Vu Duc Liem “Beyond the Empires: Bureaucratic Manuscripts and Political Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Vietnam and China”

Beyond the Empires: Bureaucratic Manuscripts and Political Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Vietnam and China

This is a study of trans-cultural domestication and adaptation of bureaucratic manuscripts in the early nineteenth-century Vietnam and China. The two were part of the East Asian Confucian zone, which was closely interconnected culturally and politically during the last two thousand years. Subjects of this study are the palace documents and memorials (edicts 詔, decrees 諭, memorials 奏, 奏本…) which used in the premodern China and Vietnam as a major channel of communication and deliberative structure of the bureaucrat. Emerging at the edge of the Chinese empire, nineteenth-century Vietnam inherited the Chinese script and its textual institutions through millennium of interaction and cultural influence. The Nguyen dynasty implemented both the script and its usage for imperial communication, resulted in an imperial archive of 90,000 manuscripts produced between 1802 and 1945.
By examining use of the script, textual typology, function, and textual institutionalization in the comparative perspective between Nguyen Vietnam and Qing China from 1820 to 1840, this research aims to suggest a pattern of cultural interaction in the premodern East Asia through script transmission and textual adaptation. When Chinese became a regional script, and Confucianism was regionally practiced, those textual institutions go beyond any boundary of empires and states, and embody to a sharing philological tradition. The variation of writing institutions implemented in Vietnam might represented an effort by an Asian people living on the edge of Chinese empire to find Chinese-style writing practice in their own cultural and political circumstance. Their struggle for constant adaptation and domestication does not merely signal for socio-political deviation, but also, and more interestingly, the political aspects of script and textual performance.

Vu Duc Liem taught Vietnamese and Southeast Asian history at Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE), Vietnam. He received a BA in History in 2008, a MA in Southeast Asian History in 2010 from HNUE, and the second MA degree in Southeast Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, with financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation. He was also a Graduate Fellow at the Asian Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2012). Since 2013, he has become a PhD candidate at Hamburg University. His publications have appeared in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (in Vietnamese), Chinese Studies Review (in Vietnamese), and Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies. His research focuses on the Vietnamese historiography, imperial palace memorial system and palace archives of the nineteenth century.

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