The Myth of a Centralised Socialist State in Vietnam: What Kind of a Myth?

Martin Gainsborough

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This article explores the view that there is a tendency in Vietnam studies to overstate the degree to which there is a coherent central body, namely the state, directing the country. It is argued that is a myth which tends to surface and resurface over time. Having stated this as our point of departure, things get more complicated. Suggesting that such a myth is operating could mean many things. For instance, we might hesitate to say that there is no central body in Vietnam not least because the formal political apparatus seems well developed. So, is it a case of the central state simply being weaker than is sometimes thought or is there something else at stake, as yet unidentified? In addition, the article’s title speaks of a centralised Socialist state. This raises the question of how and in what way the association of the Vietnamese state with Socialism might be relevant to an understanding of the myth. Finally, it is worth noting that asserting the existence of a myth of a centralised state in Vietnam might seem counter-intuitive. If there is one thing that any self-respecting student of Vietnam politics knows, it is that localism is very important: recall the proverb ‘the emperor’s writ stops at the village gate’ (phep vua thua le lang) and the many studies which have explored the phenomena of localism in Vietnam. Thus, one might be forgiven for saying: ‘what risk of overstating the authority of the central state here?’. What is clear, therefore, is that having stated an initial position, it is necessary to proceed carefully and to establish very precisely the nature of the alleged myth. This is what this article seeks to do.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-143
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Current Southeast Asian affairs
Issue number3
Early online date27 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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