Yesterday in Mudd Hall, Martina T. Nguyen, Assistant Professor in History at Baruch College, led a lecture event on Political Literary Action and the Self-Strengthening Literary Movement in Vietnam. Bwog sent staff writer, Maya Corral, to cover the lecture. She spent some of her time confused about where exactly she was (what is Mudd hall), and looked at Vietnamese cartoons.
Entering into Mudd, I was confused. Why was an event about colonialism and literature in Vietnam be held in an engineering building? That question never got answered for me, but many others did, namely concerning The Self Reliant Literary Group and Colonialism Nationalism in Vietnam during French colonialism. The presentation began with an introduction by Professor John Phan, who moderated the event as well. While the lecture was combined with his class “Film Fictions and the Makings of Modern Vietnam,” it stood alone as well, discussing the cultural context of Vietnam before delving into Professor Nguyen’s research and particular expertise.
Professor Nguyen discussed the cultural context of Vietnam, and particularly Hanoi (the political capital of Vietnam) during the time period of French colonization. At this time, there was an urbanization of Hanoi, transformations in education, and infrastructure projects such as the trans-Vietnam railway. Afterwards, she discussed her specific research within the Self-Reliant Literary Group, a group of intellectuals during interwar Vietnam. Most importantly, they were revolutionaries of a younger generation who were unfamiliar with the Chinese worldview. They revived the Vietnamese Nationalist Party, and created conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, clothing, and culture in Vietnam. These conversations led to the idea of cosmopolitan nationalism. The Self-Reliant Literary Group developed projects, such as creating cartoons and designing clothing. These cultural projects were inherently political, and led to the development of a modern Vietnamese identity and gaining power in the Vietnamese electorate.
There were definitely people in the room who knew a lot more than I did about this topic, specifically those taking the class that was attached to this lecture, (which seemed to be most of the audience members). But, it was still an interesting and eye-opening event, especially in understanding the history of colonialism in Vietnam. As a Columbia community, we need to work harder to fully understand and contextualize colonialism, particularly from the perspective of those who have been colonized (and not the colonizers). The lecturer was very informative and engaging, giving us a complete background of French colonialism in Vietnam, the Self-Reliant Literary Group, and Colonialism Nationalism at the time.