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Wednesday, 18 January 2017 16:19
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Some limitations of the Vietnamese in the context of international integration

(LLCT) - During the renovation period, the Party has always paid special attention to comprehensive advancement of the Vietnamese in order to meet demands for sustainable national development. However, in the context of increasingly profound international integration, the Vietnamese people still have some limitations, which require the Party to introduce policies and solutions to overcome them soon.

Apparently, Vietnamese people’s limitations are mainly attributable to their living conditions and cultural traditions.

The Vietnamese experienced a prolonged period of feudalism and petty agriculture largely characterized by wet rice farming. Most of them lived in rural communes, so they developed “soft” characters such as appreciation of sentiment, morality and letters, and ways of life which preferred moderation, egalitarianism and stability and which are most clearly manifested in sayings like “When in Rome, do as Romans do”, “Forgive and forget”, and “Emotion speaks louder than reason”.

When facing nature, the Vietnamese tend to try ways to express their feelings towards it rather than trying to understand it. They do not like lengthy theory or dry, rigid logic. While Westerners regard theory and law as something very normal in their daily lives, the Vietnamese believe the use of law damages emotion. However, if pure emotion is used, that may lead to subjectivity or mistakes. Wishful thinking among part of the Vietnamese population is partly originated from this practice.

Because wet rice farming depends relatively heavily on nature and weather, the Vietnamese have developed the sense of respecting, blending with, and getting along with nature rather than harnessing it. This is clearly expressed in their way of thinking, i.e. equating the subject with the object. Westerners in general distinguish the subject from the object. They face the objective world in order to be aware of, improve, and conquer it whereas the Vietnamese would like to immerse themselves in the natural world and try and look for ways to express humans’ goodness and beautifulness through the narrative of nature as well as the goodness and beautifulness of nature through humans’ emotions. The Vietnamese consider a person to be a small universe within a larger one and to be the quintessence of the cosmos. A Vietnam saying goes, “Humans are the essence of the earth”, meaning humans are a crystallization of the universe. What is more, the Vietnamese believe if we are to understand our object, we must immerse ourselves in it; if we are to understand each other, we must look from the same perspective.

Wet rice agriculture depends largely on the elements such as rain, the sun, the sky, the earth, heat, the cold, and so on, so the Vietnamese have developed a holistic way of thinking characterized by dialectic, spontaneity, moderation, flexibility and tolerance. They are flexible yet not extreme or unreasonable. They opt for something which is in the middle. In their lives, they remind themselves to be “proud” yet “modest”. As far as religious beliefs are concerned, the Vietnamese do not follow a sole religion or are completely opposed to it. Historically, there was almost no religious warfare in the country. Members of a family can follow different religions. It is especially noteworthy that Cao Dai, a synthesis of different religions, was born in Southern Vietnam. The Vietnamese can tolerate extremes, which is impossible according to Western formalistic logic. Beliefs dedicated to deities in Vietnam are only of a relative significance. It is that flexible thinking that has helped the Vietnamese to be highly adaptable. Therefore, the Vietnamese find it easy to accept other cultures. In other words, they have an open mindset. It is those living and historical conditions that explain why the Vietnamese are against foreign invasion but they are not xenophobic. They are willing to learn from whatever is good about other peoples, including their enemies. Moreover, they know how to learn from other peoples while preserving their identity.

The Vietnamese have an equivocal way of thinking. The reason for this is that people themselves are a combination of different social relations and that life keeps changing, so there cannot be any one rigid principle to follow. Therefore, when reading Vietnamese proverbs, folk sayings, and folk stories, we see contrasting points of view but the Vietnamese still accept them all. When they would like to emphasize kinship, they say “Blood is thicker than water” but they also say “I’d rather lose my distant relatives than my neighbors”. Although these ways of thinking or points of view seem to contradict each other, the Vietnamese accept them all because they suit people’s way of life. Vietnamese people can reconcile differences and accept ambiguity, as was mentioned earlier, but they still manage to preserve their identity while refraining from being unprincipled. This way of thinking and living has both advantages and limitations. It does not lead to scientific inventions and sometimes result in a “yes-man” mindset.

Seasonal wet rice growing only requires farmers to be hard-working and a little experience rather than a lot of theory. Therefore, they do not consider elevating their thought to theory. This is one of the limitations of the Vietnamese.

The Western society has developed in an upward spiral and step-by-step manner where there are breakthroughs and the successor negates its predecessor whereas Vietnamese communes and villages are isolated and closed communities so the Vietnamese have developed a circular or cyclic mode of thinking. Also, seasonal wet rice growing encourages farmers to think in terms of cycles. This may be the cause of the formation of season-based thinking, which is currently known as term-based thinking. This way of thinking is completely different from that of people living in steppes or deserts. Western philosophy has made substantial breakthroughs reflecting revolutions in Western society while Vietnamese theory has only seen changes in terms of quantity. This means that Vietnamese society has changed on the surface but there has been little change in the deeper structure of the society. Even when there is some change, it is inconsiderable and still within the previous social framework. Isolation, closeness and slackness often lead to reforms rather than revolutions. This is a major limitation of the Vietnamese caused by the inherent characteristics of their society.

Westerners have clear concepts which are definitely understood or defined, so they make solid arguments based on certain principles whereas the Vietnamese do not have clearly defined concepts which can be understood in different ways or from different perspectives. Therefore, their way of argument is often not vigorous. During their thinking process, the Vietnamese paid great attention to speech. Everyone must “Learn how to eat and speak” and pay attention to what they say, as a saying goes, “You don’t pay for words, so choose them wisely so you don’t hurt others”. As a matter of fact, people who have good speaking skills get promoted faster than those who are only professionally good. Also, words by a crowd will become public opinion, which has an enormous strength, “When everybody says the same words, even a monk will be found guilty”.

Many scholars and research bodies have mentioned the characters of the Vietnamese.

Scholar Dao Duy Anh believed that in Vietnam there were few people with exceptional or extraordinary intelligence. The Vietnamese tended to be more intuitive than argumentative. Their imaginative brain was neutralized, to some extent, by their practical brain, so there were few daydreamers in Vietnam but they seemed to make practical predictions. They looked slow but were good at coping with hardship or humiliation. They tended to be shallow, impatient, easily upset, boastful and eager for fame. They were shy and loved peace. However, when there was a situation, they were willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause. They were tactful, humorous, intelligent, flexible, gentle, and kind-hearted. However, they had some negative traits such as oversensitivity, excessive attention to their face, and rote learning detrimental to creative thinking.

The American Institute for Social Research discusses Vietnamese personality traits, positive and negative alike. The Vietnamese are hard-working but easily self-satisfied, so they mainly have an enjoyment mindset. They are intelligent and creative but only in remedial situations. They lack long-term vision or proactivity. They rarely pay attention to the final touches to their products. They are realistic but dreamy at the same time. They do not have a habit of elevating their know-how to theory. They are eager to learn and able to learn fast, but they seldom learn something seriously, so their knowledge is unsystematic or lacks fundamentals. In addition, learning is no longer a genuine objective of many Vietnamese. (When they were small, they learnt because of their families. When they grew up, they learnt to find work. Few people learnt because learning was their passion).They are hospitable but their hospitality does not last long. They are thrifty but sometimes they spend wastefully for nothing. They have a sense of solidarity and mutual assistance, which is mostly only manifested in very difficult circumstances. (When they have better lives, this sense rarely becomes active).They love peace and are patient, but sometimes they are aggressive and competitive because of trivial reasons and without considering the bigger picture. They like to gather but lack connectivity so they can create combined strength.

The above analyses show the advantages and limitations of the Vietnamese. To overcome these limitations, we need to solve various issues simultaneously, regularly and permanently. On the one hand, we must work hard and improve our theoretical and legal thinking, take advantage of scientific and technological advances, and develop a scientific work style. On the other hand, it is necessary to improve the foundations of society, inherit whatever is good about traditional culture and abandon whatever is no longer suitable for development trends in the modern society. At the same time, we must create a liberal mechanism whereby the Party’s guidelines and policies of “facing the truth, correctly evaluating it and clearly stating it” can be translated into daily lives. We must also get rid of mechanisms resulting in deception, formalism, and excessive pursuit of records. We must control moral and lifestyle degeneration among a considerable part of government officials and Party members and combat bureaucratic red tape and corruption. We must foster a harmonious, sustainable, civilized society.

Prof., Dr. Nguyen Hung Hau

Institute of Philosophy

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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