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'The Modern Barbarian': Nguyen Van Vinh and the Complexity Of Colonial Modernity in Vietnam

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This article studies the life and socio-cultural works of Nguyen Van Vinh in order to understand better the complexity of 'colonial modernity' in Vietnam. Vinh saw in an alliance with colonial France the chance to modernise Vietnam in Western ways. Thanks to his translations and his essays on Vietnamese society and culture, he helped open the way to a larger cultural revolution in the 1930s. It was a way of dealing with the humiliation of colonial domination and a way of putting Vietnam back on a civilisational par with the rest of the 'modern' world. At the same time, Nguyen Van Vinh served as a powerful propaganda tool for the colonial state in its attempts to cut off Vietnam from her Asian context and ally her closely with colonial France through the Vietnamese language. Indeed, Nguyen Van Vinh provides a revealing example of the colonial origins of the Francophonie policy in Vietnam that began long before French decolonisation.


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