The Birth of Vietnamese Identity
CHAT V. DANG
         Resurgence of Vietnamese Nationalism
         Staggering from three centuries of battles between Trịnh - Nguyễn Lords and King Nguyễn Huệ - King Nguyễn Ánh, Vietnamese identity was further fragmented by French colonization and the Vietnam War. In preparation for a major escalation of the war, North Vietnam conceded in 1958 the sovereignty of the Hoàng Sa (Paracel) and Trường Sa (Spratly) Islands to the People's Republic of China (PRC), hoping for increased military support1. At the time, potentially vast undersea oil and natural gas fields were largely unknown, and PRC forces did not physically claim the islands, some already occupied by South Vietnamese, Philippinos and other South-East Asians fishermen. A few of the Hoàng Sa islands would ultimately be taken by force by the PRC in a two-day naval battle with South Vietnam's Navy in 1974. Despite the loss, South Vietnamese continued to assert claim to the islands, as did the Socialist Republic of Vietnam afterwards.

         Recent China's decisions to consolidate its administrative hold on the disputed archipelagos2 have resulted in a surge of Vietnamese nationalism with demonstrations led by students in Saigon and Hanoi3 in December 2007. These expressions of popular anger were understandably authorized by Vietnam leaders. Concurrently, in Europe4, Australia, Canada and the United States, there were flurries of articles and emails from alarmed oversea Vietnamese protesting Chinese imperialism.

         Two preliminary conclusions could be drawn from the events. Vietnam is not capable of militarily winning back the archipelagos. The immediate benefit was to show on television screens worldwide the red flag with a yellow star (cờ đỏ sao vàng), instead of the yellow flag with three red stripes (cờ vàng ba sọc đỏ) that has come to represent the Vietnamese nation with its North, Central and South regions.


1 North Vietnam Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng's formal letter to Chinese Premier Chu An Lai (Zhou Enlai) dated September 14, 1958.
2 http://hoangsa.org/diendan/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=949 accessed 1-09-2008
3 http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-XLtlMAg7c6Nz50itUrR5 accessed 1-03-2008
4 http://thongtin.brinkster.net/chinhtri/Ban_Len_Tieng.pdf accessed 1-03-2008

        Please read the rest of the story in THE SORROWS OF WAR AND PEACE.
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