The unclaimed war: the social memory of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese Border War in China and Vietnam

Tam Ngo

- completed -

This project addresses the memory politics of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese Border War. This brief, but bloody, war killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Chinese, yet it is a forbidden topic in both countries today. For the people whose lives were devastated by it, the daunting memory of this war continues to haunt their daily existence. The intensity of their suppressed memory is startling, especially in the present context of a thriving politics and culture of war commemoration in both China and Vietnam.

In this study, Tam follows the life stories and narratives of people whose lives were defined by this war, such as the veterans, inhabitants of the borderland, both ethnic minorities and Kinh and Han majority groups, the ethnic Chinese people in Vietnam, and the ethnic Vietnamese people in China. These life stories have led her to a number of geographical locations, some of which became the main sites for her research, such as Lao Cai, Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Shanghai, Kunming, and Dali in China. Because of the war, half of a million Hoa Kieu (ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, or Vietnamese Hoa Kieu) have fled the country and resettled in the West. Ethnographically, Tam’s focuses are on subtle, often underground, rituals that aim to commemorate the war, as well as the religious expression of memory about this war. This project also includes the life stories and memory politics among the Chinese- Vietnamese population in three European cities: Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. By focusing on the ethnic and religious networks maintained between the Vietnamese Hoa Kieu in the West and their ethnic fellows that remained in Vietnam, this project uses religion as a lens through which to understand war and refugee experiences. 

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