When the word “Vietnam” is mentioned, many people still think of a war that ended twenty-nine years ago. Yet Vietnam, the country, possesses the second largest population in Southeast Asia and ranks twelfth largest in the world. Surely it deserves to be approached on its own terms, not as a foreign memory.
A stern test of this prescription is to study governance in Vietnam. Undoubtedly, Vietnam's entire political system was profoundly influenced by war and revolution from 1945 to the late 1970s. On the other hand, those western writers who labelled Vietnam “totalitarian” had very little to go on except their own Cold War ideological predilections, extrapolations from Stalin's USSR, and Hanoi's determination to portray Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party as infallible. Scholars who rejected the totalitarian epithet for Vietnam still found themselves severely limited as to sources that might support alternative models. Fieldwork was impossible, archives were closed, provincial newspapers inaccessible. By default, the utterances of central leaders and public intellectuals dominated writings on contemporary Vietnam. And governance — being inherently political — proved more difficult to research in practice than economic, social or cultural topics. Vietnam's research conditions have improved substantially during the past decade, with scholars able to reside in the countryside, some archival materials rendered accessible, and back sets of hundreds of local periodicals readily available at the National Library in Hanoi. Of equal importance, a new generation of Vietnamese and foreign scholars has emerged and is making its mark in PhD theses and publications. Growing up after the war, these young men and women are looking at received wisdom critically, asking fresh questions, and eagerly taking advantage of the wider range of study opportunities. are delighted that a number of promising young scholars are represented in this book.
While governance is the context for this book, it is still only feasible in Vietnam to examine certain aspects rigorously.