From: Shaun Malarney <email@example.com>
Liet si preceded the revolution and had the generic sense of someone who sacrificed their life in a virtuous activity. Dao Duy Anh's Tu Dien Han-Viet includes it in this sense, and also glosses it with the French hero. I think it is definitely legitimate to gloss it as "revolutionary martyr" for a number of reasons. First, that's the English translation you find in most contemporary Viet-Anh dictionaries; second, the semantics of it were redefined by the Communists in the 1930s and 1940s to exclusively include sacrifice in the cause of the revolution; and third, and most importantly, to become a liet si a person has to be designated as such by the party/state. Usually, if a person has been said to hi sinh (the verb normally employed with describing the death of a liet si), the liet si classification comes as well, but there was a case in the place I worked outside of Hanoi where a man was wrongfully executed during the land reform. After the correction of errors, the party allowed for him to have 'hi sinh,' but they wouldn't give him the liet si classification, even after the family protested. When a soldier died in battle, such a determination had to be made. Civilians who were killed in air strikes, for example, were usually not liet si. They were nan nhan chien tranh. I've written a lot about the semantics of liet si, as well as its assocations and employment regarding war dead, and I could send you those if you like. I adopt throughout the revolutionary martyr gloss. But of course, no one in the ARVN could be a liet si!
Dear Shaun and Others,
An interesting parallel issue to liet si of course is thuong binh. In the hospitals and villages where I conducted research, for the most part men who had been wounded as soldiers were considered thuong binh, whereas youth brigade who were wounded in the line of battle, at least at the time of my research, were not considered thuong binh. There is also the classification of benh binh, men who developed illnesses during their time in the army that were not directly associated with battle. I know that the government is now considering reparation or at least free health insurance for youth brigade members, many of them women. I wonder if they will be classified as thuong binh.
As someone who studies Chinese history, my curiosity led me to look up liet si/lieshi in a good Chinese dictionary after reading Shaun Malarney's answer to your query.
That term has been in use for 2,000+ years. It appeared in Sima Qian's Shiji (Records of the History) and the Taoist text, the Zhuangzi. In both of those works it referred to someone who was upright and of good moral character. Later, in the first few centuries A.D. it seems to have taken on another (related) meaning of someone with the ambition to establish a great meritorious enterprise (i.e. to establish a record of loyal service to a dyasty, etc.). Note that in neither of these cases does it have anything to do with dying.
That aspect came in the 20th century, when the term took on the meaning of someone who died for a noble cause. The earliest instance that my dictionary notes of this usage was to describe 72 people who died in Guangzhou (Canton) in a failed attempt to overthrow the Qing dynasty in March of 1911. What I don't know is if it was used immediately following this event, or after the Qing were actually overthrown later in 1911 (i.e. when the revolutionaries were actually in charge).
In any case, I think Shaun Malarney's comments were right on the mark (especially the point that this status is designated by the state/party). I just thought you might find this other (earlier) information interesting as it highlights the fact that in the 20th century this term really did come to mean "revolutionary martyr."
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2000 14:11:27 -0400
A couple of comments on recent posts:
On liet si: an early example of the new meaning of liet si involves Pham Hong Thai, who tried to assassinate the French Governor-General Merlin during his trip to guangdong. Pham Hong Thai was buried across the memorial to the 72 martyrs of the Wuchang uprising mentioned by Liam Kelley. The text of his stele was by Hu Han-min, the governor of Guangdong.
I'd be curious to know whether this meaning of liet si (i.e not defined by the state) has survived in everyday speech or whether liet si now can only mean someone who died in a cause approved of by the state (leaving out anyone who died a heroic death but on the wrong side).
On khoa hoc: I agree with Regina that scientific socialism and the connection between science and modernity have much to do with the rampant claims to be scientific now being bandied about by all and sundry. However, we should also bear in mind that in France, scholars are called "les scientifiques," no matter what branch of knowledge they're engaged in.
Hue-Tam Ho Tai
From: Shaun Malarney [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Thanks for your fascinating post on the history of liet si. Reading it made me go back and check Dao Duy Anh, and I discovered that I had not carefully read it. Just as you stated with the earlier Chinese usage, there is no specific mention of dying, though I suspect it could have been included. Important to note though. I wonder who initiated the process of changing that meaning.
Many thanks to all respondants to my original post, as I said yesterday, all have been helpful and interesting. I never meant to suggest that religious martyrs were discriminated against because they were not accorded the status of 'liet si', nor that there is any association in the original root derivation of 'liet si' 'and 'tu dao'. All I meant is that there seems to be a parallel between the way the Party and the Church use the two concepts, in an honorific, commemorative, and exhortatory sense; hence, for example, restrictions upon those to whom the Party and the Church accord status within these categories. The powerful connotation of self-sacrifice unto death lies central to the ethos/'mythology' of both institutions, who are jealous in their guarding of that ethos, comprehending the present power of the past hero.
Incidentally, the suggestion made that 'liet si' only took on its martyrdom gloss in the revolutionary period of the 20th century surprised me. I thought it was used to refer to nationalist martyrs in the scholars period, and most particularly during the Can Vuong movement. Or has the Party just retrospectively read the term back into the history of the period?
It might be of interest to those who have been engaged in the liet-si discussion to know that, according to Ho Trung Tu, the first liet-si cemetery in Vietnam was Hoa Trang Nghi~a tru?ng (lit. Hoa Trang Cemetery/Graves of the Righteous), built in 1866, six days after the attack of Son Tra (Da Nang) by the allied forces of France and Spain. For more information on this, see HTT's article "Nhung nghia trang liet si dau tien o nuoc ta" in Xua & Nay (Past & Present), no. 54B, August 1998, p.29 and p. 32.
Subject: khoa hoc
I've enjoyed reading the recent exchanges about the words `khoa hoc' and 'liet si'. I remember how, during conversations with Vietnamese historians in the late 1970s and 1980s, the minute they started to use the word 'khoa hoc' it was a tip off that the Party line was being invoked. Once I joked with several historians that `khoa hoc' was like placing one's six shooter on the card table, but none of them had seen a cowboy movie...
Some of you will have noticed that historians now prefer to call their association the `Hoi Su Hoc', although the official name remains `Hoi Khoa Hoc Lich Su Viet Nam'.
Dear Cha Thach
Thanks for your reply. I am not so sure about whether the term 'liet si' is more ideological than 'tu si'. I simply think it is a political term,because politic parties avoid using the same term and want to make a distinction. In addition, people who sacrified their lives in wars in pre-modern Vietnam history, they are called anh hung by both former regime of South Vietnam and Communists, for example, Two Trung Sisters, Le Lai (Chinese wars), Hoang Hoa Tham, Truong Dinh (French war).
Look forward seeing you soon. I don't go to ASSA Conference.
Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2000 18:25:32 +0800
To anyone who is following this liet si discussion,
This article by Ho Trung Tu looks interesting (I have no access to it at the moment though). Apparently there was a cemetery built in 1866 and labeled a "nghia trung," a term which had been in use for over 1,000 years by that time and which had at least previously meant something like a mass grave for unknown soldiers. Then according to HTT writing in 1998, it was the first "liet si" cemetery.
Perhaps this all makes sense when you read the article. However, from these two names alone there appears to be a bit of a semantic leap taking place here. Does HTT cite sources from 1866 which use the word "liet si?" Was it conveyed somehow at the time that they were burying "liet si" in a "nghia trung?" Or did HTT just project this term back in time?
There was a book written a couple of years ago by Lydia Liu ("Translingual practice...") which had these long lists in the back of Western words which entered Asian languages through Japanese (such as society, economics, democracy, etc.). I wanted to check it to see if "martyr" is there, and if so, how it was translated. However, that book was MIA in the library. So if anyone is interested, and has easy access to that book, that might be an interesting source to check.
Ho Trung Tu's article (not a book) "Nhung nghia trang liet si..." was published in the journal Xua & Nay (Past & Present), no. 54B, August 1998 (special issue on Tourane - Da Nang), p.29 and p. 32. This journal is an organ (co-quan) of Hoi Khoa hoc Lich su Viet Nam and is published bimonthly, in Hanoi (25 To^ng DDa?n, Ha Noi) and in Ho-Chi-Minh City (114 Nam Ky Khoi nghia, Q. 1, Tp HCM). The letter "B" in "no. 54B" implies that this issue was published in HCM City.
If you, or other members, do not have access to this journal and wish to have a copy of this article, I will send you a copy by regular post.
Though it is possible to find the term liet si in a comprehensive Japanese dictionary such as Daijien (Dda.i tu+(grave) uye^?n) published by the Iwanami Publisher (4th edition, 1993), in which resshi is defined as "a "shi" (meaning either a samurai, a man, or a gentleman) who has a strong sense of loyalty"; to my knowledge resshi is rarely used in the Japanese language. The Japanese people seem to have a different set of preferences.
The term used for the celebrated 47-ro^nin (masterless samurai) who died to revenge their Lord in the early 18th century, for example, is gishi (nghi~a si~, i.e. righteous/just samurai). The Yasukuni (Shinto) Shrine was built in Tokyo to commemorate/worship those who died for Japan's national cause (quo^'c su+.) since the Meiji Restoration, as it is generally believed that the way they died (junjiru, equivalent to the Sino-Vietnamese term tua^~n, also pronounced tua^.n, i.e. "to die for a just cause") has contributed to the making of modern Japan. The Japanese people admire/worship not only those who fought for a winning cause, but also those who died for a lost cause. Saigo Takamori, who joined the Satsuma Rebellion against the central Meiji government, and eventually committed seppuku, for example, is still being remembered by the present-day Japanese. In Ueno Park in Tokyo, his huge statue is a testimony to this admiration. One might even speculate that those who are truly worshipped and admired by the Japanese common folks are those who died for a lost cause. Ivan Morris has showed this point so eloquently in his book Nobility of Failure.
The way that the term resshi is understood by the Japanese seems very similar to the way lieh shih (liet si) defined in older (allow me to be rather vague here) Chinese and Vietnamese dictionaries. From the dictionaries that I have at the moment, the following may be cited:
Athews' Chinese-English Dictionary (1943, 1944, 1963):
Dao Duy Anh's Han Viet tu+(grave) ddie^?n (1931):
Khai Tri tien duc's Viet Nam tu+. ddie^?n (1931):
In contrast, in more recent Chinese and Vietnamese dictionaries, we find the following, which sor some reason seem to stress the "die/be dead/have died" aspect of liet si:
Xinhua Zidian (1998 edition):
Tu+(grave) dien tieng Viet (Chief editor: Va(n Ta^n, Nxb Uy ban Xa
Tu+(grave) dien tieng Viet (Vien Ngon ngu hoc, chief editor: Hoa(grave)ng Phe^ (Nxb Da Nang, Trung Tam Tu Dien hoc, 1997):
liet si: Ngu+o+(grave) dda~ hi sinh vi(grave) nu+o+'c vi(grave) da^n trong khi la(grave)m nhie^.m vu. (The person/one who has died/sacrificed oneself for the nation and the people when carrying out one's duty. The examples given here are: Nho+' o+n liet si, and Nghi~a trang liet si.
I think I should stop here.
In the paper today I noticed a use of "liet si" in one article, and the use of an alternative term on the next page.
In "Nguoc Dung Lich Su: Viet Cho Ban Tre", a column distributed by VNN and printed in Pho Nho 617, June 6, 2000, page 6A, the columnist Pham Phu Duc or the Pho Nho editor gives this parenthesis at the head of the column:
"(Viet nhan ngay tuong niem 13 liet si Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang leen doan dau dai o Yen Bai de den no nuoc.)"
Turning the page, to A6, another title jumps out, over an article by
Truong Si Luong:
Does this distinction tacitly acknowledge that VNQDD dead at Yen Bay are liet si,long recognized as such by all concerned, while RVNAF are merely among those who fought in a good cause?
There is a forlorn quality in some exile memorials to dead soldiers. Could it be because they can't be liet si? Because there is no fully legitimate way to memorialize them?
The most striking example I have seen of a meaningless memorial I have seen is in volume I of 20 Nam Van Hoc Viet Nam
Hai Ngoai, 1975-1995. On page 431, the title page for the section of work from Vo Hoang, where there would be a photo of the author and a list of his works, there is a blank box with a black ribbon across one corner in mourning. Below there are no birth or death dates, no place of birth, no publications, only the remark that he "Theo Mat Tran Khang Chien. Chet tai Cao Mien. Khong tim ra tieu so."
This is a deliberate defacement, because certainly several people who made this book had abundant knowledge of the birth and works of this writer. The world of Vietnamese literature is a fountain of gossip and old photographs. The refusal to supply information is arch or knowing, as if to signal a hidden meaning. What are the editors trying to say? Does the fact that Vo Hoang tried to walk into Viet Nam with a phantom army of a defunct republic, only to meet his fate in Laos at the hands of an army whose legitimacy cannot be acknowledged, make him a ghost who can only be presented with a blank box and a cursory epitaph? Or do I somehow have that exactly wrong?