Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory dealing with history and politic related matters

Coming from Europe and remembering how things were back in the socialist days, the way Vietnamese are dealing with history and politics baffles me.

Uncle Ho’s Cabin – and Uncle Ho’s Statue in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Eastern Europe, politics were a serious, serious thing. No cracks about the government, no doubts, and certainly no marketing schemes with the emblems. One wrong remark and you were in big trouble.

This seems not to be the case in – still socialist! – Viet Nam. Although there is pure and utter pride and propaganda everywhere you look – the red flags with the five-pointed star, the super animated young pioneers cheering into some glorious future et cetera et cetera et cetera. On the other hand to our standards, the memories and its symbols are not treated with much respect.

Red flags are flying in bulks.

In Hoi An, which happens to be one of the most touristy places, at one of the many souvenir and knick-knack stores along Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, one of the most touristy streets, they are selling communist propaganda posters from the 70s -which, besides possible dates, do not differ a bit from today’s propaganda that you see everywhere.

I know this phenomenon e. g. from Berlin where it’s the big hilarious thing for tourists to get their picture taken with a communist soldier’s hat – it seems to be something between the forbidden fruit – the demon’s hat on my head, hahaha – and a caricature, because, honestly, still hearing the same old lame slogans makes the whole thing a caricature. So while I get this in Berlin where it’s a mocking look back at their past, I don’t get it in Viet Nam where it’s still everywhere – in a serious sense – and a great part of everyday’s life in the present.

A revolutionary on sale: Ho Chi Minh in all stages and ages.
But as a matter of fact, the Cuban revolution with Che Guevara at their side had definitely the hotter symbol.

So my question is: What’s the difference between the ‚old’ propaganda posters and the recent ones? Why are the old ones knick-knack and the new ones a serious message to the people?
Because it’s not the motives and even not the style and graphic. And although I cannot really judge whether the wording changed, I strongly doubt it (because e. g. in Cuba I was able to judge it, and there the only difference is that now they add Chavez to Che and Fidel).

Propaganda in Baracoa, Cuba
Propaganda in Cuba – it’s rather the message than the design (whereby the whole thing looks like they didn’t put much heart in it)

Communists tend to be quite conservative when it comes to marketing and PR.
To me, selling the ideology at a souvenir store is mocking – because, come on, nobody will buy a poster like this thinking „Oh, young pioneers should follow the lead of Ho Chi Minh – that’s an interesting thought, I think I want to hang this next to the TV set to not forget about it.“ They will buy it because they find it hysterical.

So obviously it is ok to sell out the great communist idea to create a better world and ‘new humans’ for a souvenir to some tourists – in a country where people are brainwashed every day by the very same ideology and designs?!

Another good example is the famous Cu Chi tunnels where the Vietnamese partisans hid from the US troops.

You can visit them on a day trip – that also includes a visit to the Cao Dai temple, which actually makes sense since the Cao Dai fought together with i. a. the communists and the buddhists against the French-oriented catholic oppressors.

So anyway, once you get to the site, they first make you watch a film that should be called “Viet Nam’s way to socialism for total morons”. It shows in an extremely simplified thus slightly tendentious way how great life in Viet Nam used to be: Women in traditional Ao Dais are sashaying over fields, mildly humming cheesy tunes, hardworking farmers happily working their rice paddies – it was pure harmony.

All of a sudden – and to emphasize the shock, the film at this moment turns darker – American villains came and dropped bombs and erased villages and razed the country to the ground; sadly, that’s the only part in the film that’s true.
But GI Joe didn’t reckon the brave Vietnamese’s – who of course were all devoted communists – resistance.

Not only the film itself, also the content is in very, very, veeery black and white.

Yes, it was bad that there was colonialism, yes, it was bad that the US got involved in the war, but no, Viet Nam and its people were not one big bundle of harmony. There were also many Vietnamese people who were not desperately longing for a communist government. It was not only an uprising, it was also a civil war, after all.

Not everyone was longing for a communist government; yet the red flag is waving everywhere – like here over the picturesque Halong Bay.

Anyway, I knew I was at a memorial site, so of course, they tried to feed me their broth. What confused me, was the entertaining Disney World-ish side to it: Getting down into the earth holes, there were puppets involved in all sort of crafts and chores – and once everybody entered the hole, the guide flipped the switch and the puppets got busy.
Let me tell you, the mechanism was not exactly the latest state of the art. Not only the bad technics ridiculed the whole scenario.

Then there was a couple of ruthless Viet Cong puppets in their fighting apparel to take your picture with.
So that’s what became of the Viet Cong now? Just another Minnie Mouse and Goofy at Disney World?

To top it off, at the gift store, they are selling the Viet Cong scarf and other goodies. I mean it’s clear that people will only buy it for fun – for mocking, not because they want to be ready as it’s time to join the Vietnamese army.

So first they are torturing the visitors with this tacky, bold propaganda and half an hour later you can mock them?! Come on, guys!

Dummies at Cu Chi tunnels
Viet Cong dummies at your disposal.

But there was another thing that for me personally took the cake: While walking along the trail and watching the dummies – I’m talking about the puppets here – doing their work and climbing into the narrow tunnels – I made like twenty steps and got out at the first possible exit; they wouldn’t have won the war with me at their side, that’s for sure – there was a constant gun fire in the background. Naiv me, I thought it was some sound effect to make the visit more realistic and dramatic.

Nope, turns out, there is a shooting ranch right next to the Cu Chi tunnel memorial!
Sorry, but placing a shooting ranch – yes, real guns, real bullets – next to a war memorial leaves me jaw-dropped.

Have you been to Viet Nam? How did you perceive the presence of religion, politics, and history?
Share your experience in the comment section below.

There were more incidents that left me a bit irritated – and I wrote about them here:

Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory treatment of foreign tourists Part I

Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory treatment of foreign tourists Part II

To get the complete travel info on Viet Nam just click here.

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10 Replies to “Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory dealing with history and politic related matters”

  1. Wow! A live shooting range next to that display?! Well! No doubt there's still propaganda in the country till today especially regarding the Vietnam War which they refer to as "the American War" or so I'm told.

  2. I haven't been to Vietnam but I learnt about the Vietnam war and for sure, propaganda still goes about it regarding the terror brought by the war.

  3. An interesting post. I've been to Vietnam many, many times and have seen the changes that have taken place in the 20 years or so since my first visit. I think that it is a country that's stuck between wanting to move on and the past.

  4. A very interesting point of view about your experiences and thoughts regarding Communism propaganda.

  5. Great post! Thank you for sharing all the information. Sad that we all just cant get along even tho it's been so long and everyone was just doing what they thot was the right thing.

  6. Very informative post. Even I haven't been to Vietnam, but I feel there are similarities between China and Vietnam

  7. Great idea for a post and a LOT of things brought up here that made me think more deeply about my time spent in Vietnam. My one question to you is, do you think (over)tourism has played a role in the way the messages at tourist attractions are portrayed?

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