Visible Invisibility: Case of the Indians in Vietnam


Chi P. Pham

PhD defended at: 

UC Riverside



The “Indians” include people, who are (descendants of) those who, since the second half of the nineteenth century, migrated from French-British India to then-Indochina-Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Although the Indians have been in Vietnam for generations and have participated in economic and political revolutions of Vietnam, they have always been perceived by ethnic Vietnamese as "kẻ hút máu" [bloodsucking beings]
-- unwelcome migrants who are materialistic, exploitatory and most of all foreign. Many Indians have become Vietnamese citizens; arguably, they do not belong to any categorized ethnic groups of Vietnam. This dissertation assumes the virtual invisibility of the Indians in Vietnamese writing and society originates in the way Vietnamese nation-makers have made these persons visible in the wake of the formulaic metaphor "bloodsucking Indians" and the quest for national sovereignty and prosperity since the colonial time. The metaphor refers to the imagined association of the Indians with colonialism and capitalism – identified as "non-socialist" and "non-hegemonic" state structures of Vietnam. The dissertation suggests a complex view on colonial legacies in Vietnam: Vietnamese nation-makers retain the metaphor in attempts to retain the overriding socialist and independent goal of historically differing Vietnamese nationalisms and the concurrent invisibility of the Indians; as such, the remains of colonial knowledge are the strategic choice of Vietnamese nation-makers. Moreover, in making visible the Indians by presenting how they have been made invisible, the dissertation critically addresses current debates about postcolonial scholarship and the Others' visibility and audibility and about complex associations of literary studies, diaspora studies and ethnic studies with nationalism. The choice of Vietnamese writing as the primary source of this dissertation stems from the scholarship on the performativity of language and the Vietnamese traditional belief in writing as a sharp weapon in national and class struggles. In addition to writings, ethnographic findings form an essential source in examining material impacts of the metaphor of bloodsucking Indians in Vietnamese nation-building. The dissertation develops into seven chapters, analytically centering on the formation and continuation of metaphoric associations of the Indians with capitalism and colonialism, the main causes of the virtual invisibility of these people in Vietnamese writing and society.