Organizer and Chair: Mary M. Steedly, Harvard University
The Vietnamese Catholics During the War of Independence (1945-1954) Between the Colonial Reconquest and the Communist Resistance
Thi Liên Tran, Institute Etudes Politiques de Paris
The national feeling of the Vietnamese Catholics became all the more violent in 1945 as it had been denied before; so that some of the clergy didn't hesitate to launch straight into political and military action. This need of political involvement in the fight for independence could be explained by the desire to put an end to the accusation of "traitors to their homeland" (they were accused to be at the origin of the French conquest). The Catholics soon faced a dilemma: the keenest fighters for independence were communists and their project of society was far from their aspirations. Between the minority that chose to rally the Viet Minh, and the one that collaborated with the French, a major trend rose, refusing both the French reconquest and the communist hegemony in the resistance to the French.
From 1945 to 1949, the theme of the fight for independence prevailed, then from 1950 to 1954, the theme of fight against communism took over, without suppressing the nationalist ideas. The experience of living under Viet Minh power and international events (communist China, Korean War) caused a progressive rallying of the Catholics to the Bao Dai's solution. Far from raising enthusiasm (the Bao Dai government was completely independent from the French), this alternative was the only one left. It was not by chance that the Catholic politician Ngo Dinh Diem came out at the Conference at Geneva, as the nationalist alternative in South Vietnam, to face the communist regime in the North.
"To Counter the Terror of Uncertain Signs": Mythologizing Vietnam in Interiors
Jennifer Way, University of North Texas
How can we make sense of American art world involvement in and representations of Southeast Asia during the 1950s? One response involves reconstituting the meaning and significance representations of Vietnamese peoples held for the American State Department, press, and middle class.
In 1955, the State Department's new International Cooperation Association hired industrial designer Russel Wright to tour Southeast Asia (November 1955-February 1956). The article Wright subsequently published in the art world's Interiors magazine (August 1956) metonymically represented South Vietnam by emphasizing peoples who had moved there between 1954-55. The State Department and press considered their status problematic. They'd fled the Viet Minh but might be swayed to communism by southern guerrilla forces.
I argue that Wright's article supports this view. Further, I demonstrate how especially the photographs diffuse anxiety about the refugees' vulnerability to ways of life Americans perceived to threaten their (and a global) political economy and middle-class lifestyle. Using semiotic analyses Roland Barthes applied to the mass media during this period, I discuss how the refugees function not only as an "uncertain sign" in the photographs in Wright's article, but also as "mythology." I conclude that the peoples Wright deems "The Refugee Problem" thus appear ready for salvage, and I show how Wright's article accommodates their visual representations to American discourses of work. As fears about communism spreading in Southeast Asia increased, the American art world maintained the hegemony of some American priorities.
Colonialsim and the Collaborationist Agenda: Pham Quynh, France, and the Invention of a Neo-Confucian Vietnam
Sarah Womack, University of Michigan
Considered by many Vietnamese revolutionaries (and Western historians) to be the arch-collaborator of the colonial period, Pham Quynh-translator, author, editor, philologist, minister, and "traditional" conservative-was an extraordinary figure who nonetheless typifies many aspects of the complex and largely overlooked category of indigenous collaborators with colonial regimes. Although viewed as traitor and lackey to French colonial ambition, Pham Quynh saw himself as a patriot, a visionary, and a social revolutionary. Arguing that we must see collaboration as inside an actor's agenda, this paper is a preliminary analysis of Pham Quynh's articulation of his own project within the context of the French colonial state in Vietnam.
My study is founded on the premise that "collaboration" and "collaborators" can offer students of colonial history subjects and frameworks of analysis that are lacking in the simple colonizer/colonized dichotomy. Collaboration, if seen as the active engagement with colonial policy and administration by indigenous agents, can also destabilize the illusion of overwhelming and unitary power of colonial regimes. It opens a space for the consideration of the possibilities of a colonial hegemonic project by focusing not only on what sort of consent was manufactured among "native colonialists" and by whom, but on a corresponding effort by indigenous agents towards the state itself. The new possibilities and realities created by the colonial state were a laboratory for both colonizers and colonized, and in that context of experimentation there is much to be learned about visions of the colonial and post-colonial future.