Van Nghe (magazine)

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Date: 1988

Region: Asia

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Print Journalism


Artist: Nguyen Ngoc, editor

Confronting Bodies: Vietnamese Government

Dates of Action: December, 1988

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Description of Artwork: A series of articles published in Van Nghe (Literature and Art), a weekly magazine of the Vietnamese Writers' Association, which "... challenged perceptions about some prominent Vietnamese historical figures... "... It was the publication of three short stories by Nguyen Huy Thiep, the most controversial writer in Vietnam today, that got (the editor, Nguyen Ngoc) into trouble. The stories--Sharp Sword, Golden Fire, and Virginity--included favorable references to Gia Long, who is commonly vilified as the 19th-century King who opened up Vietnam to French colonialism. Thiep also depicted Emperor Quang Trung, who is glorified in Vietnamese history for routing a Chinese occupying army in 1789, as having human frailties... "

The Incident: Although no official reason was given, Van Nghe's editor was removed, presumably because of the stories published. The publication prompted strong reactions from both supporters and critics. The critics said Thiep,"wasn't respectful to Vietnamese history and attempted to overthrow the cherished ideals of the Vietnamese people." The supporters of both Thiep and Ngoc on the other hand "... insisted the stories were only 'pseudo-historical, ' so that Thiep's imagination should be allowed literary license... "

Results of Incident: "... In February, two months after Ngoc was removed, party leader Linh warned media heads in Ho Chi Min City to tone down criticism of the government... " Linh told the press that despite liberalization of the past year its job was still to serve the party. "The press must reflect the people as a people's voice, but it is also a tool of the party. As such, it must speak for the party and the state to the people... "

Source: Murray Hiebert, "One Step Backward," Far Eastern Economic Review, May 4, 1989, pg. 15