Patronage, Passion, and the Power of Networks

Erich DeWald, University Campus Suffolk

Philippe M. F. Peycam. The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism: Saigon, 1916–1930. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 320 pp. $50 (cloth).

Hue-Tam Ho Tai. Passion, Betrayal and Revolution in Colonial Saigon: The Memoirs of Bao Luong. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 216 pp. $50 (cloth), $25 (paper/ebook).

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Beyond the rhetoric of patriotism and the persuasions of propaganda, what compelled so many Vietnamese to oppose French, communist, and American hegemony? The existing literature tells us much about the norms, habits, policies, and organizations that existed during the late colonial period, when dynamic, modern voices of dissent and resistance began to be heard. Students of political rule and resistance in twentieth-century Vietnam have rich resources available to them, including histories of official rhetoric, studies of grassroots political mobilization, and intellectual biographies of leading figures and institutions. Nonetheless, this scholarship, with a number of notable exceptions, generally identifies great men, basic economic factors and efficient organizations as the main historical agents in modern Vietnam. It is encouraging to see two recent books move, however cautiously, in a compellingly different direction. In various ways, both The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism and Passion, Betrayal, and Revolution in Colonial Saigon seek to understand the worlds inhabited by Vietnamese with a keen—even zealous—interest in political and social change. Though Philippe Peycam and Hue-Tam Ho Tai might not necessarily describe their books as such, both are significant for their efforts to chart the untidy but vital personal and professional connections that drew Vietnamese into modern politics and, in many cases, revolution...