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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Contested Nationalism: Ethnic Identity and State Power in the Republic of Vietnam, 1954-1963


The conventional scholarship depicts noncommunist nationalism in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam, 1954-1963) as weak or inauthentic, especially when compared to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, or North Vietnam). But such arguments assume that Vietnamese nationalism was singular and unitary. This essay reinterprets wartime nationalism by proposing the concept of contested nationalism. Specifically, it examines how the Republican government combined anticommunism with Vietnamese cultural identity in its cultural policy. Geography education, new cultural institutions, and historical preservation helped promoted the RVN as the exclusive embodiment of Vietnamese culture and challenged the DRV’s legitimacy.

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