The death of Indochina

from Press News, posted 02/22/2012 - 12:56

Why, Benedict Anderson once asked, did Javanese become Indonesian in 1945 whereas the Vietnamese balked at becoming Indochinese? Perhaps the defining moment was on 17 June 1930 with the execution for rebellion of Nguyen Thai Hoc, one of the founders of the non-communist, fiercely anticolonialist VNQDD (Vietnamese Nationalist Party).

Stepping last onto the scaffold at daybreak, he defied the French in culturally powerful terms, when he bowed to the Vietnamese crowd and then screamed with a blood-chilling northern accent – Viet Nam van tue! [“Long live Viet-Nam!”] – shortly before being decapitated.

Even so, the word “Viet-Nam” remained largely unknown to the common folk while the ever-increasing integration of the territories of French Indochina meant that the union (or idea of a Greater Vietnam) began to shape the world-view of many elite Viet. Within two decades of Nguyen Thai Hoc’s execution, however, the idea and reality of Indochina was effectively dead.

This transformation is the focus of a classic study just published by NIAS Press. Here, Christopher Goscha shows that Vietnamese of all political colours (also Ho Chi Minh) came remarkably close to building a modern national identity based on the colonial model of Indochina while Lao and Cambodian nationalists rejected this precisely because it represented a Vietnamese entity. Specialists of French colonial, Vietnamese, Southeast Asia and nationalism studies will all find much of value in Goscha’s provocative rethinking of the relationship between colonialism and nationalism in Indochina.

First published in extended-essay form in 1995 as Vietnam or Indochina? Contesting Concepts of Space in Vietnamese Nationalism, this remarkable study has been through a major revision and is augmented with new material by the author and with a foreword by Eric Jennings (University of Toronto), who writes:

Goscha’s analysis extends far beyond semantics and space. His range of sources is dazzling. He draws from travel literature to high politics, maps, bureaucratic bulletins, almanacs, the press, nationalist and communist texts, history and geography manuals and guides, amongst others. … [T]his book remains highly relevant to students of nationalism, Southeast Asia, French colonialism, Vietnam, geographers and historians alike.

Copies of Going Indochinese: Contesting Concepts of Space and Place in French Indochina – the inaugural title in our new NIAS Classics series – are now available in Europe and soon will be delivered in other parts of the globe.


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