Sunday, January 15, 2017

Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam

McHale, Shawn Frederick. Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam. University of Hawai’I Press, 2004.

McHale has multiple goals in Print and Power: to redefine the concept of the public sphere, to explore the development of the print culture of Vietnam through 1945, and to show how the three primary competing ideologies in Vietnam used the expansion of printing to further their own ends.  These three aspects of McHale’s argument combine to show Vietnam as having a much more complicated intellectual environment through the end of World War II than previously understood.  Rather than Communists having a coordinated, dominant role, McHale contends that the radicals and reformers created a diverse intellectual environment.

The key to this argument is McHale’s assertion that non-free societies can also develop a public sphere.  Earlier discussions of the development of the public sphere, defined as the place between the village and the state where the people come together to influence society using their reason, maintained that it was unique to democratizing societies awakened by the Enlightenment.  McHale believes that even states that are not yet “modernist” in orientation also develop this middle ground between village and state in which people interact to shape their futures. 

In Vietnam, a key to the twentieth century development of the public sphere was the development of print culture despite the censorship imposed by French and Japanese colonial domination.  Within the public sphere, Confucians, Buddhists, and Communists pursued divergent goals based on the needs of the group and its constituents.  These different approaches meant that each group produced different types and numbers of printed items.  The victory of Communists in Vietnam’s twentieth century wars has led to an assumption that the other two ideologies were not relevant to the modern world, an assumption deliberately enhanced by Communist historiography.

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