Vietnamese History Books, First Impressions

I recently checked out a couple of history books from the school library, one titled A History of Vietnam: From Hong Bang to Tu Duc by Oscar Chapuis, the other was The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam by Joseph Buttinger.  The first thing I noticed about Vietnamese history is that very little is written about the country in western literature.  Since the section on Vietnamese history was directly next to the giant wall dedicated to Chinese history, I couldn’t help but feel a little indignant about the lack of books written about this particular topic.  Anyways, I did manage to find these two books which, at first glance, seems like credible sources of information.  I haven’t read the books yet, though I always keep in mind that I should, as the saying goes, “never judge a book by it’s cover.”

Even though I haven’t had the time to read these books all the way through, since they are both pretty lengthy, I managed to look through some chapters of both and get an impression of what they are like.  At first, Oscar Chapuis’s A History of Vietnam seemed like the better choice, but as I read through it more, I quickly noticed the author’s advocation that Vietnam was the offspring of China, which has been proven today as a complete fabrication.  This idea was conveyed in the early chapters, claiming that Shen Nung, the ancestor of Hong Bang, was Chinese.  This book was written in 1995, so I don’t blame the author for believing such ideas.  However, I do notice the author’s carelessness in expressing his conclusions.  This book is much shorter than Buttinger’s The Smaller Dragon. At only 216 pages, this book attempts to cover several thousand years of Vietnamese history.  For this reason, some of Chapuis’s ideas seem quite rushed, sounding more regurgitated from other sources than critically analyzed by his own thoughts.  What Oscar Chapuis succeeds in doing however, is to quickly cover many historical events and individuals in a short amount of time, which is useful for a quick read.

Now, let’s take a look at Joseph Buttinger’s The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam. This was written in 1958, a time when the world knew little about the nation of Vietnam.  At a hefty 535 pages, Joseph Buttinger offers great coverage on the history of Vietnam.  The findings expressed by Buttinger are very well thought out and analytical, though his views are debatable at times.  Even though the works are nearly four decades apart, Joseph Buttinger’s writing feels much more eloquent than Oscar Chapuis’s.  Buttinger shares his ideas, but also provides more substantial arguments for his views.  However, one must keep in mind that this book was written more than 50 years ago, so some of his findings have been proven wrong by current research and technology.  Therefore, I must be critical in expressing my concerns in the author’s views in regards to Vietnam’s relationship with China, as well as the findings on the history of ancient Vietnam.  Even so, I must compliment the lengthly research made on this book, and commend the author on his extensive coverage.

Well, those are my first impressions of these books anyway.  The only way to really be sure is if you check them out for yourself.  I will have to look more into these books whenever I can find the time.  If you are interested, these books should be available at your city/public library.  Anyone who wants to learn more about Vietnamese history should give them a shot.  As an independent reader, always remember to be critical of the material, question all of it, and no matter what, don’t believe everything you read.

Happy reading!

Ratings At First Glance

  • A History of Vietnam: From Hong Bang to Tu Duc by Oscar Chapuis: C
  • The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam by Joseph Buttinger: B+

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