Vietnam Studies Group
Research & Study
Guides to Archives
Teaching & Reference
News & Announcements
Vietnam Scholars Directory
Discussion & Networking
About the Organization

Tri Thuc

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 14:42:29 +1000
From: David Marr <dgm405@coombs.anu.edu.au>
To: "Vietnam Studies Group" <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: tri thuc

Can anyone tell me when the word `tri thuc' (intellectual) entered the Vietnamese vocabulary? It's not in the Huynh Tinh Cua dictionary of 1895-96. Another import from Japan? If so, was it coined specifically to translate the English `intellectual'? Dao Duy Anh, `Han Viet Tu Dien' (1933,1936) linked `tri(acute) thuc' with `tri (no accent) thuc' (connaissances), but then has a separate entry for `tri(acute) thuc giai cap' (classe intellectuelle), which he explains as "Nhung nguoi trong xa-hoi thuoc ve hang co tri-thuc, da tung chiu giao-duc kha cao". That's pretty bland, when other writers of the 1930s are boldly asserting that `tri thuc' have a commitment to modernity and progress in contrast to those still wedded to `old' ideas, especially classically trained literati, spirit priests and monks. That's closer to the late 19th century Russian use of `intelligentsia'(appropriated from French?), but did Vietnamese writers ever discuss these different meanings explicitly? And where does all this put the meaning of `tri thuc' today?


David Marr

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 18:06:10 -0600 (MDT)
From: Sinh Vinh <sinh.vinh@ualberta.ca>
Subject: Re: tri thuc

Dear David and All:

It is a tough question, and I can make only a few comments and speculations. In the first place, it appears both terms "tri thuc" and tri' thuc" had been used in the Chinese language prior to the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Japanese began to coin various terms to translate modern Western ideas.

In fact, in modern Japanese, the most popular term that the Japanese use to refer to "an intellectual" is "interi" (a short form of "intelligentsia" in which the consonnant "l" has been replaced by an "r"), and the Japanese term for "intelligentsia" (as an intellectual class/social stratum) is just "interigenchia", written in katakana syllabary to indicate that it is a term of foreign origin (in this case from the Russian "intelligentsiya"). Note that Russian writers, such as Turgenev and Dostoyevsky were widely read and loved by the "interi" in Meiji Japan. Unrelated to your question, but it might of interest to note that after the collapse of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, Japan is a country in which Das Capital is still being studied seriously by the "non-pori" (read "non-political") interi.

Apart from the above term, the Japanese also use (not as often) "chishikiso^" or "chishiki kaikyu^" for intelligentsia. The Chinese characters for "chishiki", by the way, could be either "tri thuc" or "tri' thuc". Now, let get to the Vietnamese "tri thuc" and "tri' thuc". These terms, though borrowed from Chinese, are used in Vietnamese, I believe, in a slightly different way.

In Chinese, "tri thuc" (zhi[flat]-shi', I now give you in pin-yin) means:
(1) knowledge and experience; used as a verb in means "to recognize" (philosophically);
(2) identical with "tri' thuc" (zhi[falling]-shi'), such as in "intellectual elements" (the Vietnamese equivalent is " phan^\ tu+? tri' thuc", with a negative connotation) or "intellectual class = intelligentsia" (gio+'i/giai ta^\ng/giai cap^'p tri' thuc).

Interestingly enough, "tri thuc" is used in the Vietnamese language with the meaning (1) and not meaning (2). In other words, present-day Vietnamese use "tri thuc" strictly for "knowledge and experience", and the like, but do not say "gio+'i/giai ta^\ng/giai cap^'p TRI THUC". I suspect that there has been a period in VN (prior to WW II?)during which it was also used with meaning (2) as in Chinese. I cannot verify this, at least for now.

The next question is your main question: When "tri thuc" was first used in Vietnamese. As I cannot give you an exact answer, I will try to suggest a few points. We know for sure that during the time that "khoa cu" (mandarinate examinations) were still held in VN, "tri thuc" implied "the learned"/lierati who were referred to as va(n tha^n/va(n nha^n/si~ phu/ or more colloquially "nha\ nho", etc. With the abolition of khoa cu system in the late 1910s, it looks as if the term "tri' thuc" began to gain popularity. As scholars of old traditions still existed at the time and now referred to as "nha\ cu+.u ho.c" (scholars of traditional/old learning), the new intellectuals were referred to as "ta^n tri' thu+'c/tri' thu+'c mo+'i" (both of course means "the new intellectuals"/ tri' thuc Ta^y hoc"

(Western-educated/Western-trained/Western-styled intellectuals). In this sense, Pham Quynh, for example, could have been to as a "tri thuc Tay hoc" and also as a scholar of cu+.u ho.c or Ha'n ho.c (Chinese studies).

The content of "tri' thuc" and the evaluation of their role of course changed with the passage of time, but this luckily is not the topic of our discussion today.



Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2000 16:05:43 -0600 (MDT)
From: Sinh Vinh <sinh.vinh@ualberta.ca>
Subject: Re: Khoa hoc?

Let me try to respond to some of your queries.

On Sat, 10 Jun 2000, Diane Fox wrote:


I'm trying ( :) ) to think about the fit and mis-fit of the concepts of 'khoa hoc' and 'science' (or 'scientific'), and wonder if you've had some thoughts or experiences that might shed some light on the ways these terms do and do not overlap, or have the same referent. I wonder if, as you've encountered the term, 'khoa hoc' is universally positive? Does anyone have an idea when it came into the language, and in what domain or discourse?

We know for sure that the term khoa hoc was first coined by the Japanese during the early years of the Meiji period, then together with other "vocabulary of modernization", it was imported into the Vietnamese language via the Chinese hsin-shu (ta^n-thu+) at the beginning of the twentieth century.

* *
A couple of examples:
My taxi driver on the way to the airport in HCMC, who said he was a former member of the Sai Gon general staff, complained that the re-education camps were too 'khoa hoc'. (yes, I see the negative here, but my other encounters have always given it a positive connotation)
In this case I suppose khoa hoc implies "systematic/exhaustive/thorough" with a negative connotation. Not an accurate usage for sure.

* * One of the women I interviewed about Agent Orange said she only believed in 'khoa hoc', she didn't believe in 'thay lang'. Khoa hoc here means "science", very much in the sense that we use in English. Note that it was comonly thought that the ddo^ng-y (i.e., Eastern/Oriental/Chinese/Vietnamese medicine) practised by "thay lang" (practitioners of do^ng-y) was not very khoa-hoc=scientific.
In 'Phim tai lieu va khoa hoc'--what is the distinction? I have two videos on Agent Orange, and one of the directors distinguishes the two by calling one 'khoa hoc' and the other 'tai lieu'. In this case, khoa hoc seems to be more 'just the facts ma'am, nothing but the facts', where 'tai lieu' (his own work) seems to be more evocative--though both pack quite a powerful emotional impact. Tai-lieu is "documentary", khoa-hoc on the other hand implies that the film is "academically-sound". Note that in current usage of Vietnamese,academic conferences (such as the First Conference on Vietnamese Studies in 1998) are called "hoi nghi khoa hoc".

* *

The term "academic" in Vietnamese is still being translated as "kinh vie^.n", which does not appear to be the best translation.

* *

I hope that the above might be of some reference to you, Diane.


This said, let me try another (off the top of my head) thought--is 'khoa hoc' often negative, as a reference to being split from feeling, a disunion of tam and tai?

All thoughts welcome. Thanks!


Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2000 22:24:19 -0400
From: Regina M. Abrami <abrami@fas.harvard.edu>
Subject: RE: Khoa hoc?

Just a few thoughts on khoa hoc - -

"khoa hoc" and "scientific" do overlap in meaning, but if your interest is less in etymology and more in the direction of connotation then I'd suggest thinking about "khoa hoc" as that which is "modern", "truthful" and "objective".

For example, the taxi driver in saying something is not "khoa hoc" is also saying that it's backward. While the Agent Orange film that is "khoa hoc" bears truth and necessarily is more valuable than a "phim tai lieu". Faith in "science as truth", however, is not unique to the Vietnamese. In China, for example, the May 4th movement spoke also of "Mr. Science and Mr.Democracy" as the route to modernity. Western social science certainly continues its fascination with "objective truths", if the increasing popularity of rational choice theory is any indication. In the contemporary Vietnamese context, however, I'd suggest that scientific socialism is the culprit behind the usage of "khoa hoc". It has hammered it into popular consciousness the idea that "khoa hoc" is a safe means within which to both complement and criticize. So, as you may have noticed, research in Vietnam is occasionally subject to the charge of not being "khoa hoc" - that is, it embodies subjectivity (chu quan) rather than objectivity (khach quan).

Hope this helps!


Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2000 17:31:46 -0400 (EDT)
From: Daniel Duffy <dduffy@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: Khoa hoc?

The cabbie's use of "khoa hoc" to describe the re-education camps, taken in the context of other accounts of the camps, suggests to me a use of "khoa hoc" to mean systematic, organized knowledge that does not take into account either the knowledge that comes from continual experimentation (natural science), on the one hand, or the knowledge that comes from continual assertion of subjectivity (the humanities, common sense), on the other. The general attitude of educated re-education camp prisoners towards the knowledge of the present rulers is exactly that they are "khoa hoc qua" in this way, though I have never heard anyone put it in those words.

You can see an illustration, literally, of this attitude each week in editorial cartoons in the Vietnamese-language press outside of Viet Nam. The Communist cadre is represented as a buck-toothed (i.e. poor, rural) knuckle-dragging (i.e. lesser hominid) happy idiot about to step off a cliff, or drive his cart into a lake (i.e. confront physical reality in some diastrous and unexpected way). He is usually carrying one or more book as an emblem of organized knowledge, labelled "Ho Chi Minh thought" or "Marx".

There are wonderfully funny stories along this theme from the camps. Well, the stories are dreadful,actually, because they are usually told of some man who met a sad end. But they are told in the spirit of humor and I honor that. The stories are told by the people who had the good sense to keep their mouths shut, while a prouder comrade confronted the organized ignorance of the guards. One famous example is the man who informed the camp political officer that there was no hope of his (the prisoner) being re-educated, because he already had an education, while the political officer didn't even know what an education was. So, I think that the cabbie was talking about thought with a lot of organization but little subjectivity or experimentation, what N. Jamieson would identify as yang rather than yin. I have never heard anyone use "khoa hoc" this way.

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

Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2000 17:41:54 +1000
From: David Marr <dgm405@coombs.anu.edu.au>
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
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'.

David Marr

From: Steffanie Scott <stscott@interchange.ubc.ca>
Subject: 'dan tri' query

Can anyone point me to an explanation of the term 'dan tri' (people's intellectual standard)? Having low 'dan tri' is so often used as an explanation for poverty in Vietnam. How does it tie in to Mandarin perceptions of the 'ignorant masses', etc.? Is its meaning and connotation the same (and as prevalent) in Chinese? Thanks,

Steffanie Scott / stscott@interchange.ubc.ca
Dept. of Geography, University of British Columbia
1984 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2, Canada
Tel: (604) 822-2663 (msg only) Fax: (604) 822-6150
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2000 23:23:16 -0600 (MDT)

From: Sinh Vinh <sinh.vinh@ualberta.ca>
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: 'dan tri' query

Dear Steffanie,

I would like to share with you a few thoughts on your query. First of all, it is interesting to note that until now, I have not found the term da^n tri' in pre-modern Chinese, Sino-Japanese, Japanese, and Sino-Korean dictionaries. I did find it, however, in modern Chinese (min-chih),Sino-Vietnamese (such as Dao Duy Anh's and Hoang Thu'c Tra^m's), and modern Vietnamese dictionaries. For this reason, one might hypothecize that the term had been created by some Chinese reformist writer (such as Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, V: Lu+o+ng Kha?i-Sie^u) in the late 19th century or early 20th century, then was adopted afterward by the Vietnamese at the beginning of the 20th century (by those such as Phan Bo^.i Cha^u or Phan Cha^u Trinh).

Having said so, I should add that by now, it looks as if this term is no longer widely used in either China or Vietnam. My latest Chinese dictionary (1998 Xinhua Zidian) does not have it, and my 1997 Tu+(grave) ddie^?n tie^'ng Vie^.t (by Vie^.n Ngo^n ngu+~, published by Nxb Da Nang & Trung tam Tu dien hoc) notes that it is an old (cu~) term, before defining it as "Tri(grave)nh ddo^. hie^?u bie^'t cu?a nha^n da^n" (i.e. people's level of knowledge).

Before making a comment, let me give you some other definitions of da^n tri'that I have come across thus far:
Chu^-Nichi daijiten (Comprehensive Chinese-Japanese Dictionary, edited by The Committee for the Compilation of Chu^-Nichi daijiten, AichiUniversity, 1971:
- minchi [da^n tri'): jinmin no chie (people's wisdom/intelligence/resources). Note that "chie" is tri' tue^. In Vietnamese. [I like this definition]

Dao Duy Anh's Han Viet tu dien (1931):
- dan tri khai tho^ng [no separate entry for dan tri]: people's intellectual development. [I also like this]

Hoang Thuc Tram's Han Viet ta^n tu+(grave) ddie^?n (1951):
- dan tri: Tri(grave)nh ddo^. tri thu+'c cu?a da^n to^.c (people's level of knowledge) [for reasons given blow, I have reservation about this definition]

The two individuals who first used from the term da^n tri' from time to time in their writings appear to be Phan Boi Chau and Phan Chau Trinh. I have spent many years reading the writings of these two outstanding individuals, and if my understanding of their thought serves me well, da^n tri' does not necessarily imply the people's level of knowledge or level education (e.g. some people may know a lot of things, but they are not necessarily wise, their level of wisdom and intelligence is not necessarily high; similarly a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. degree of a person does not necessarily guarantee this person's wisdom). Dan tri rather refers to people's intellectual level, and the emphasis of "intellectual level" in this case, it appears to me, is placed on people's social, political, and public awareness (rather than simply on sheer intellect or knowledge).

Phan Boi Chau saw the low level of dan tri as 1 of the causes that led Vietnam to lose her indenpendence in the late 19th century (the other 2 causes cited by PBC were "lack of unity" (ho+.p qua^(grave)n) and "low level of people's rights" (da^n quye^(grave)n).

Phan Chau Trinh (a contemporary of PBC), on the other hand, time and again empasized that if VN were to be renovated (duy ta^n), she needs to "invigorate her people's spirit" (cha^'n da^n khi'), "develop her people's intellectual level" (khai da^n tri'), and "enrich her people's livelihood".

I hope that I have touched upon parts of your query.


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2000 17:50:23 -0400
From: Hue Tam H. Tai <hhtai@fas.harvard.edu>
Subject: Re: tri thuc

Dear David:

I asked my friend Joshua Fogel at UCSB about the origins of the term "zhishi fenzi (phan tu tri thuc) and this is what he repled to me:

Tam Tai

Dear Tam,

I have a provisional answer for you. The expression zhishi is a return graphic loan, that is it was coined in modern Japanese to translate a Western concept but the Japanese coiners based it on an older (and out of use) Chinese term. The term fenzi is also used in Japanese, though I don't know its history. The whole term zhishifenzi is never used, to my knowledge, in Japanese and must thus be a Chinese coinage--I would guess that, judging by its obnoxious content, it's a PRC coinage, but that's just an educated guess.

Hope this helps,


Return to top of page