent national Church, but it also polarized the place of the new Church in post-colonial Vietnamese politics and society and produced deep divisions between Vietnamese Catholics themselves.

Charles Keith is Assistant Professor of History at Michigan State University.

Source : University of California Press

Réf. : Keith, Charles, Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation, Berkeley – Los Angeles – London, University of California Press, [coll.] From Indochina to Vietnam: Revolution and War in a Global Perspective, 2012, 333 p.

Thank you to Charles Keith who informed us of his new publication.

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Book reviews from the inside flap

“In this richly documented and judiciously argued book, Charles Keith has crafted a engaging account of what it was like to be Catholic in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Vietnam. He provides what no other scholar has: a nuanced and complex history of the political discord, social uncertainties, and spiritual aspirations that shaped Catholicism for millions of Vietnamese from the beginning of French colonial rule to the first years of national independence. Intelligent, detailed, and compelling, Catholic Vietnam is an important book.” (J. P. Daughton, author of An Empire Divided: Religion, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880-1914).

“In Catholic Vietnam, Charles Keith challenges a deeply entrenched body of flawed conventional wisdom about the modern history of Vietnamese Catholicism. Free from the biases and tendentious assumptions that distorted scholarship on the topic during the Vietnam War era and armed with a massive arsenal of difficult-to-access primary sources in French and Vietnamese, Keith provides the most thorough and even-handed historical treatment currently available of the Vietnamese Catholic community under French rule, while telling a gripping story about a fascinating but neglected political and cultural process that he calls Catholic ‘decolonization.’ Beautifully written, exhaustively researched, and persuasively argued, Catholic Vietnam sets a new standard within the field.” (Peter Zinoman, author of The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940).

“In this nuanced, wide-ranging, and lively account, Charles Keith establishes how Vietnamese Catholics positioned themselves and were perceived over time. Challenging binary and orthodox narratives, Keith’s meticulously researched book successfully interrogates and ultimately debunks notions of Catholicism’s inherent foreignness to Vietnam. Catholic Vietnam provides very important and timely contributions to the histories of Vietnam, of religion, and of French colonialism.” (Eric T. Jennings, author of Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina).

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Kim Thuy : Adieu Saïgon

[ndlr] Retour sur le petit ouvrage de Kim Thuy paru en 2011 en France et au Canada. Interview mise en ligne par le  9 février 2011. A travers Ru, Kim Thuy invite le lecteur à “visiter un univers”, celui du Saigon de 1975, de l’exil en bateau et des réfugiés vietnamiens accueillis au Québec. Le reportage est suivi de la vidéo promotionnelle du livre puis d’un entretien en anglais sur son parcours.

Kim Thuy est l’invitée du JT6H de TV5Monde pour son livre “Ru” (Editions Liana Levi), un ouvrage largement inspiré de son exceptionnel destin. Plus qu’un simple témoignage, “Ru” est l’hymne à la vie et à la joie d’une femme de son temps pour qui l’exil est une chance.

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Ru de Kim Thuy

C’est au Québec et plus précisément à Montréal, que nous vous emmenons sur WebTV Culture, où à l’occasion du salon du livre nous avons rencontré Kim Thúy. Et ici, au Québec, Kim Thúy est devenue un phénomène littéraire.

« Boat people », ayant fui le Vietnam avec sa famille lorsqu’elle était enfant, Kim Thúy a débarqué ici au Québec il y a une trentaine d’années, et de ce parcours de réfugiée, elle a fait le thème de son premier roman, Ru, publié en France aux éditions Liana Levi.

Récompensé par de nombreux prix, Ru est un petit bijou où la souffrance se transforme en poésie, où la magie d’une rencontre et d’un sourire redonne l’espoir. Avec ce premier roman à l’écriture délicate, Kim Thúy à conquis le public québécois, et en France aussi le succès est au rendez vous. Ru, le premier roman de Kim Thúy est publié en France aux éditions Liana Lévi. Kim Thúy est avec nous sur Web TV Culture.

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Kim Thuy on writing Ru and the Immigrant Experience

Kim Thuy talks about writing Ru and her memories of an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec. She discusses the embrace she felt from her new community, and revels in her family’s chance to be part of the American Dream. (Publiée le 7 mars 2012)

Robson & Yee: France and Indochina – Cultural Representations [2005]

At the intersection of literary, cultural, and postcolonial studies, this volume looks at French perceptions of ‘Indochina’ as they are conveyed through a variety of media including cinema, literature, art, and historical or anthropological writings. The volume is long awaited, as France’s memory of ‘Indochina’ is understudied compared to its relationship with its former colonies in West and North Africa. The book has contemporary urgency as the makeup of France’s immigrant population changes and grows to include Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian populations.

Kathryn Robson is lecturer in the School of Modern Languages, University of Newcastle, United Kingdom. Jennifer Yee is lecturer at the University of Oxford (Christ Church).

Réf. : Robson, Kathryn & Yee, Jennifer (eds), France and Indochina: Cultural Representations, Lanham, Lexington Books, 2005, xvi-237 p.

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Table des matières : Library of Congress catalog

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This outstanding collection combines contributions from established scholars of Francophone South-East Asia with the work of some of the most talented and original new researchers in the field. The volume explores the representation and reality of colonial Indochina and also offers an introduction to some of the most innovative Francophone writers and filmmakers of the contemporary Indochinese diaspora. By pairing rigorous historical inquiry with original cultural, literary and theoretical analyses, the essays collected here reveal the complex, ambivalent connections linking France and Indochina, as well as the postcolonial legacies of the contacts and conflicts on which these connections depend. (Charles Forsdick, University of Liverpool) – source : Amazon

Rencontre à l’Espace Harmattan avec Nguyen Thanh Trung le 19/11/2012

Rencontre à l’Espace Harmattan avec Thanh Trung Nguyen autour de son ouvrage Vision de la femme dans la littérature du Sud-Vietnam à partir de 19h. Rencontre-signature le 19/11/2012. Espace Harmattan : 21 bis rue des Écoles (M° Maubert Mutualité), 75005, Paris, France. tél. 01 43 29 49 42.

Nguyen Thanh Trung, Vision de la femme dans la littérature du Sud-Vietnam (de 1858 à 1945), Paris, L’Harmattan, Études littéraires, 2012, 386 p.

Quelle est l’image sociale de la femme dans la société du Sud-Vietnam ? En s’appuyant sur les romans des écrivains du Sud, sur la littérature journalistique des années 30 ainsi que sur sa propre expérience d’enfant du Sud, l’auteur tente de démontrer que la femme vietnamienne était loin d’être douce, au foyer, soumise aux préceptes confucéens comme beaucoup l’ont affirmé. (présentation de l’éditeur).

Source : Editions L’Harmattan

Voices of Vietnamese Boat People: Nineteen Narratives of Escape and Survival [2000]

On April 10, 1975, the Hanoi government of North Vietnam took control over the South. South Vietnamese, particularly “intellectuals” and those thought to have been associated with the previous regime, underwent terrible punishment, persecution and “re-education.” Seeking their freedom, thousands of South Vietnamese took to the sea in rickety boats, often with few supplies, and faced the dangers of nature, pirates, and starvation. While the sea and its danger claimed many lives, those who made it to the refugee camps still faced struggle and hardships in their quest for freedom.

Here are collected the narratives of nineteen men and women who survived the ordeal of escape by sea. Today, they live in the United States as students, professors, entrepreneurs, scientists, and craftspeople who have chosen to tell the stories of their struggles and their triumph. Each narrative is accompanied by a brief biographical note.

Mary Terrell Cargill is an associate professor of English at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh, a native of Vietnam, is an assistant professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, where he teaches creative writing.

Réf. : Cargill, Mary Terrell & Huynh, Jade Ngoc Quang, Voices of Vietnamese Boat People: Nineteen Narratives of Escape and Survival, Jefferson, NC – London, Mc Farland, 2000, 192 p.

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Nghia M. Vo: Vietnamese Boat People, 1954 and 1975-1992 [2006]

The biggest diaspora in Vietnamese history occurred between 1975 and 1992, when more than two million people fled by boat to escape North Vietnam’s oppressive communist regime. Before this well-known exodus from Vietnam’s shores, however, there was a massive population shift within the country. In 1954, one million fled from north to south to escape war, famine, and the communist land reform campaign. Many of these refugees went on to flee Vietnam altogether in the 1970s and 1980s, and the experiences of 1954 influenced the later diaspora in other ways as well.

This book reassesses the causes and dynamics of the 1975-92 diaspora. It begins with a discussion of Vietnam from 1939 to 1954, then looks closely at the 1954 “Operation Exodus” and the subsequent resettlements. From here the focus turns to the later events that drove hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to flee their homeland in 1975 and the years that followed. Planning for escape, choosing routes, facing pirates at sea, and surviving the refugee camps are among the many topics covered. Stories of individual escapees are provided throughout. The book closes with a look at the struggles and achievements of the resettled Vietnamese. (McFarland book description).

Nghia M. Vo is a Vietnamese-American, helped found the nonprofit Saigon Arts, Culture & Education Institute, and has written multiple books on Vietnamese culture. He lives in Virginia. He strives to document Vietnamese-American culture through conferences, publications and a website He is also the author of The Bamboo Gulag: Political Imprisonment in Communist Vietnam (McFarland 2004).

Réf. : Nghia M. Vo, The Vietnamese Boat People, 1954 and 1975-1992, Jefferson, NC – London, McFarland, 2006, 208 p.

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Book reviews

Concise history of Vietnamese Refugees, by Smallchief, 06/04/2007

This is a clear, readable, and concise book about Vietnamese refugees. There have been a large number of books on this subject, but this is one of the better and more complete ones I have encountered.

The author begins with a subject neglected by many authors — a description of the refugee flight that came about as a result of the French defeat and the Communist takeover of North Vietnam in 1954. About one million people fled North Vietnam at that time. He then jumps forward 20 years to an account of the many different phases of the 1975-1992 humanitarian crisis — and crisis it was — beginning as a consequence of the defeat of the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government in 1975. Throughout the narrative, he mixes in the personal stories of individuals escaping from Communism, their life in the refugee camps, and their later experiences in the United States. Finally, he describes the refugee policies of the countries who hosted and helped — sometimes reluctantly — Vietnamese refugees: the United States, Thailand, Malaysia, France, Canada, Australia, and others.

The author draws most of his material from previously published books, but his insights often have a interesting twist of their own, perhaps because the author himself is Vietnamese, experienced some of the events he describes, and reflects the view — very anti-communist — of many in the American Vietnamese community.

Memories become history, by Viet Reader, 07/04/2007

I lived through all the periods of Vietnamese history mentioned in the book. I witnessed (as a child) the 1954 exodus from the North, the 1975 event leading to the concentration camps, the exodus of the boat people from Vietnam and their life outside of Vietnam. It’s quite an extraordinary and pleasant experience for me to read “The Vietnamese Boat People”. It’s like being led on an instructive tour to your own hometown, guided by a scholarly (and surgeon) friend who writes English in a way very few of us can, to revisit familiar places that you thought you have always known so well, only to find out that there are a lot of new things and perspectives about your own past and your country’s past. With the book,my own eclectic, personal pieces of memory seem to find their place in the jigsaw puzzle. It may help former refugees like myself, and hopefully our English speaking progeny, find a sense of meaning and purpose from our turbulent and traumatic past. For some of us, this may also provide some relief from lingering guilts and regrets about our past lost cause, and maybe, a sense of closure necessary to start a new chapter for our life and for our former country that still stays behind in every way.

Source : Amazon

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Truong Nhu Tang: Mémoires d’un Vietcong [1985]

Parmi les centaines de milliers de boat people anonymes ayant fui le Vietnam depuis la chute de Saïgon, se trouvait en 1978 un témoin très particulier : Truong Nhu Tang, membre fondateur du Front National de Libération, ministre de la Justice du Gouvernement révolutionnaire Vietcong et adversaire déterminé du régime saïgonnais pro-américain.

Ce livre est tout d’abord l’histoire personnelle d’un homme devant sa formation intellectuelle à la France, qui a lutté durant plus de dix ans pour la libération de son pays et qui a fini par le quitter, constatant que le remède était pire que le mal. Mémoires d’un Vietcong est surtout l’histoire du conflit vietnamien racontée pour la première fois par un acteur important de l’autre bord. Principal responsable vietcong en exil, Truong Nhu Tang est particulièrement bien placé pour présenter l’autre version du plus tragique conflit néo-colonial: “Je crois que l’Occident ne sait presque rien du Vietcong, de ses projets, de ses difficultés, de ses conflits internes surtout. Les circonstances propres à la guerre, et le grand soin que la révolution a apporté à camoufler son propre fonctionnement ont contribué à la marquer du sceau du secret. Mais le Vietcong n’était pas monolithique…”

Truong Nhu Tang, né en 1923 à Saigon, est diplômé de l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, licencié en droit, ancien élève de l’Ecole du commissariat de la Mariné de Toulon. Il a été directeur général de la Société Sucrière Nationale du Vietnam membre fondateur du FNL, ministre de la Justice du GRP, et du Sud Vietnam “libéré” pendant l’année qui a suivi la chute de Saïgon. II est réfugié en France depuis 1978. David Chanoff est assistant professeur de sciences politiques à Hancard. Doan Van Toai, auteur de Le goulag vietnamien (Robert Laffont), est à l’Institut d’Etudes Asiatiques de Berkeley.

Réf. : Truong Nhu Tang, Mémoires d’un Vietcong, Paris, Flammarion, 1985, 347 p. (trad. de l’américain par Amal Naccache)


  • CR de lecture par Bui Xuan Quang dans Politique Etrangère, 1985, Vol. 50, n° 4, pp. 1047-1048 à lire sur Persée
  • CR de lecture par Pierre Brocheux dans Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, 1986, Vol. 11, n° 11, p. 139 à lire sur Persée
  • CR de lecture en vietnamien par Minh Võ, “Hồi ký của một tên Việt Cộng” en ligne sur Giao Cam, Saigon Online (pdf)

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 A Viecong Memoir (édition en langue anglaise)

This is a moving if rather naive account of life as a Vietnamese revolutionary, written by one of the Vietcong’s highest-ranking leaders who is now in exile in the West. Thoroughly disillusioned, the author describes how Hanoi used Southern “bourgeois” revolutionaries to overthrow the Saigon government and then quickly shunted them aside after victory. It is unfortunate that Southern patriots such as this one did not understand earlier the nature of the Hanoi regime they served so well. To this day the author, while critical of all the key actors in the Vietnam drama-the North, the Thieu government and the United States-does not devote much space to self-criticism. Yet as one of Saigon’s privileged elite, he cooperated directly or indirectly with Hanoi for 20 years.

Source : Foreign Affairs, Reviewed by Donald S. Zagoria. Fall 1985.