Foundational Myths in the Republic of Vietnam (1955–1975): “Harnessing” the Hùng Kings against Ngô Đình Diệm Communists, Cowboys, and Hippies for Unity, Peace, and Vietnameseness
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© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Many Vietnamese consider the Hùng Kings, who allegedly ruled from 2879 to 258 BCE, to be their ancestors and the founders of their nation. Not concerned with the historicity of the Hùng Kings, this article focuses on the role of the narrative of the Hùng Kings in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) between 1955 and 1975. During different periods of the RVN, attitudes toward the Hùng Kings varied from a denial of their importance to attempts to use them to mobilize people for agendas that ranged from anti-Communism to antiwar sentiment to anti-Westernism. Those not inclined to employ this narrative questioned its historicity. Those who did employ it relegated proof of the kings' historical existence to secondary place. By bringing the Hùng Kings into their discourses they were establishing them not necessarily as historical but primarily as a social fact transmitted through collective memory. Based on archival materials and publications, this article examines the agendas of those who "harnessed" the Hùng King narrative. It also compares the Hùng Kings' status in the RVN to that in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), highlighting differences and similarities between the two. I argue that the Hung Kings represent the complexity of South Vietnamese society and of the idea of being Vietnamese. This is the first study of the Hùng Kings in South Vietnam.
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