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The "four social evils"

From: Ed Miller <Edward.G.Miller@dartmouth.edu>
Date: Sep 14, 2006 6:38 AM
Subject: [Vsg] The "four social evils"

Dear List:

I am interested in tracing the origins of a term I have come across in my research on South Vietnam in the 1950s: the “four social evils” (tu’/ ddo^? tu’o’`ng). Beginning in about 1955 and continuing for a few years, this term was invoked in the propaganda of the Diem government. According to these texts, the four evils were booze, prostitution, opium and gambling (tu’?u, sa(/c, ye^n, ddo^?). The term was used a lot in the press campaign against Bao Dai in the run-up to the referendum of October 1955. The regime also occasionally unveiled efforts to stamp out one or the other of the four evils during the late 1950s (i.e. public burnings of siezed opium, schools to rehabilitate former prostitutes, etc.) Although the term sounds vaguely Confucian, I don’t know of any classical reference to it, and I suspect that it was of 20th century coinage. I am wondering if the Diem regime invented it, or perhaps borrowed it from somewhere (China, maybe?). Has anyone else come across this term, or have ideas about where it came from? Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.



From: BoiTran Huynh <boitranb@yahoo.com>
Date: Sep 18, 2006 11:13 PM
Subject: Re: [Vsg] The "four social evils"

Dear Edward,
I believe that this term, "the four social evils" (Tu do tuong), was shaped for a long time, at least by the end of 19th century, particularly when opium became one of the consumptions of the rich.

I have not read anywhere the origin of the term, however, I found the famous poet, Tran Te Xuong 1871-1907 (or Tu Xuong as his nickname/pen name) did mention the these "evils" in his various poems. You can read the translation of his poems in:
A thousand years of Vietnamese poetry by Nguyen Ngoc Bich and An Anthology of Vietnamese poems from 11th through the 20th century by Huynh Sanh Thong.

You can also see this term in the characters of "Cong Tu Bac Lieu" (The Mandarin's son in Bac Lieu). Cong tu Bac Lieu is a term to define or blame a person who enjoyed so much those social evils and perfomed them in their life/lives as a craft. I understand that there is a book called "Cong Tu Bac Lieu, su that va giai thoai" by Phan Trung Nghia published in 2004. I haven't read this book yet.

Boitran Huynh-Beattie

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