Colonialism and national culture
in The unimagined community
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Chapter 1 examines the development of a Vietnamese national culture. This culture was a result of the advent of mass reproduction and print capitalism, which were introduced in the colonial era as instruments of surveillance, used by the French in order to monitor the political activity of their colonial subjects. In deploying modern print media as a means of surveillance, however, the state would also create the conditions for a new “imagined community” of the nation. During the 1920s and ’30s, the new media would be instrumental in spreading the modern mythology of a 2,000-year history of resistance to foreign invaders. This modern tradition was the result of an anti-colonial interpretation of the precolonial past, based on a European conception of sovereignty as the right of a “people” (dân tộc) possessing a distinct national culture. In the new national history, the Vietnamese people (who had previously appeared in the old imperial records only as subjects (dân) of the emperor) would become the foundation of a new “sovereignty of the people” (dân quyền). Projecting this modern conception of sovereignty into the precolonial past, writers working in the vernacular media produced a new national history of the Vietnamese people.

The unimagined community

Imperialism and culture in South Vietnam

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