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The Vietnamese character

A few years back, in Goeterborg, I had the occasion to meet Sociology Professor Goran Therborn, and talked with him about the Swedish mentality. We agreed that when it came to questions of national character, the psychology of peoples, cultural identity and traditional values, circumspection is indispensable lest one fall into the trap of racism. 

In Viet Nam since the August 1945 revolution which put an end to colonial rule, dozens of seminars and an abundance of literature have been devoted to the character and cultural identity of the Vietnamese people. Works of research which laid particular stress on the positive aspects established the following points about the Vietnamese character:
- Strong adherence to the community. Formation of the nation at an early stage (family - village - State). Reason: unity in order to fight against foreign invasions and natural disasters (building dykes against floods). Social, political and economic cell: the village.
- Love for country, an essential element.
- An ancient culture. Importance of the Viet language. Love of learning.
- Ardour to work. Intelligence, innovativeness, skilfulness. Influence of wet rice cultivation. Thrift.
- Primordial role of the family (language: use of personal pronouns according to the presumed age of the interlocutor, indicating his or her possible position in the family).
- Filial piety, respect for aged persons. Solidarity (family, village and nation).
- Faculty of adaptation for survival, suppleness of comportment. Sense of realism, preference for concreteness. Eclecticism. Empiricism.
- Sobriety and simplicity of life style. More sensitive to that which is simple, skilful, lovely and graceful than to that which is imposing and monumental.
- More sentimental than rational.
- Little inclined to philosophical speculations or metaphysical flights.
- Religious feelings: religiosity rather than fanaticism. A large fund of autochthonous beliefs (animism).
- Profound influence of Confucianism and Buddhism.
- On the scale of cultural values, priority given to the good rather than the beautiful, hence the predominant role of morals and virtues.
Till today, in their analyses of the Vietnamese character and cultural identity, our researchers have mostly underlined the positive points (sense of community, patriotism, diligence, love of learning, etc.). Very few discuss the negative aspects, especially in the light of the present.
I think that this attitude was justified during the long period of war since it was necessaiy to highlight positive national traditions in order to galvanise the resistance. However, in the current situation of increasing competition on a world
scale, truly scientific research is needed to reveal our people’s weak as well as strong points, in order to help shape capable and highly motivated citizens.
According to our researchers, the main negative traits of the Vietnamese character and cultural identity may be listed in the following way:
- Due to the frequency of war, social development was often disrupted. The socio-economic structures have gone through repeated interruptions or were unable to evolve normally.
- The reverse side of the strong sense of community is the exaggerated concern for face saving, localism and regionalism and the difficulty for individuals to gain a sense of self-affirmation.
- Fidelity to traditions may lead to conservatism, reticence in the face of reforms and renovation (of economy, technique, and society).
- Patriarchialism inherited from traditional society may breed sectarianism, anarchism and the cult of personality. Small-scale agriculture, artisanery and morselling lead to lack of discipline, foresight, planning and accounting. Weak concern for profitability.
- Lack of logical and analytical sense. Empiricism. Reliance on chance.
It goes without saying that not all the traits we have enumerated can be taken as gospel truth. Nevertheless, they provide material for serious research and discussion.
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