From a Reliant Land to a Kingdom in Asia: Premodern Geographic Knowledge and the Emergence of the Geo-Body in Late Imperial Vietnam
This article examines a change in how members of the educated elite in Vietnam viewed their kingdom’s place in the world. It argues that, prior to the twentieth century, Vietnamese scholars saw their kingdom as being connected to, or reliant on, the empire to its north, which we now refer to as “China.” In particular, Vietnamese literati believed that moral virtue from the North had spread southward over time and enabled the Southern Kingdom, as they sometimes called their land, to emerge. The flow of geomantic energy from north to south played a similar role. In 1908, however, a reformist scholar named Lương Trúc Đàm published a geography textbook, Geography of the Southern Kingdom (Nam Quốc địa dư), that disconnected the Southern Kingdom from any form of reliance on the North. In this work, Đàm also sought to nurture in his readers patriotic feelings toward the Southern Kingdom. In so doing, Đàm contributed to the creation of what historian Thongchai Winichakul has referred to as a “geo-body,” an identifiable and separate geographical entity for which students are taught to develop patriotic emotions.
Keywords: geography, Southeast Asia, Vietnam, geo-body, Lương Trúc Đàm