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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Martyrs of Development: Taiwanese Agrarian Development and the Republic of Vietnam, 1959-1975


In 1959, the Republic of China (ROC) government on Taiwan enacted its first international agrarian development mission to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). The mission began modestly to assist primarily with crop improvement and farmers’ associations. But by the fall of the RVN in 1975, Taiwanese development constituted a global project of the authoritarian Guomindang (GMD) regime to redefine Taiwan’s place in the world. This article explores the sixteen-year span of missions to Vietnam, drawing on reports by Taiwanese agricultural team leaders, oral history interviews with Taiwanese technicians, Taiwanese and Vietnamese policy documents, and visual and propaganda materials published by the GMD and overseas Chinese. Agrarian development became a platform through which the ROC represented Taiwanese success at agricultural science and rural modernity. Taiwanese technicians showcased high-yielding crop varieties, large and luscious green vegetables, and rationalized agricultural implements. Simultaneously, Taiwanese teams also emphasized their rural roots, through an expertise in forming farmers’ associations that appealed to RVN leadership seeking to battle communist insurgency. These representations of success and sacrifice allowed the GMD regime to portray the ROC as leading a global vanguard of developing nations, all toward the goal of securing its legitimacy at home as a developmentalist regime. Keywords: Taiwan, Guomindang, Vietnam, agrarian development, rural development, agricultural science, farmers’ associations, Cold War

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