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FASS Newsletter

The Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam

 

On Thursday, 14 March 2019, Liam Kelley of the Institute of Asian Studies, UBD, gave a FASS seminar entitled 'The Forgotten Role of the "Royal Nation" of Vietnam', in which he discussed the role of the final Nguyen Dynasty that lasted from 1802 till 1945 in developing the administration and education of Vietnam.

Bao Đai

Typically, the rulers of the Nguyen Dynasty have been depicted as incompetent and decadent, so modernisation only occurred at the hands of revolutionaries such as Ho Chi Minh.

History has been particularly critical of the last ruler, Bao Đai, who was described as "the nightclub emperor" based on his playboy lifestyle in Hong Kong. For example, a contemporary account about him stated that "a short, slippery-looking customer rather on the pudgy side with hair that appeared to be freshly dipped in Crisco, wore a fixed, oily grin".

However, a more detailed, nuanced examination of the records shows that the Nguyen rulers in fact attempted to learn from the west, establish western-style schools, and modernise the administration and education in the country.

Particularly important in this respect is The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam, by Christopher Gocha, that encourages a thorough re-evaluation of how we look at the Nguyen Dynasty.

Quoc hoc - Collège national