This project began with two assumptions. The first is that new renditions
of the past are an essential part of decolonization. Because of circumstances
unique to Vietnam, historical writing played an especially critical role: in
precolonial times each dynasty created its own historiographical corpus,
and in colonial times French scholars and Francophile Vietnamese added
their own imprint. The historiographical canon inherited briefly by revo-
lutionaries in 1945 and more permanently in 1954 demanded a response.
The second assumption is that because the Vietnamese declared their inde-
pendence following decades of anticolonial struggle, a revolution, and nine
years of military conflict to prevent the recolonization of their country, the
necessity of rejecting the cultural legacies of France was much more urgent
than in nonrevolutionary settings. As the Viet Minh were in the process of
defeating the French militarily, political and intellectual elites laid the foun-
dations for the cultural wars to come. In 1953, before the French had actually
surrendered, revolutionary leaders established the Committee for Literary,
Historical, and Geographical Research and charged historians with the task
of writing a general history of Vietnam. Although in this book I explore sev-
eral dimensions of postcolonial historiography, I am most concerned with
why the new national history took more than thirty years to complete, de-
spite the historians’ dedication to finishing it. The political and adminis-
trative dynamics of the delay remain more or less opaque, but one thing is
clear: representations of the national past had to correspond with the politi-
cal and intellectual exigencies of postrevolutionary and postcolonial times,
and these were constantly in flux. The fluidity of the present, in other words,
continually imposed new requirements on the past. In addition to the insis-
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