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Ly Lich

At 04:43 PM 4/3/2000 -0400, you wrote:
I argue that the process of creating autobiographical narratives has been profoundly shaped by a state-imposed system of biographical production. Since 1975, the state has required all adult Vietnamese citizens to write their biographies and periodically submit them to local officials. The state then uses these documents to assess and categorize individuals' class backgrounds and behavior according to its notions of socialist virtue, citizenship, and selfless devotion to 'the people.' The prevalence of official biographical production provides all Vietnamese with narrative forms and ready-made examples of how one should live, reflect upon, and talk about one's life.
The paper later states, in part: tropes enshrined in state-sponsored biographies in ways which appear to confirm them, but which also subtly assert their individuality or demonstrate how their lives have departed from the government-sanctioned blueprint. Through this exploration of the government system of biographical production, I situate Vietnamese women's life stories within the social, cultural, and economic currents of post-war Vietnam and identify the political and personal implications of living, thinking about,and talking about one's life. Ann Marie's project sounds innovative and productive. It would be nice to merely play the (male) devil's advocate in discussing the issues she raises, but unfortunately I suspect a much more troubling problem exists in her work as she expresses it - namely her very possible profound misconception of both the present regime's use of ly lich/ho so and the way such documents are socially embedded. AM's post is several weeks old already, and my reply attests to the bit of investigation I've done to satisfy a gnawing skepticism.
At 1st thought,, even one page essays written by EVERY Vietnamese adult means the consumption of about 200 metric tons of paper, plus countless opens and thousands of machine ribbons (assuming 50 million working adults in a country of 75 million population, and this for only the present working generation!). Quite a hunk for such a resource poor country. Add to that the cost to the state of storage, collection, processing, analysis, etc. Surely only a genuine Stalinist, Pol Potist or FBI bureaucracy would embark on such a project, no matter how embarrassing its lack of fulfillment might be to the highest level of leadership
Thinking like this, I then began to ask around among female friends in Saigon (urban) and the Can Tho area (rural). My questions were not leading: 1) have you ever heard of or participated in a comprehensive biography/ly lich program from the state? 2) If the person answered "no," I then asked, "I know people do write such essays/reports. What is their purpose?" 3) Have you every written such a report? To date I have five replies. One from a PhD in biological sciences who is well connected with the Fatherland Front in Hanoi (I don't know if she is party). One from a MS in social sciences with training in biological sciences. One from an agricultural technician and farmer, a northerner resident in the Mekong Delta for almost twenty years. And two replies from women domestic workers in HCMC. Results: the replies of my respondents (only the two domestic workers heard each other's replies) were unanimous and startlingly similar: None have ever heard of such a program, now or in the past. People do (and must) write such documents for three main reasons: when they seek employment; if they are hired as a government cadre at any level; if they seek entry into the party. At no time did any of these women mention any distinction between sexes as to these requirements.
When I thereafter suggested to the PhD and MS social scientist that such Vietnamese reports sounded like a CV in western societies (both have worked and studied in North America or at English speaking science institutes in other countries), they spontaneously said that was correct. The PhD also broke into laughter when I first hypothesized that such a universal program could even exist in Vietnam.
This evidence, if it is correct (as well as my understanding of Ann Marie's project as I read her post) casts doubt on a main argument in her thesis. I don't think I have to elaborate on the ideologically loaded implications of her assumptions. But I suggest that we must problematize our assumptions about the nature of a state and political apparatus that itself is undergoing very rapid change in the post-Cold War era. A healthy skepticism about what we hear and perceive in the field (anywhere) is also necessary. On the other hand, perhaps such a writing program might exist under the sponsorship of a non-state organization, for example the very politically active Women's Union, national or HCMC. Essay writing does seem to be popular here: I recently read a report of a nation-wide essay contest for reminiscences of 70 years of the national postal service. 200 cultural and intellectual luminaries attended the contest's kick-off press conference/hype session in Saigon.
I hope Ann Marie Leshkowich can knock the props from what I'm saying: then I'll have learned something (too)! Perhaps the number of a Quoc Hoi, Politburo or ministry order - these are scrupulously announced whatever the subsequent effectiveness of the command! I respectfully invite her reply and the contributions of other list readers.
Steve Graw
>Steve Graw
>Development Sociology & Southeast Asia Program
>Cornell University
>Ithaca, NY 14853-7801
>******"What are we if not our memories?********

Dieu-Hien Hoang <dieuhien@u.washington.edu>wrote:
To answer Peter Hansen's question, there is a provision in ly lich that asks about one's religion. If you put down Catholic, that's enough. You're so classified. My brothers and I quickly learned to put "khong ton giao" in this slot, since we were not churchgoers anyway it wasn't really a lie. Putting down the family's prescribed religion served us no purpose here. That is my experience. Perhaps others have some other insight?

If Catholics or other religious believers did not mark their religion on this form, instead putting "khong ton giao" in the slot, would this cause the official statistics to underestimate the number of Catholics and other religious believers in the country? Did many people choose this approach when filling out the form?
Steve Denney

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 02:48:59 +1000
From: Kim Ninh <kimninh@coombs.anu.edu.au>
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography

Dear Steve and Ann-Marie:

I would not know what the current practice about ly lich is in Vietnam particularly in the south; the general feeling is that it is less of an issue now that before. What I can say more definitively about ly lich in the north is that it was a fact of life in the socialist state and it was an explicitly political endeavor by the state to impose control via the individuals themselves. I don't think that the comparison of ly lich with a C.V. is particularly useful and can be misleading in underestimating the power of ly lich. Ly lich was used as a way to ascertain class standing, and therefore, how pure is one's political standing. Over time, people did learn to skillfully reconfigure their ly lich in accordance to the dominant political criteria, although there were issues about one's family and class background that could not uppressed and did have enormous negative impact on people's lives. For this kind of information, all you need to do is to ask any northerner who have lived through the 1950s and the 1960s to fully appreciate the scope and the pervasiveness of the use of ly lich. It was not a writing program sponsored by any mass organization, and the control of the population via personal dossiers was a practice in common in all socialist countries, though we can easily use China as a comparative case.

Vu Thu Hien in his memoir Dem Giua Ban Ngay (p. 160-162) has something concrete to say about ly lich, and To Hoai's recent memoir Chieu Chieu discusses how powerful those in control of those ly lich dossiers were. He himself were one of them.

Kim Ninh


Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 04:02:24 PDT
From: "lien tran" <kililotus@hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography

Dear Mr Graw

I am quiet suprised with the response about ly lich (C.V) that you had from your sample in Vietnam.

There was a dieu tra dan so (checking (or counting?) population)in Vietnam at late 80s and early 90s. And this was a national program. Many people had to go back to their fatherland to fill some kind of ly lich. My family's experience is that a local police visited my family with a form book and my Mom answered questions, such as name, age, sex, religion, my father's original birthplace, occupation, etc. of all the members in the family. I remembered the latest ly lich I have written is when I was 12 years old. That was for the entrance of year 6.

In fact, information needs to be updated. This paper is periodically discharged for recycling (discharged document or ho so thanh ly). Two year ago, I still could find someone else's ly lich on the wrapping paper as I bought a pack of sticky rice for breakfast.

I am not in anthropology field, so with an ordinary point of view, I think the term C.V, in Vietnam context, has two meanings: it is what an individual wants to explain himself or herself to others, for example, the case that Ann Marie mentioned a while ago; or it is what others want to know about an individual for a certain purpose. And the later format of ly lich was somehow going on for such a long time that people had only one perception about ly lich. It is changing now. More than two year ago, there were two kinds of ly lich that anyone in Vietnam could buy at any news stalls, one for admin procedures and the other for job application.

Best regards

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 19:20:51 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ann Marie Leshkowich <amleshk@fas.harvard.edu>
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography

Hello, everyone.

Let me begin by thanking Steve Graw for his posting and the amount of time and effort he put into investigating points raised by my abstract regarding ly lich. He has prompted me to recognize a place in which I overstate the prevalence of ly lich and has alerted me to a way in which the abstract might be misread -- a danger whenever one has to encapsulate a much longer work into several hundred words. Nevertheless, these issues are not central to my primary argument, for reasons which I explain below. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify the point of my paper a bit and then invite those of you who are interested in this matter to continue the discussion about ly lich, perhaps off-list.

Looking over my abstract, I can see why it set off alarm bells for Steve Graw. He is correct for pointing out that not everyone in Vietnam has to complete a ly lich. From my research, I found that ly lich need to be completed whenever one applies for anything official: a job, entrance to university, trade licenses (only in certain cases, however), party membership, etc. In Ho Chi Minh City, they seem to have been fairly commonplace after the war, when they were used to figure out whether someone had ties to the former regime or to the US. Since most of the women I met came from families who had such ties, they perhaps had to complete ly lich more frequently, and this might explain my tendency to assume that they are quite common. Over the past decade, ly lich have become less prevalent, although they still are required at the times I mentioned above. So, my statement that these are forms required of all Vietnamese did indeed overstate the case, and I thank Steve for pointing that out.

I also did not mean to imply that this was a concerted campaign. Ly lich were used by the regime in the South after 1975, but there wasn't a grand "everybody must submit a ly lich by such and such a date" kind of campaign. And, it's not only the Hanoi government which has required such personal history reports; I've been told that the Southern government also asked for such things when, say, applying for a passport.

Steve Graw's comparison to a C.V. is generally correct, and it's a comparison which I make as well. Like a C.V., a ly lich is a kind of resume of one's personal background, with the important addition that it also asks for data about one's extended family members and (in the cases I've seen) explicitly asks for economic data and political activities.

The C.V. comparison brings me to the heart of my argument. In my paper on ly lich, I suggest that the fact that these forms exist and that the people I know have some basic familiarity with them has provided them with models -- narrative tropes, if you will -- of how one might organize, reflect upon, and present one's life. I argue that while a ly lich could be seen as oppressive, if it denies one access to a job, the form itself can be used by individuals quite powerfully to explain their lives to others. Perhaps the C.V. example can explain what I mean. Even if one never designs a resume for oneself, it's a culturally-familiar form which provides a model of the categories of knowledge about oneself which others might deem important. It also gives one clues about how best to present oneself to those others. In academia, I think we all do things occasionally with an eye toward how they might make our C.V.'s look. That's the same for ly lich. The women I know have for the most part had to fill one out at one time or another. When I interviewed them about their lives and their families, I suggest that they drew on their experience with this form of self-presentation to structure their responses to my questions. I am talking, thus, about narrative models and how they are used and transformed in different contexts.

While ly lich have in the past had political implications (at least among the people I know), I was surprised that Steve Graw felt that I was making dangerous political assumptions. I am in fact arguing that the ly lich form can be a positive vehicle for the women I know to portray themselves. This is a point which struck me as I read numerous autobiographies by Vietnamese who now live abroad. Many of these describe ly lich which the authors had to write after 1975 and suggest that these accounts were partial and sketchy. But, the mention of the ly lich form in the context of a longer autobiography suggests to me an interesting relationship between these two narrative forms in which the ly lich in some sense inspired the author to pen a longer account of his or her life. Ly lich also suggest that anyone's life is potentially worth recounting on paper -- this can be seen as quite an empowering idea, even if most people rarely (if ever) have to submit the reports. Maybe the presence of homepages on the internet might have a similar effect -- for good and ill!

In short, I am not at all suggesting some kind of grand Stalinist conspiracy here, nor am I assuming that there is some vast archive of all of these things lying about somewhere. Clearly that would be highly unlikely, for the reasons Steve Graw mentioned. I am sorry that my abstract could give that impression and will revise it accordingly.

There is an interesting concrete issue of what ly lich today look like. As I make clear in my longer paper, the connections I am making arose out of a fortuitous circumstance at the very end of my fieldwork. While I had spoken to many market traders and friends about ly lich, I had not paid much attention to them until someone wrote me her life story and the format she used reminded me of what I had been told ly lich look like. I did not have time to get copies of contemporary ly lich before I left Vietnam, but I did speak to several people in Ho Chi Minh City, some of whom took a look at the booklet the trader had written and confirmed my sense of the similarity. Back in the US, I have pored over the CDEC collection of documents captured during wartime. There are many ly lich included, as all (or almost all?) people who worked for the anti-US cause had to carry them. I've attached one sample as a JPEG which I just happen to have scanned into my computer. Other ly lich are even more detailed than this one. I also read about a dozen autobiographies by overseas Vietnamese, many of which mention ly lich. I am eager to expand my knowledge of ly lich, their uses, and their current form, as this might form part of a future project about self-conceptions and self-presentations. I would welcome copies of contemporary ly lich, or general impressions about what they look like today and how they are used. This is indeed work in progress.

I must confess that I am a bit puzzled about the references in Steve Graw's e-mail to the male/female side of this issue. One of the things which I suggest is that the ly lich model provides a means for the women I know to present their individual histories as individual citizens. This can certainly be a source of strength. I'm thus not sure why a male advocate would be needed.

I hope this has clarified my thoughts on ly lich. My thanks to Steve Graw for pointing out the ways in which I over-stated my case; I will correct these as soon as possible. In general, though, I feel that he misread my argument and intentions. I base my argument on the work I did among female traders in Ho Chi Minh City and subsequent investigation into ly lichs available in the United States. I make it clear in my paper that I am talking only about the experiences of these specific individuals, and I do not mean to imply that ly lich function in the same way throughout Vietnam, nor do I mean to make some grand statement about the nature of state authority in Vietnam at any point, past or present. At the same time, I think my point about the ways in which culturally and politically familiar narrative models can reverberate both to constrain and to empower personal narrations of experience can invite interesting comparisons from within and outside Vietnam. (Again, the abstract might not make these qualifications clear.)

I would welcome further discussion on this topic -- perhaps off-list, as these issues might not be interesting to all of the VSG. Narquis Barak and I are working together to organize a panel on selves, biography, and autobiography, so I hope that this discussion can at least continue in some form at next year's AAS meetings.

Yours truly,
Ann Marie Leshkowich

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 22:16:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ann Marie Leshkowich <amleshk@fas.harvard.edu>
Subject: ly lich examples

In my previous message, I mentioned that I was attaching a ly lich example from the CDEC archives. The files are a bit large, so I decided not to clutter everyone's mailboxes with them. I'll be happy to e-mail the JPEGs to anyone who'd like them.

-Ann Marie Leshkowich


Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 05:58:13 +1000
From: Kim Ninh <kimninh@coombs.anu.edu.au>
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography
X-UID: 243


I just want quickly make two points and then get off this subject since I have no idea who else on the list may be interested about this subject.

I don't think we have been stridently ahistorical at all in our discussion of ly lich so far. Ann Marie has talked very specifically about how and when she was confronted with the issues she is raising; I've emphasized my caveat about the south and current practice of ly lich and focused my comments on the 50s and 60s in the north; and other postings have identified quite clearly that they are speaking about the post-1975 southern experiences with ly lich.

To ask whether ly lich has other historical resonances in VN is another question which I don't think was part of your original response to Ann Marie. That aside, and I would be interested in hearing what others may have to say about this, but what I want to simply emphasize is the explicit political nature of ly lich which you questioned. Gia pha (lineage accounts) certainly existed and are being written in Vietnam as we speak, but these are reports about the lineages written mostly by those lineages themselves with an eye to establishing permanent records about the lineages and their achievements. They are voluntary in the first place, and they do not have the same kind of immediate political repercussions that ly lich did and perhaps still does to whatever extent. Additionally, what is particularly different about ly lich was its pervasive and systemic use that went beyond any mandarinate system in Vietnam that I know of. I can imagine well-organized villages capable of demanding such information and controlling their members in some ways, but it would have been limited to the village boundaries and mediated by personal relations as opposed to a bureaucratic use of ly lich in the socialist system. Speaking of the 50s and 60s in the north which has been my research focus, when a state had complete control of resources such as employment, housing, education, and down to every morsel of food one can get and ly lich was used as a base from which to decide the allocation of these precious resources, it was political indeed.


Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 10:31:38 +1000
From: "johnev" <johnev@netspace.net.au>
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography

Hi Steve,

Without dissenting from your central point, that the provision of ly lich is not universal, I wouldn't want the impression to be created that it was an entirely absent or historical phenomena, either. Might I respectfully suggest that your sample seems to be comprised more or less of insiders. From the underclass of the 'suspect', however, I think that the provision of ly lich and other forms of what is effectively self-criticism remains a continuing reality. For example, the furnishing of the autobiography was certainly compulsory for all repatriated returnees from the detention centres of SEA.


Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 12:48:38 -0400
From: smg7@cornell.edu
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography

My appreciation to Ann-Marie, to Kim Ninh and others for their posts or mesgs to me on ly lich. Again in the spirit of fostering clearer and deeper insight into this politically charged subject, I'll pose another question: Our discussion to date is stridently ahistorical. One gets the impression from Kim Ninh's post that ly lich in VN was air expressed into VN by the DRV state or party. Ann-Marie's arguments also imply that ly lich is a creature of the revolutionaries. Once again I'm skeptical. The mandarinate system and its ideal/dynamic of family affinity and the village with proud signboards on the homes of families with repeated generations'
'co cong' are a couple of simple (maybe naive) examples that compose my limited knowledge. Now I am levering the self-actuated (autobiographical) ly lich concept a bit, i.e. I don't know that the mechanics of earlier ly lich were similar to what the revolutionaries imposed. But there seem to be clues behind the historical curtain that the double L word has a longer presence in VN than what our thoughts to date contain.
Steve Graw
Development Sociology & Southeast Asia Program
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-7801
******"What are we if not our memories?********

Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 10:22:17 -0400
From: "Hue Tam H. Tai" <hhtai@fas.harvard.edu>
Subject: Re: possible history of ly lich

Dear all:
The discussion on ly lich is moving into quite interesting directions; Before I join, let me clarify Ann Marie's approach to the subject (Ann Marie is, after all, my student--at least until a few weeks from now when I expect she will be Dr. Leshkowich, Ph.D.) Ann Marie is interested in the way in which pre-existing formats for telling one's life shape the way people think and write about their lives even when they are free to use different formats (as is the case of the life-story written by one of her respondents); she is also interested in exploring the ways in which these formats can lend authority to one's narrative because of their familiarity; at the same time, this familiar format can provide a subtle way of resisting a dominant ideology. Her primary purpose, therefore, is not to discuss the historical roots of ly lich, but its deployment. Still, the discussion of the historical antecedents of ly lich is very interesting. I appreciate Liam Kelley's discussion of the Chinese
precedents. I believe that in Vietnam, exam candidates had to furnish information about their family's background during the thi hach phase. Those who belonged to an outcast background (as Dao Duy Tu in 1592) or whose fathers and grandfathers were deemed not to be virtuous were eliminated; Perhaps Keith Taylor, Nola Cooke, John Whitmore and Alex Woodside could say more about the use of ly lich for official appointment.
In 1996, a Hanoi University professor told me of the criteria used to grade entrance exams into H.U. when he was admitted in the mid-1980s; Hanoi residents were expected to score 19/20; graduates from provincial high schools needed to score only 17/20. Natives of Thanh Hoa and Nghe An could get in with even lower scores; Other criteria used were socio-economic background; ideological affiliation (having parents in the VCP or the army; being the child of a liet si); ethnicity (candidates from ethnic minority background could get in with a score of less than 10/20); and finally nationality (candidates from Laos and Cambodia could get in with score around 5/20); This was a system where ly lich made an important difference. Older academics speak resentfully of being kept out of higher positions because of their backgrounds, usually as children of landlords. While the use of ly lich has abated, there is still the widespread notion in Hanoi that much depends on one's background and connections. The phrase &quot;chinh tri ly lich&quot; is commonly used. In the South, where the practice of using ly lich was extended after 75, people continue to make a distinction between &quot;nguoi moi&quot; and &quot;nguoi cu.&quot; Nonetheless, the use of ly lich is no longer as widesspread or oppressive as before, partly because of state policy, partly because people have learned how to produce acceptable ly lich.Ly lich, cv, gia pha, and self-criticism:
While this is not the focus of Ann Marie's work or post, it would be interesting to compare ly lich with forms such as the American cv, the gia pha, and self-criticism. As Ann Marie notes for the ly lich, cvs represent authoritative ways of telling one's life according to criteria that are deemed important (try to figure out, for example, when reading a Vietnamese autobiography when the author was actually born, and compare that with the concern for accurate dating in Western biographies).
Academics are familiar with the ways in which the standard cv form can be manipulated to best promote a candidate's aspirations or attempts to keep certain information out of the public domain, either through padding or elisions. A common elision is date of birth (is it perhaps more common among women than men?); In South Vietnamese ly lich, a common practice was not to list family members who had gone abroad. In this sense, it differed markedly from gia pha in which comprehensiveness was the goal.
As Kim Ninh suggests, the purpose of gia pha was quite different from that of ly lich, whether premodern or modern. As a matter of fact, it was more prevalent in the South than in the North, according to some scholars. A couple of reasons for this difference can be adduced. One is the greater influence of Chinese practices in the South; the second is the greater mobility of the southern population in general. In village endogamous northern Vietnam, only the elite (which adhered less closely to village endogamy out of concerns for &quot;mon dang ho doi&quot; would need to keep track of lineage membership (not to mention having the resources to do so). In the South, where there was no village endogamy, keeping tracks of relatives via gia pha was more necessary for the mobilization of lineage resources. While growing up in Saigon, I observed many such instances. Sometimes, a distant relative would come, gia pha in hand, to ask for temporary lodgings or monetary assistance. In one memorable case, an old lady came with her grandson, and spent the better part of an evening sorting out the ways in which she could claim to be related to us. After she proved to my maternal grandmother that they were indeed related, however, distantly, my mother agreed that her grandson could stay with us while attending Teacher's College. The compilation of gia pha, unlike ly lich, was never state-madated. The current growth of gia pha can actually be seen as a reaction to Socialist forms of social organization. I agree with Liam Kelley that Socialist ly lich probably have roots in Soviet and CCP practices; one can also see different kinds of precedents. One may be the prison confessions and interrogations of the French colonial period. Another model is that of Phan Boi Chau Tu
Phan. Yet, while PBC Tu Phan was a voluntary stock-taking, the ly lich were not. Still, the self-criticism part reminds me vividly of the self-criticisms produced in the 1950s and 1960s in the PRC.
To get back to Ann Marie's call for papers exploring different tropes for telling one's life, Peter Zinoman' article on Reading Revolutionary Prison Memoirs (Vietnam Review and article in my edited, The Country of Memory, forthcoming) provides another trope. I have also been struck by a common theme in the memoirs of ex-revolutionaries: that of meeting Ho Chi Minh. The meeting seems to function as a moment of enlightenment, of revelation, a theme that will be familiar to readers of religious biographies and conversion narratives. Perhaps others will be able to come up with examples of different ways in which people (not necessarily Vietnamese) organize the telling of their lives along familiar lines. If interested, they can join Ann Marie in mounting a panel for the AAS.

Hue-Tam Ho Tai

Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 20:47:24 +0800
From: "Liam C. Kelley" <liam@hawaii.edu>
Subject: possible history of ly lich

Just a note on the history of ly lich. The word of course comes from Chinese (modern Mandarin =3D luli), and it is there that these documents have a long history. They were originally documents which government officials presented to the court when they were assigned to a new post. As such, they were a kind of final screening to make sure that there was nothing unseemly in an official's background (i.e. had not previously been convicted of a crime, etc.).
During the Song dynasty they were called jiaose, and in addition to officials assigned to new posts, scholars taking the final exam in the civil service exam process, the palace exam, also had to present one of these documents. Again, it was a kind of final check.
I can't be sure that they served the exact same function in Vietnam, or when they were first used there, but it is a safe guess that the Vietnamese used them in a similar manner.
Hence, unlike a CV, a ly lich was not presented for comparison with the ly lich of other people. Instead, it was a document which was used more like lie detector tests are used by governments today to screen people in the advanced stages of applying for a job with the government. The usage that people are talking about in this discussion, i.e. where a government is demanding that people who do not work for the government present these documents, therefore appears to be distinctly modern. My own uninformed guess would be that it has its roots in Soviet or CCP practices. Nonetheless, I suppose the spirit of these older ly lich, as documents through which the government sought to verify an official's status, share some affinities with their modern descendants.


Date: Mon, 01 May 2000 23:26:45 -0700
From: Dieu-Hien Hoang <dieuhien@u.washington.edu>
To: "Vietnam Studies Group" <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: ly lich

Good question. I don't know exactly how wide spread this kind of reporting was. What I do know is that religion is less of an issue in recent years. It used to be that party membership, or for young people, Youth Union membership, was the prerequisite for acceptance to certain jobs, or holding certain posts. And a person's religion could really stand in the way of becoming members in these organizations. Nowadays, party membership, or Youth Union membership, is not an absolute must for many important jobs. Hence, false reporting of one's religion is less necessary.

However, the operating word is "less." I have no idea whether a person who used to report one way would now feel compelled to report otherwise. In my and my brothers' cases, our putting down "khong ton giao" really did not skew the count. We were not practicing Catholicism in any meaningful way. The question remains, "What did/does the official count reflect?" I have a hunch that the government's figure differs from the church's number.


Date: Mon, 01 May 2000 01:39:08 -0700
From: Dieu-Hien Hoang <dieuhien@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: ly lich

I appreciate the history and other background information on ly lich that everyone has posted. Seeing that the there's more interest from the list on this subject, I'm resending my ealier personal response to Ann Marie and others to add another case study to the discussion. I'd also like to add a few clarifications to my message below.

As many people have pointed out, ly lich, in deed, did not appear with the revolutionary forces. Ly lich, as a personal history, has always been there, but it meant just that, a person's life story. The fact that ly lich has the widespread use among populations older than 20 in Vietnam did start with The Revolution. The same goes for ly lich as the tool for the authority to keep track of its population, as far as I know.

By this I don't mean that the South Vietnamese government did not attempt to have a tight grip on its people. We all know that it did, by other means, but not by ly lich. Why not? That, I'm not certain about. So, because of the way ly lich was used from the 50s - 1975 in the South - to at least early 90s, ly lich has taken on another meaning for those of us who were subjected to it. (I still flinch at the mention of the word.) As Ann Marie mentioned, the fact that people turned such an oppressive tool to an empowering mean of reflecting and making sense out of one's life is powerful.

About Dan's observation that the PAVN may not have MOS questions "always and everywhere, so these authors did not have a brief and ready way to characterize their military service by training and duties," I have a different explanation. Having had several family members who were and are members of the PAVN, I'd say that the ex-military personnel knew very well the answers to these questions. However, they may have felt that it was not quite kosher to give such sensitive information to an American publisher, perhaps not so much because of what they thought the publisher might have done with the information, but more because they were afraid the power-it-be might find out that they had given out such information to such party. If the precise population of VN is of national security concern, which I'm sure many people from this list can confirm that it is, then information such as what the specific duty and training of specific officer is much too sensitive to be given out.

I also read with interest chi Hue-Tam's note on gia pha. I'd like to add two more reasons that Southerners might have for compiling a gia pha: to ensure that future generations know who they are related to and not marry within the clan, and to help parents not to accidentally name their child using one of the ancestor's name. In my mother's village, endogamy is not only not practiced, it is a taboo even so far as to prohibit people from marrying others who are related only by marriage. Also, an ancestor's name is sacred, so we're not supposed to use it for later generations. Fortunately, my ancestors had names that I do not wish on my children, so it is an easy task, at least for my generation, to avoid these venerated names.

I concur with Kim Ninh on the use of ly lich. It was the same in the south post-1975, when I had my personal experience with it. Ly lich was never a program, or a campaign. It was a must-have document that every Vietnamese had to write, as Ann Marie and Kim Ninh mentioned, with EVERY application for entrance into schools, exams, jobs, etc.

I remember very clearly the first time I had to fill one out. Among other demographic information, it asked what my paternal grand-parents did before 1945, between 1945-1954, between 1954-1975, and since April 30, 1975. It went on to ask the same of my maternal grand-parents, my parents, my sibblings, my aunts and uncles, and finally, myself. This took place sometime in the summer of 1975, before the fall term started. We were summoned to return to school for some education and preparation for the following school year. I was in 9th grade! I went through the same process again the following year when I, along with my cohort, had to write an application for the exam to enter high school. But before that, we all had to fill another of those out to participate in the Vanguard Youth Brigade meetings. We were not members yet, since we were not properly educated. Before the year was over, I became quite skilled at filling out these "Ly lich".

The last time I filled one out was last year, 1999, when I applied for a visa to go to VN for a consultancy there. The visa application that "foreigners" get to fill out is not the same form that we Viet Kieu have to fill out. The new version was much abbreviated, but it still asked for information on my relatives in VN. No, I was not on a family visit visa. I was on a work visa, invited by the Ministry of Health. Back in 1989, before the Vietnamese Immigration used computer to store information on a regular basis, I went to Immigration in Ha Noi to apply for permission to leave the city, which was still a required thing at the time, the officer chatted with me, telling me personal information that I had put in my application for visa a couple of years before in similar details as the first ly lich that I filled out. When I went to visit a relative, a man I had never met, my relative's block leader I found out later, walked in, addressed me by name, and asked how my mother, who just had an accident, was?

My experience is not unique. Ly lich has seen less use and is more streamlined in recent years. It is now used to varying degrees, in various places, toward different people in the interest of national security and a few other purposes.

In the early and mid-90s, I frequently saw job adds on Vietnamese language newspapers asking for ly lich. Yes, today, the closest thing VN has to a CV in the West is "ly lich" . But ly lich is not the same as a CV. A CV can be completely professional and apolitical. Ly lich is, by definition, political. The job market is a lot more competitive now than it used to be, but some jobs are still offered on the basis of "ly lich" not only on merit or competence, positions in Vietnam Airlines for examples. We used to have the phrase "thi ly lich," meaning whether or not you pass an exam depends on what you put down on your ly lich, rather than what your scores are.

To answer Peter Hansen's question, there is a provision in ly lich that asks about one's religion. If you put down Catholic, that's enough. You're so classified. My brothers and I quickly learned to put "khong ton giao" in this slot, since we were not churchgoers anyway it wasn't really a lie. Putting down the family's prescribed religion served us no purpose here.

That is my experience. Perhaps others have some other insight?


Daniel Duffy wrote:

Here's a field story to go with Steve Graw's. In Ha Noi in 1995, working in publishing, I needed to prepare capsule biographies on about 15 living authors. Discussing the project with a research assistant, she immediately said, oh you want a ly lich. She was a college student from a police family. We wrote out a list of questions and she was back in two days with the information I had asked for, although several of the authors lived far from Ha Noi. I take this to suggest that, at least, one college student and several middle-aged fiction writers in contact with Ha Noi authorities have ready command of the idea of a ly lich. In addition to the ready replies, there was interesting resistance, and confusion, and elaboration, in the responses.

Some authors refused, with polite folderol, to answer the question about their parents' name and job. These authors, I suspect, are of inappropriate class background and have been dealing with that since the 50s. I know that they negotiate this point from time to time in their lives. I conjecture that they didn't want to send a response out into the ether with a foreigner, to bounce back who knows when.

I had asked some questions that I habitually ask US military veterans, to ground our discussion in shared social reality. Where did you enter the service? Where did you leave the service? What was your military occupational specialty? These items are included in every DD-214, the separation paper that sums up a modern US veteran's military career. Every US veteran will have a ready answer to these questions, or a canned explanation of why they are irrelevant. The items are part of his or her imaginary.

They aren't fully part of a VN veteran's imaginary. Entrance and exit, yes, but not MOS. Replies to that were all over the map, from unbureaucratized verb phrases like "I used a shovel" to baffled dismissals like "Everyone did what was necessary."

I asked when each author joined the Party. This elicited contextualization, as well as a simple response, from more than one author. The concern, I think, was to say something more about being a communist lately.

It seems to me that, in my exchange with my assistant, and the assistant's with the authors, the idea of the ly lich was present. It gave the RA a way to understand me, and a way for the writers to understand her. That people use this idea to their own ends is shown by the resistance to family origin questions, to the elaboration added to the Party question, and of course in the very situation of presenting one's life to a US publisher. That the idea of the ly lich has certain bounds, that it
isn't a vague notion of life history but a specific formation, is shown by the confusion about the MOS question. I'm guessing that PAVN didn't have them always and everywhere, so these authors did not have a brief and ready way to characterize their military service by training and duties.

Ly lich/cv
It seems to me that the ly lich does have some features in common with the cv as experienced by white collar workers in the US. Those of us on this list use the cv to argue for the merit of our talent, training, and accomplishment. But somebody looking for a steady job in logistics with IBM doesn't need to show those things as much as he or she needs to show that he or she has been under continuous observation. I gather that, from time to time, a person in Viet Nam is called upon to make such a representation.
Goffman, in Asylums, argues that such a "jacket" is a great insult to human life. We all live by discontinuities, by having many faces, different stories. An observer with a dossier who forces one of us to be a consistent individual is making a rude imposition. The good news is that life in fact does not favor this nonsense. The view of the individual by the total institution, the ly lich, was present at that moment in Ha Noi, but it was manifest in specific individuals pursuing their own complicated ends, using the idea of the total view in self-interest.

Dan Duffy
Graduate student
Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
27599 USA

Date: Wed, 3 May 2000 15:06:08 +1000
From: "johnev" <johnev@netspace.net.au>
Subject: Ly Lich

Thanks to Hoang and Steve for their responses.

I think that both replies point to what I was getting at re: Catholics and ly lich. That both are used as a means of providing a means of evaluating the individual by reference not only to their past, but to that of the three generations as to whom an evidential history is required. The inevitable consequence is a staticity in percieved 'reliability' and socio-political status from which a given individual is unable to break away; unless, as Anh Hoang's post indicates, they avoid the consequences by disimillitude.

A recent example of a young man being denied entry to a Catholic seminary because of relatively minor details in his ly lich vears this out for me.Whilst I can understand the therapeutic and enabling nature of personal storytelling, how the 'che do ly lich' can be regarded as liberating is beyond me.

Date: Wed, 3 May 2000 14:50:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: joseph j hannah <jhannah@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Household Registration in China

A member of our faculty, Kam Wing Chan, has recently published on the "Hukou" system of household registration in China. I thought this might be of interest to folks doing similar studies in Vietnam:

"Kam Wing Chan has two recent co-authored publications: "The Hukou System and Rural-urban Migration: Processes and Changes," The China Quarterly, Volume 160, pp. 818-855 (with Li Zhang), and "Hukou and Non-hukou Migrations: Comparisons and Contrasts", International Journal of Population Geography, 5(6), pp.425-448 (with Ta Liu and Yunyan Yang)."

Joe Hannah
Dept. of Geography
University of Washington

From: "Regina M. Abrami" <abrami@fas.harvard.edu>
To: "Vietnam Studies Group" <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Ly Lich and Ho Khau

Hello Everyone,

I've enjoyed reading the different perspectives offered on ly lich and more recently some mention of Vietnam's household registration system (ho khau) and would like to share my views. This is the first time I've contributed to the list, so I should introduce myself. I'm a graduate student from UC Berkeley finishing up a PhD in Political Science. I've just completed three years of research in both Vietnam and China on many of the issues raised as part of my dissertation on the political origins of divergent market transitions in Vietnam and China. The thesis traces the politics of labor autarky and class in both states, as told through archival materials, village-level studies and life histories of key figures behind the development and economic recovery of "the market" in Hanoi and Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

Economic History Revisited (again):
I applaud Adam Fforde for raising the important point that Vietnam is not China and that problems Vietnamese central state-builders faced more or less started from day one. His point that the Vietnamese state had "less than 100%" control over its economy, and consequently, over its population is a cautionary note to all of us interested in institutions of social control in Vietnam. But, I would add that there is much to be learned through archival materials, particularly when set against similar materials from other socialist countries, such as China. These materials do not just add the missing details to existing interpretations, but may in fact allow us to develop different perspectives on the forces shaping Vietnam's development in addition to identifying micro-level factors that distinguish its socialist experience from other states.
Going over archival materials from Vietnam's high tide of socialist transformation (1958-60), I find reactions quite different from what occurred in China on multiple levels. One small example is the many small traders who were quite eager to form cooperatives with each other, or become part of rural supply and marketing cooperatives. But, once having done so, they immediately made demands for welfare benefits as a deserving patriotic and laboring class -- mimicking the language by which the state initially portrayed them. Local cadres describe these vendors as "lazy and demanding" - certainly casting a different light on why the state might tolerate some degree of free markets in the economy, despite associated problems.
On a different note, after the rectification of errors during the Land Reform Campaign in Vietnam, do we really find mass mobilization campaigns in Vietnam that reorder society time and again by making good classes bad and bad classes worse as we do in China? I'd certainly like to hear any opinions on why Vietnam chose not to adopt Mao's notion of "continual revolution" or to launch a Great Leap Forward as a means toward economic development and socialist transformation. To what extent was it a product of pending war, elite-level conflicts or just simple recognition that such tactics could only fail, owing to non-economic factors, such as culture, Vietnam's colonialist past, village structure or local-central state cadre relations?

Social Control Revisited:
Building on this, I believe that we need to tread carefully in constructing how the state maintained social control. My aim is not to say that Vietnam was a "weak" or a "strong" state, but that the audience it faced fundamentally shaped where it pointed blame, and how it tried to mobilize its society toward common ends.
This raises important questions about the utility of ly lich as a mechanism of social control. No doubt it is significant and decidedly political. But, to suggest that Steve Graw's ad hoc sample of Vietnamese were "insiders" is unfair. Demographically, most of socialist Vietnam was comprised of insiders (especially prior to 1975) and what would be incorrect is to look to political outsiders as a "representative" sample of how a system worked. So, Anne Marie is right to look at the ly lich in the context of narrative tropes of legitimacy. In all, it might more helpful to think of the ly lich as a mechanism of controlling social mobility, and less so access to commodities. In this sense, it shares parallels with the Vietnam's past in a way the socialist household registration might not. To my knowledge, the pre-1954 state system of registration was primarily used for purposes of taxation and military. But, I'd like to hear more about this if anyone knows. Similarly, I'd appreciate any suggestions on readings related to the historical origins of the mandatory labor system.

Comparisons with China:
In terms of the household registration system (among other issues), there are risks in looking to China to understand Vietnam past or present. While both systems aimed to limit and control physical mobility, given Vietnam's significant unofficial economy, not to mention the Vietnam-American war, the key mechanism that largely precluded mobility in China --- controls over commodity distribution - was far weaker in Vietnam. Consequently each major campaign aimed to strengthen the household registration system after 1955 (1964, 1973; 1986) more or less failed as folks kept moving, buying and selling. In contrast, China's system of mobility control was sturdy enough by 1960 to remain largely unchanged much before 1984 and even then it still precluded any permanent place for rural residents in large urban centers.
Today, there also remain important differences. Vietnam's household registration system underwent reform in 1997 and, as the Ministry of Interior explained, it was largely because the system had spontaneously collapsed and grown chaotic (rac roi) and subject to abuses within and outside state channels.
Individuals moved, never changed their permanent registration, and apparently local police were content to keep a register where the majority of the population was registered as "temporary". Certainly anyone who has done research in the uplands of Vietnam can tell tales of the legacies of "spontaneous migrations" that date prior to economic reform. Later, as individuals were required to submit a letter of introduction from their place of origin in order to change their ho khau to a new locale, local police refused the administrative burden of issuing the letter, claiming that these individuals left long ago and they had no records. Others trying to restore an urban registration illegally faced restrictions if they had more than two children. Finally, in the important case of rural migrants, there are also important differences. Today, in urban Vietnam, there are four classes of household status. Rural migrants largely fall within category four as "seasonal migrants", unless they are in some way tied to a state enterprise that might afford them category 3 status. But, the difference is minimal, with one requiring re-registration every 3 months and the other every 6 months to every year. In China, the distinction is much sharper. There are temporary and permanent residents and the hostility of the local urban population and government continues at a level and in forms not found in Vietnam, despite all the joking in urban Vietnam about "nha que".

Cites on Related Chinese Literature:
For those interested in the relationship between China's baojia system that operated prior to 1949 and the subsequent household registration system, I'd suggest reading Michael Dutton's Policing and Punishment in China: From Patriarchy to the People (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
For those interested in the operation of the household registration system in the post-1949 period and its particular influence on rural migrants in urban China today, see Dorothy J. Solinger's Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State and the Logic of the Market (University of California Press, 1999)
Finally, if you read Chinese, there are a number of recent publications that have begun to discuss China's underground economy during the subsidy and reform periods. I'm happy to share the citations with anyone interested.
And, on Vietnam, I have written a piece on rural migrants in Hanoi that should be coming out shortly in an edited volume titled The Post-Socialist Peasant (Cambridge University Press). It elaborates many of the issues I raise above.
I look forward to more discussion on these topics and any suggestions you might have regarding some of the questions I raised - perhaps off-list as others may not be interested --- I promise much shorter notes in the future.

Best wishes,


Regina M. Abrami
Visiting Fellow,
Department of Government
Harvard University

Date: Fri, 05 May 2000 12:08:02 -0400
Date: Sun, 07 May 2000 11:40:48 -0400
From: smg7@cornell.edu
Subject: Re: Panel on self and (auto)biography

At 10:31 AM 4/28/2000 +1000, "Johnev" wrote:
>Might I respectfully suggest that your sample seems to be comprised more or less of insiders. >From the underclass of the 'suspect', however, I think that the provision of ly lich and other forms >of what is effectively self-criticism remains a continuing reality. For example, the furnishing of the >autobiography was. Certainly compulsory for all repatriated returnees from the detention centres >of SEA.

It's gratifying to see the continued debate on this thread including a few issues that I raised. Still, a number of posts continue to "set off alarm bells" for me, but I'm relieved that rather than having to engage in damage control, I can hip-hop to a freer tune, so here're two steps back: 1) when I used the phrase "ideologically loaded implications" referring to the original panel abstract as presented, my intended reference was to irepresentations of state power. The point was that regardless of one's interpretation of that state power, to at least be accurate about what the state does or does not do is "absolute beginners!" And now another variant of such an error appears in the post quoted above: categorizing is also ideologically and politically loaded. Just look at the current US census controversies, or not unrelated, the census categories of European colonialists. In this case, what does "insider" mean? Since many of the posts on this thread present first hand experiences of people in or of Vietnam, and MOST OF ALL in respect to the five "just plain working women" that privileged me with information, here's a bit more data on three of them:
the ag technician-farmer was married to a People's Army battery gunner who survived a US air bomb attack, but died from brain disease a few years later, reportedly caused by the toxic chemicals of the bomb. Because the man refused medical attention (he agonizingly died insane) and because he passed after the war, his wife and son received no benefits and not even a liet si certificate. "Insider," to what?
The first of the nguoi giup viec was married to a SRV soldier who of course went to cai tao. Upon leaving the camp, he took a refugee boat seeking to live in the west. He was lost at sea, leaving the wife and 4 children. "Insider" to a poor, female headed household? OK, that is correct.
The second domestic is a fine example of a ly lich loser. Her grandfather was a Francophile, her father an official in the RVN, i.e. well off family. She, a Protestant, attended and nearly finished Saigon law school in the late war years. She would likely have fared well in the trans-1975 political transition, nice house and property to record in the ho khau, except her husband fell ill and died after a lengthy and costly ordeal that consumed all the family's wealth. Insider's legacy: an obsolete education and a bad ly lich. But she can understand the Madame's orders in French and English.
Like the VN war era TV drama used to say, "There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This is one of 'em." Take 5.
Step 2. the inevitable need for CV, ly lich, autobiographical narratives,etc. as part of modern statist bureaucratic processes ANYWHERE deserves mentioning. The above post cites the necessity for "autobiographies" of all repatriated returnees from SEA detention centers. But why not include refugee departure programs (e.g. ODP, HO), political asylum claims, overseas contract labor programs, adoption programs. Why festishize one small aspect of the massive human migration process of the post VN war era, and even VN itself? Here, in my humble opinion, is found comparative value in Dr. Leshkowich's project. It is what Biff Keyes suggested some weeks ago.
steve graw
Steve Graw
Development Sociology & Southeast Asia Program
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-7801
******"What are we if not our memories?********

Date: Mon, 08 May 2000 16:45:12 +1000
From: David Marr <dgm405@coombs.anu.edu.au>
Subject: ly lich

I've learned a lot from the recent exchange on ly lich. However, I think a certain confusion has crept in about what documents we're talking about, ranging from police confessions to printed job application forms. Also, the chronology has been fudged.

I'm most interested in the life histories which the thought police induce persons in sensitive positions to compose according to a certain format. These were especially important in the 1950s and 1960s in the north, and in the late 1970s in the south. I have the impression that writers of such ly lich were not allowed or able to make a copy for themselves, but can anyone on the list confirm this? At any rate, the authorities often requested more than one ly lich over time, and compared texts for discrepancies. Were ly lich retained at one's co quan, or consolidated higher up? In the early days, ly lich seemed to be pretty loose and open-ended, but then the party-state hacks began to standardize, to demand information according to prescribed categories. Clever persons learned the rhetorical conventions rather quickly and advised their friends how to avoid minefields. Corruption crept in, with individuals able to expunge old information on record. Is this how Nguyen Ha Phan managed to avoid destruction until just before the last Party Congress? I also recently read of a case where a middle-level cadre fell in love with a younger woman and proceeded to have his ly lich doctored to eliminate the fact that he was already married. The two co quan proceeded to exchange ly lichs, the marriage went ahead, the woman then discovered her entrapment, but felt powerless to reverse events. Jumping to the present, it would be interesting to know which categories of people are still subject to what we might call extensive ly lich composition, and how seriously the process is taken by either writer or readers? How much checking of data takes place? How easy is it to recreate one's own past?
Such life history collection is hardly limited to Vietnam or other authoritarian states. I still remember how extensive a form I had to fill out in the Marine Corps when ordered to apply for top secret clearance. I was told that $10,000 was spent on average in follow-up investigation (and that's 1959 dollars!). However, when such a system is applied to writers, teachers, students going overseas, factory managers and many others, the political implications deserve attention. And it is quite misleading to lump ly lich together with curriculum vitae, no matter how much young academics feel they are being "folded, bent and mutilated" by the system
(most on the list are not old enough to remember that battle-cry).
David Marr

Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 08:10:29 -0400
From: mchale <mchale@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu>
Subject: Ly lich, chinh huan, phe binh va tu phe binh

And it is quite misleading to lump ly lich together with curriculum vitae, no matter how much young academics feel they are being "folded, bent and mutilated" by the system (most on the list are not old enough to remember that battle-cry).
David Marr

Now, now. I don't think that chronological age has everything to do with what we think about ly lich -- I do think, however, that trends of the last 1-15 years do. But in what ways?

On the one hand, some of my generation (I was probably being conceived while David Marr was applying for his security clearance) are interestred in questions of self-fashioning. In this sense, we can look at some of the debate over ly lich on this list in terms of the ways individuals exercise agency in unexpected ways. Admittedly, one can take the rhetoric of self-fashioning too far.

On the other hand, I feel that some members of my generation are quite lucid about the dangers of believing Vietnamese communist nationalist self-representations. In this sense, we are quite critical of naive attempts to turn Vietnamese into autonomous moral agents engaged in acts of self-fashioning. (Let me immediately add that I do not think that the discussion so far is naive.) Speaking for myself, I see Vietnam as a police state. (Better than Pinochet's kind of police state, but a police state nonetheless. A police state where persons have a limited ability to stake out realms of autonomy.)

So--I do not think "my generation" has a unified view of ly lich. Ly lich is a kind of curriculum vitae, of course, but that Latin phrase does injustice to the Vietnamese reality. David Marr raises some key points in this regard: we sometimes don't know basic facts about the use of ly lich! Furthermore, it might make sense, for those of us who are historians, to note the shifts over time in the practice of identity construction.

Some of my own research has been not on ly lich per se but on rectification, criticsm and self-criticism [chinh huan, phe binh va tu phe binh). My hypothesis, and I believe it to be a strong one, is that before 1951 or so, the practice of criticism and self-criticism among communist cadres was somewhat consensual. I should underline "somewhat": when cadres met in study sessions, a convenor or leader would always have the final say about how to read a passage, or whether or not a person had admitted enough faults. Nonetheless, one does not get a sense of a suffocating authoritarianism. It is in this 1945-51 period that intellectuals appear to somewhat freely undergo "conversion" experiences, shedding their former colonialist selves and attempting to construct a new culture.

This process appears to change in 1950 or 1951 when Maoist practices of rectification [chinh huan] make inroads into practices of study and self-criticsm. Increasingly, the Party asserts its authority, almost for the sake of authority. By 1958, and the public self-criticisms of Tran Duc Thao, Dao Duy Anh, etc. . . self-criticism and the narration of truth seem to have been divorced. (Read some public self-criticisms from this period, and you will see that I am not being too harsh -- some of them are absolutely ludicrous.) In this sense, the Party reigns supreme.

In short, it seems to me that in terms of rectification and self-criticism, we see a shift from a practice that emphasizes the usefulness of self-fashioning in the construction of a post-colonial community to a practice that downplays such self-fashioning and emphasizes the ability of the state to coerce identities into being. All of this leads me back to the question of ly lich, which (it seems to me) cannot be completely divorced from such questions. Let me pose a (naive) question: is ly lich a spin-off from rectification [chinh huan] and self-criticism [tu phe binh]? Did ly lich, chinh huan, hoc tap, tu phe binh evolve down separate tracks? Today, self-criticism and the construction of ly lich has become somewhat routinized but that was certainly not always true.

One last note: I have found this discussion fascinating.

Shawn McHale
Assistant Professor of History and International Affairs
The George Washington University
e-mail address: mchale@gwu.edu

Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 17:52:23 +0200
From: "=?iso-8859-1?Q?Irene_N=F8rlund?=" <irene@nias.ku.dk>
Subject: Re: Ly lich, chinh huan, phe binh va tu phe binh

The debate is most fascinating, and yet two more interesting contributions -and questions. The knowledge I have is mainly derived from other studies including interests in Vietnamese' work/life histories. In the period in the north after the French defeat in 1954, a party member would not freely decide the choice of spouse, the party (not the family) would give recommendation to the choice, and in the factories also arrange the marriage in a 'suitable' way, which I see as a way of intervening in the creation of the life trajectory and in that way also in the ly lich. That is an example of the tight control of people's at least party members life. But that does not exclude that the tradition was carried over from earlier periods - but interesting to find the origin whether it is 'Asian' or 'communist'-

I don't think that strict control can be found today. But the ly lich may still be important for those who want to enter the party, where the persons are reviewed before they are accepted. But the criteria must have changed fundamentally in the various period. Today, for instance the education level is an important criteria, and persons with higher education is preferred, to that degree that one factory asked for permission to include person with secondary education because workers do not reach the required level of education stipulated (a few years ago). The consequense is that workers have difficulties to be accepted as party members, which in the longer perspective could lead to the exclusion of workers, who originally were an important core group of the party members! But criteria like moral standards is still being mentioned when people are admitted to the party. Even if I have no chance of rejecting the experiences of Vietnamese like Dieu-Hien Hoang, I wonder if the ly lich is mainly related to jobs and positions related to the party/state and its mass organisations, as I see the problems pointed out by Steve Graw that it is not possible to accumulate ly lichs of every person in Vietnam.

Last reflection is that the loosening of importance of ly lich and party membership for a number of posts must be seen as an indication of a reduced level of control of individuals in Vietnam, which I find is most important to understand the character of the present regime.

Irene Norlund
Senior Research Fellow
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
Leifsgade 33
DK 2300 Copenhagen S
phone +45 32548844
fax +45 32962530

Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 15:59:42 -0700 (PDT)
From: joseph j hannah <jhannah@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: ly lich

Interesting stuff.

I have no direct knowledge of this topic, but I thought I'd add my 2 cents in the form of second-hand information:

1) While in Hanoi in the mid 1990's I heard a tale that the Ministry of health was about to do away with the office that archived all the ly lich of its employees. The office's function was not considered necessary under the "new circumstances" in the country.

There was some dismay among Westerners living there that the huge body of historical documents (the ly lich themselves) would be destroyed. I never heard if this rumor were true, or if the plan was ever carried out....

2) I would like to re-emphasize a point that has been made: the use of ly lich was very different during different periods and in different places in Vienam. Dieu-Hien Hoang's personal account is placed in Saigon in the late 70's, when Hanoi was consolidating power in the south. At that time (according to Dieu-Hien, my lovely wife), "everybody" was compelled to belong to one organization or another: block groups, Women's Union, Youth Union, etc. Many people had membership in multiple groups. Meetings and activities were mandatory.

Ly lich writing was one such activity which every organization required, and they were required many times. They were important for employment, but were certainly used for many other things as well, at least in that place, at that time.

Thanks, all for making this discussion so fascinating.

Joe Hannah
University of Washington

Date: Tue, 09 May 2000 09:10:38 -0700
From: Nora Taylor <Nora.Taylor@asu.edu>
Subject: Re: ly lich

Dear Group:

I have also been very interested by these exchanges. I am keeping them on file because they will be very useful for me in looking at artists' biographies. The issue is too lengthy to go over here, but artists too were subject to family background checks before being admitted to art school, exhibiting in National Exhibitions or selling their works to the museum. And artists today use their "ly lich" to gain reputations or "sell" themselves to an art going public.
I will be very interested to continue reading about these issues when those who will be working on this more directly (i.e. Ann Marie) present or publish papers.
Thanks again,

Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 08:09:59 -0400 (EDT)
From: Daniel Duffy <dduffy@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: ly lich

Sparked by Steve's query:

There is a short story available in English which shows two re-education camp officers using prisoners' "self-confessions" to select a prisoner to approach for a bribe.

In, "City Life", one of four stories by Nguyen Ngoc Ngan in *To Be Made Over: tales of socialist reeducation in Viet Nam* (Huynh Sanh Thong ed. & tran, Yale SEAS, 1988), on page 160, one officer says to another, "We can't afford to shoot at random. Go back and read all their self-confessions -- the statements of ten pages or more that they preprared when still at the Tran Lon camp: those are much more complete and informative. Each tells you about the prisoners' family background over three generations, all about his wife and children, his occupation, his family circumstances. That's how we'll separate the haves from the have-nots!"

There is lots more about confessions, in that story and in the rest of the book. There is no Vietnamese text, so I don't know whether "ly lich" is the word used. I'm comfortable using Nguyen Ngoc Ngan as reportage. His ethic of writing involves compassion, in the technical sense of regarding reality calmly and carefully. His portraits of the prison-camp guards are astonishing in this regard. Of course, you have to bear in mind that NNN also has an ethic of telling an entertaining story.

There is a straight piece of memoir in the HST collection, "To Serve the Cause of Women's Liberation", by Hoang Ngoc Thanh Dung, which recounts the frenzy of joining organizations and giving personal confessions in Saigon under unification.

Dan Duffy
Graduate student
Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
27599 USA

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